How do you know if you are doing good without comparing yourself to others?

Discovering Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself

by Diana Stoica, May 29, 2024

Global politics. Macroeconomic climate. Top down company decisions. Artificial intelligence.

You’ve heard about at least one of these factors influencing your job or career security in the past few years.. 
With all the changes and challenges at play, it's easy to fall into the trap of measuring our worth against the achievements of others. 

Imagine receiving lukewarm feedback that —“You were average,” after performing a piano piece in front of your friends after rehearsing for months. How would you react? 
Perhaps with a sinking feeling of disappointment or embarrassment.

In our society, being labelled as average often carries a negative connotation, fueling a culture of comparison and competition. But the truth is, not everyone can be above average all the time. This pressure to excel can lead to inflated self-evaluations and a distorted perception of our abilities—a phenomenon known as illusory superiority.
In moments of professional setback—a missed promotion, a failed interview, or an off-track project —it's easy to fall into a cycle of self-criticism or defensiveness. But neither response is helpful. 

But what if there was a way to think about how we are doing without constantly looking over our shoulders?

From as far back as we can remember, we’re taught having high self-esteem is one of the keys to life success. But what we aren’t taught is that having self-compassion is equally as—and sometimes even more—important than self-esteem.

“Self-esteem is a judgement of self-worth,” says Kristin Neff, Associate Professor Human Development and Culture, Educational Psychology Department, University of Texas at Austin. “It's like a judgement that ‘I'm a good person’ or ‘I'm a bad person’ or ‘I'm somewhere in between’. And it really focuses on kind of the worst of the self,” she says.

What if instead we were to treat ourselves as we would a friend in a similar situation? More likely than not, we’d be kind, understanding, and encouraging. Directing that type of response internally, toward ourselves, is known as self-compassion, and it’s been the focus of a good deal of research in recent years.

Kindness is one of the main features of self-compassion, but it also includes mindfulness, Dr. Neff says. “We recognize we have strengths and weaknesses and we're able to be with them with a little more equanimity, a little more perspective, and balance,” she says. “And, more importantly, it’s a sense of common humanity. There's an inherent connectedness in self-compassion.”
Self-compassion is about recognizing that everyone's imperfect and everyone struggles in life. It’s part of the human experience and what differentiates self-compassion from self-pity, Dr. Neff says.

Kristin Neff, developed a survey tool to assess self-compassion's components. 
Research using this tool reveals that high scorers often exhibit traits linked to growth mindset and authenticity—key factors for a fulfilling career. 

A Growth Mindset

We tend to associate personal growth with determination, persistence, and hard work, but the process often starts with reflection. One of the key requirements for self-improvement is having a realistic assessment of where we stand—of our strengths and our limitations. Convincing ourselves that we are better than we are leads to complacency, and thinking we’re worse than we are leads to defeatism. 
When people treat themselves with compassion, they are better able to arrive at realistic self-appraisals, which is the foundation for improvement. They are also more motivated to work on their weaknesses rather than think “What’s the point?” and to summon the grit required to enhance skills and change bad habits.

Being True to the Self

Self-compassion has benefits beyond boosting one’s drive to improve. Over time, it can help people move towards roles that better fit their values and traits. Living in accord with one’s true self—what psychologists term “authenticity”—results in increased motivation and drive (along with a host of other mental health benefits). 
Unfortunately, many employees still struggle to find or maintain authenticity in the workplace. They may feel trapped in roles where they sense a disconnect between conflicting expectations, uncertainty about their contributions, or anxiety about facing judgment from coworkers and supervisors. 

Self-compassion can help people assess their professional and personal trajectories based on what matters to them and make course corrections when and where necessary. 
When we’re kind to ourselves, clearly seeing ourselves as part of a larger, interconnected whole, we feel valuable, safe, accepted and secure. Importantly, this stance towards the self does not require inflating our self-image or seeing ourselves as better than others. Self-compassion tends to soften rather than reinforce ego-protective boundaries between self and others, bring the same sense of kind, caring concern towards ourselves that we more habitually apply to those closest to us. 

How can one foster Self-Compassion?

For most people, cultivating self-compassion begins with becoming aware of the concept and gradually integrating it into daily life. 
To start, consider using a three-point checklist inspired by psychologists' definition of self-compassion: Am I being kind and understanding to myself? Do I recognize shortcomings and failures as universal experiences? Am I maintaining perspective on negative feelings? If these steps don't resonate, a simple "trick" can help: Write yourself a letter in the third person, as if you were a friend or loved one. This can help break cycles of defensiveness or self-blame.

Many of us are better at being a good friend to other people than to ourselves, so this can help avoid spirals of defensiveness or self-blame.

If you’re struggling to foster self-compassion in your professional and personal life, don’t beat yourself up about it. With a little practice or support, you can do better.


Diana is a Professional Career and Leadership Coach based in Berlin, Germany. 

Drawing on a decade of HR experience in the corporate and scale-up world, she’s on a mission to help you find joy and purpose in your career. 

She believes that job satisfaction & fulfilment come from a place of ownership. When one takes control of their career journey and define and  pursue their own idea of success or achievement
She helps others reflect, react and reimagine their career fulfilment. She also coaches first time managers in Tech to build confidence, resilience, overcome stress and achieve positive impact on their quest to make an impact.

Learn more here.

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