Self-Worth, Part Five: The Impact of Maintaining Integrity

When you do what you believe is the right thing to do you strengthen your faith in yourself. When you do what you believe is the wrong thing to do you weaken your faith in yourself. The former strengthens your sense of self-worth, and the latter weakens it.

Notice that personal integrity operates independently of great achievements. You can achieve a great accomplishment while maintaining your personal integrity or while throwing it away. The great achievement is the outcome of your performance. However, the great achievement is not a source of enhanced self-worth if it happened as a result of you doing something that you thought was the wrong thing to do. Over the long term, your reduced level of self-worth will likely keep you from achieving at a consistently high level. On the other hand, if you do what you consider to be the right thing to do and it keeps you from achieving a certain great outcome, you can still come back to the arena in the future and be successful.

I’m encouraging you to protect your sense of self-worth so that you can always come back again to strive for a meaningful objective. Be conscious of what you are doing and why you are doing it and be sure that what you are doing is what you believe is the right thing to do at that moment. Integrity, and the lack of it, is a very personal matter that will impact your self-worth one way or the other.

Self-Worth, Part Four: The Choices are Yours

Ironically, when you accept yourself, you are in a position to change yourself. When you constantly try to be someone else, you are unintentionally avoiding the necessary level of self-awareness that would allow you to improve yourself. In his book, On Becoming a Person, Carl Rogers wrote, “I believe that I have learned this from my clients as well as within my own experience – that we cannot change, we cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are. Then change seems to come about almost unnoticed.” He went on to write, “Evaluation by others is not a guide for me. The judgments of others, while they are to be listened to, and taken into account for what they are, can never be a guide for me.”

When you understand the beliefs that drive your behaviors, you can decide whether or not you want to keep those beliefs or to change them. I could decide to change my beliefs about singing and start to try to sing in public, but that can only happen once I honestly accept that my beliefs regarding singing are part of who I am. When I was growing up I played soccer. I had 11 different head coaches over a period of 16 years. Two stand out in my mind right now. One was remarkably challenging and positive and supportive and the other talked to me in a disgusting and humiliating way. Both voices are in my head and are part of me, but I get to choose which voice I focus on and which one I allow to influence my behaviors with other people.

Here’s a simple example. Perhaps you use a lot of foul language in your daily conversations at work because you believe this is how people talk when they are just being themselves. Then you realize this engrained behavior started in high school because you heard that type of language every day. You don’t have to hate yourself or be proud of yourself for using that language today. Just accept that this is part of who you are at this moment. Then you can choose if you want to continue with this belief or if you want to change it. If you change your long-held belief about what is appropriate language for an adult, you can begin to change your behavior.

This same process can be used with many parts of who you are today. Sometimes those beliefs will be relatively easy to change, and some will be so overwhelmingly difficult that you will only be able to make the shift with the help of a skilled psychotherapist, and in many cases you may not be able to change your beliefs and behaviors at all. A lot of times our beliefs and values are so engrained in our subconscious we are not even aware of them.

Some writers such as Bruce Hood in his book, The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity, believe that we have very little choice in who we are and how we behave, but I disagree. I believe that we have more choice over our beliefs and behaviors than we give ourselves credit for. We need to take the time to become aware of ourselves, to understand ourselves, and to accept ourselves as we are right now. When we do that, we are in a position to choose to change some of our beliefs and ultimately some of our behaviors. In doing so, we can strengthen our level of self-worth. Abraham Maslow, in his book, Toward a Psychology of Being, wrote, “Healthy people are better choosers than unhealthy people. What healthy people choose is on the whole what is ‘good for them’ in biological terms certainly, but perhaps also in other senses conducing to their and others’ self-actualization.”

Self-Worth, Part Three: Accept, Do Not Evaluate or Compare

When you’ve invested time and energy into really understanding yourself, the next step is to positively accept yourself as you are right now with a warm regard. Embrace the person you are right now. You don’t have to agree with everything you’ve done or every part of who you are right now. Just say, “This is who I am.”

Avoid evaluating the different parts of yourself as good or bad, and resist the temptation to compare yourself to other people. Simply increase your awareness of the different aspects within you and work to understand how you came to be the way you are. Then embrace this person as though you are welcoming a special friend into your house. Don’t try to make yourself feel better by working to find a person who appears to be weaker or worse off than you are in some way.

When you truly accept yourself as you are right now with all of your complexities and contradictions, you strengthen your sense of self-worth. This is the starting point of long-term success. When you value the person you are at this moment, you can consistently put that value in the service of yourself and other people.

This all sounds so easy, but it almost always becomes overwhelmingly difficult for people to do it. We disparage parts of ourselves because we’re so used to being compared to other people and if we’re compared often enough we will eventually see parts of ourselves as being weak or damaged in some way. Society and even families and friends can damage a person’s sense of self-worth without even realizing it.

Perhaps the most important thing you can do for yourself is to truly accept who you are at this moment. In her book, Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy, Jane Leavy wrote about the enormous pain Koufax experienced after every game he pitched for the Los Angeles Dodgers. His elbow would swell up because of the way he threw the ball, and he would have to put it in a tub of ice for several hours to get it back to its normal size. However, he accepted this reality. Leavy quoted Koufax as saying, “Since I have accepted all of the advantages of the way I am built, I don’t see how I can complain about the disadvantages.” I think that’s a great mantra for all of us to use. In his book, Further Along the Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck wrote, “Self-love implies the care, respect, and responsibility for and the knowledge of the self. Without loving one’s self one cannot love others.” Nathaniel Branden wrote, “Without self-acceptance, self-esteem is impossible.”

If you spend your whole life trying to be someone else because you’re jealous of who you think he or she is, you will simultaneously spend your whole life avoiding being who you are. This is the most common way to never acknowledge your self-worth. In The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, Nathaniel Branden wrote, “Persons of high self-esteem are not driven to make themselves superior to others; they do not seek to prove their value by measuring themselves against a comparative standard. Their joy is in being who they are, not in being better than someone else.” This is the same attitude that Abraham Maslow wrote about over and over again in describing self-actualizing people in his books, Toward a Psychology of Being and The Further Reaches of Human Nature.

Self-Worth, Part Two: Increase Awareness & Understand Yourself

Increase your awareness of the different compartments that make up who you are right now. Work to understand your personality, your moods, your impulses, your strengths, your weaknesses, and so on in the different situations of your life. Think of yourself as a notebook rather than a sheet of paper. A sheet of paper implies that you can be described in a single way, but in reality there are many components within you with different values and different impulses.

For example, inside your head in different situations you might hear the voice of when you were a child and when you were a teenager and where you are in life right now, you might hear the voices and values of your mom at different stages in your life and you might hear the voice of your dad, and you might hear voices of other important people in your life. This is all part of who you are at any given moment. While I know I’m extroverted in most situations, I can become very introverted in some. For example, when I was in fourth grade my music teacher told me to never sing with the group. She said, “Don’t sing anymore. Just mouth the words.” So for the past 40 years whenever I’m in a situation where people are singing I just stand there totally quiet, even when they’re singing “Happy Birthday” at a family gathering. That’s just part of who I am today.

If it helps you, write down a description of yourself on the different pages in a notebook.

Here’s a suggestion on how to use your notebook. On each page right down a different role that you play: son or daughter, sibling, friend, parent, spouse, protégé, mentor, work role, community member, and so on. Under each role, write down different situations that you find yourself in or different circumstances that you find yourself facing. For each situation write down the different voices you hear going off in your head: you as an adult or you as a child or you as a teenager. Write down how you approach these different situations and what your personality is like in each of them. Write down what beliefs and values are driving your behavior in these various roles and situations and circumstances. If you invest two hours in this exercise, you will have a very good idea of how complex you really are. You will realize that it’s not easy to describe yourself in a few sentences.

By doing this exercise, you can come to a much better understanding of who you are today. The key at this stage is honesty. It’s not about who you wish you were, but rather an honest awareness of who you are right now.

Self-Worth, Part One: Understand the Family Theater

(Author’s Note: This is the first in a series of entries on self-worth. Self-worth is the value you see within yourself, and in my opinion it’s one of the most important factors in being a great leader. In order to be effective in the opportunities you have to lead in today and to be able to be effective in even greater opportunities in the future, I encourage you to always strengthen your sense of self-worth.)

One very important aspect of self-worth is to understand yourself, and one of the most important parts of yourself is the part that was formed within your family as you were growing up. Just like in a theatrical performance, each person had a part to play, and over time those parts became solidified. As a result, each person was affected in a different way.

For example, in my family growing up I was the fourth of six children. Consequently, decisions were made on almost anything and I was not consulted on any of them. This wasn’t a good or a bad thing. It was just a reality. My parents, and sometimes my older siblings, would gather together and make a decision. It was just natural for them to not have to ask me. They weren’t being rude. It was just part of their roles to make decisions, and they didn’t feel it was necessary to go all the way down to the fourth kid to figure it out.

Recently, I realized that this role in my family created in me a great desire to be heard, to be considered, to be respected, and to make an impact on other people, primarily because I didn’t have those opportunities within my Family Theater. Consequently, my Family Theater led me into a career that met those desires: teacher, coach, advisor, consultant, speaker, and author. I used to be frustrated by my role in my Family Theater, but now I’m thankful for the crucible that I grew up within because it guided me to work that I really love doing.

Questions to Consider

  1. What was your role in your Family Theater?
  2. What desires did that experience create within you?
  3. How are you meeting those desires today in a healthy way?
  4. What else could you do to meet those desires in a healthy way?