Introductory Note:

Anyone who’s been to a third-grade classroom--or a night club, PTA meeting, or Fortune 500 board room—can tell you we have issues of erratic self-worth in our culture. In this immensely practical piece, entrepreneur (and Renovaré board chair) Jon Bailey suggests that self-esteem is incomplete without the missing ingredient of self-discipline.

Carolyn Arends
Director of Education, Renovaré

We live in a culture hopped up on self-esteem. We’re over-caffeinated with good job,’ you can do it!,’ The sky is the limit,’ or other such phrases that encourage us to stretch for the stars. I like this can-do attitude. I was born and raised on it. My parents gifted me with a healthy self-esteem, by showering me with words of affirmation. 

But growing up I still struggled with self-worth issues. I knew the sky was the limit,’ and I could do anything I set my mind to,’ but something was still missing. What I’ve learned recently, as an adult, is that self-esteem, by itself, isn’t enough. It has to be counter-balanced with self-discipline in order to grow a healthy self-worth. To be clear, self-esteem and words of affirmation are crucial, and I’m not suggesting that it’s bad or we should stop doing it. What I’m saying is that it’s incomplete. The simple and sharp point is we need to add to it a healthy dose of self-discipline. 

Why does this lopsided self-esteem environment exist? Well, the simplistic version goes like this, baby boomers didn’t get a lot of affirmation growing up. Baby boomers lived with disciplined dads who came home, in the 1950s, from a world at war. Discipline was on the brain. This control and command mentality led baby boomer parents to preach self-discipline as the way to self-worth. Baby boomers course corrected in the 60s and 70s by preaching self-esteem as the doorway to self-worth. I say you need equal measures of both.

Take my four-year-old son’s inaugural season of tee ball for example. He struggled early on with self-worth due to his premature birth, which led to physical delays, one being, running. He has found himself in situations where he wasn’t able to keep up with other kids his age. He was always a step slower.

His mom and I would encourage him by saying, great job!’, that was an awesome hit!’, and You can do it!’. The self-esteem zingers registered with him, but he needed more to lift his self-worth. Self-discipline was the needed ingredient and it took the form of tee-ball practice. Self-discipline, putting in the reps, made a huge difference. His attitude shifted 180 degrees. This truth works for adults and tee-ballers.

When we practice something regularly and commit to self-discipline our self-worth skyrockets. 

By the time most of us have reached adulthood self-esteem zingers don’t register very high on the worth’ scale if they register at all. What we need is self-discipline. That doesn’t mean we throw away self-esteem. Like I said above, we need self-esteem counter-balanced with equal measures of self-discipline. When we strike the right balance we find our self-worth grows. 

When I complete a day long fast and wake up in the morning I feel so proud that I completed it – I didn’t give into afternoon urges or late night cravings. It’s a feeling of good pride, not bad pride. Bad pride is a high or inordinate opinion of oneself. Good pride is a deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one’s achievements. 

Did you grow up in a warm affirmative environment, lathered with self-esteem zingers? Perhaps you’ve grown up and found that the world isn’t as warm and affirming as you were led to believe. 

Are you struggling with your own worth? Do you regularly beat yourself up? One way to shed that mentality is to add self-discipline into your life. What small, attainable discipline can you add to your life right now? It doesn’t have to be huge, just find out what that discipline is and start practicing it.