Leadership Starts in the Mirror: A Self Worth Conundrum

Leadership Starts in the Mirror: A Self Worth Conundrum
March 13, 2023 admin

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”


I love this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt. It is timeless and so true.


As human beings, we have interesting lives, to say the least.  On the one hand, we are creatures of “tribe and connection.”  We are meant to live together for safety, companionship, and having families.   That means fitting in with the group.  On the other hand, we are each individual, unique beings.  No two of us are alike, even if we look and act similarly.  We are our own creations.  For this reason, as humans, we often struggle with this idea of where our value and worth comes from.


Do we get our value from those around us, the way we fit into our tribe and what others think of us?  Or do we define our value internally, based on the worth and love we get from ourselves (and not in the fake, arrogance-based way)? It’s a conundrum, and not the kind that comes from a white wine bottle.


When we are young, we do not care what anyone else thinks about us, until we are taught that it matters.  As we grow up, others begin to judge us.  Our academic ability, our athletic ability, our talents, and our skills are all compared with other humans in our circles.  Our behavior is compared with what society sees as “normal” and we are praised or criticized based on that “norm.”  We often begin to seek external validation from adults and those around us, to let us know we are “ok” and we are “worthy.”


Sometimes we even allow the opinion of someone else to decide our mood for the day and how much confidence and self-esteem we have.   Have you ever started the day full of joy and confidence, only to be deflated like a ripped hot air balloon when someone makes a negative comment about how you look or something you said or did?  At that moment, you begin to question everything else about yourself as well.


Am I smart enough? Talented enough?  Good enough?  These all boil down to one thing – Am I worthy?  We’ve all done it.  We have allowed the opinion of one person on one topic to shake our very foundation of self-worth.


That is what external validation does.  It can rock our boat in different directions based on the patterns of the waves and wind.   One minute we are high as a kite because someone loved our presentation and the next minute we are moping on the couch because someone turned us down for a promotion and now we feel like no one will ever like us again.  Getting our self-worth and self-esteem from external sources is a roller coaster, at best.


Now consider the alternative.  What would happen if we had a strong foundation of self-worth that started on the inside?  What if we all realized that we are perfect exactly as we are, and we do not need to DO anything to prove our worth?  (Don’t forget – we are human BEINGS, after all, not human DOINGS.)  Sure we may want to improve some things over time, but our value as a human being is not reliant on seeing a certain number on the scale or having someone else tell us we have done a good job.


Since we can all get caught in the waves and winds of external validation, here are a few tips for increasing internal validation to replace the need for external approval.


1) Understand yourself better

Look past the roles you play, your possessions, family, school or career to see the true person you are. Self-awareness is always step one and figuring out who you are at your core makes a big difference in anchoring to a solid shore.


2) Accept yourself

Realize you are great and love the good, bad and ugly of who you are unconditionally. If we cannot love ourselves unconditionally, no one else can love us that way either. Forgive yourself for mistakes you have made in the past and will make in the future. We are only human after all! We always want to improve, and we will, but judging yourself for things you have done neither changes who you are nor helps you. Instead, choose differently next time based on your learnings. It’s much more helpful than beating yourself up. In addition, if you have wronged yourself or someone else, apologize. Some of the most powerful statements in our language are “I am sorry”, “I forgive you” and “I love you”, even if just to ourselves!


3) Set realistic expectations

Expectations apply to both ourselves and those we have for others. Think about the expectations you have and what is driving them. Are you afraid they will not be met and if so, what could happen? Are they truly sustainable or will they burn you and the team out? Missed expectations can be a significant source of stress and self judgement. Before you beat yourself up, make sure they truly matter.


4) Drop the Comparison game

It’s not healthy and just makes us irritated. This is a hard one for most of us. Social media has made this particularly challenging. Don’t believe that everyone on Facebook is having a great time on vacation all the time or everybody ELSE is getting promoted based on LinkedIN. It’s a false reality to compare ourselves to the things people post on social media.  People rarely post they had a terrible day on LinkedIN or they made a huge mistake on Facebook.


“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree,
it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein


We are our own fish. There is no other person like you and nothing to which you can compare.


5) Take responsibility for your life

Even as kids, we have the power to decide how we think, feel, and act. As adults, we can even decide who we hang out with socially and we can choose to avoid people who are toxic (or at least minimize their impact on us). It doesn’t always feel like it, but we can drive our own life and set our destiny. And we can decide how we “show up” to the party. Taking a disempowered view of life serves no one and will continue to be a drain on our self worth.


Self-validation is a muscle.  We must practice it every day, so it becomes stronger.  Whether we are young and just getting started or trying to undo old habits of a lifetime, developing strong self-worth and self-love will keep us from being thrown around constantly by the waves and winds of other people’s opinions of us.


“Other people’s opinion of you is none of your business.” – Unknown


Find your anchor first and then step into leading others to find theirs! And remember, as a leader many of our team members will struggle with self-worth. So bring compassion for them as well. Great leaders meet people where they are and hopefully bring them along the journey.