The art of self-compassion

If a friend were to come to you with a problem or challenge, what would you tell them?


Would you think of ways to discourage them? Would you focus on what they did wrong and the negative effects of their actions?

More likely, you would you try to open your heart and mind to encourage them. You would focus on what learnings took place, and what possibilities there are to do better next time.

And if you have a strong relationship with this person, you’d do it even more effectively. You would meet them where they are and help them act.

This is a concept we are familiar with in the world of leadership development -- compassion for others. Especially for people with whom we have deep, meaningful relationships. Compassion is a phrase used often when it comes to emotional intelligence, which is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.

Compassion is such a prominent theme that Jeff Weiner, the CEO of LinkedIn, delivered a commencement speech at Wharton Business School on the subject of compassion. He’s been an outspoken leader on the concept, how it applies to him, his company and his personal life.

Jeff Weiner, W'92 CEO of LinkedIn addresses the Wharton Undergraduate Class of 2018 on May 13, 2018.

But one concept that doesn’t get as much attention is compassion toward ourselves: self-compassion. This is an act of taking what you would tell a friend, and trying to tell yourself that same thing. And, more importantly, believing it as much as if someone else had said it to you.

This is concept of self-compassion is something I have learned to embrace. Not only for myself but for the people I work with and the people who participate in our programs. These young leaders are so eager and so ambitious, but they can also be so self-critical. They’re often really effective at spotting what went “right” and what went “wrong” and then focusing on what went wrong so they might correct for the future.

Now that mentality of growth and betterment will contribute to their commitment and resilience. But being so harsh on themselves can make them feel paralyzed or inadequate. It’s important to turn that compassion into self-compassion. The talk you give yourself and the impact of doing so which will be much more effective if you can turn it into something you would tell a friend.

This isn’t easy to do. But there are ways to do it and below are some articles that can help. But the concept is powerful: can we treat ourselves in the same way we are willing to treat others, especially in moments of despair or failure? And if we can do that, the impact is immense. It’s another tool in our toolkit to battle adversity and doing something hard, which is at the heart of a meaningful journey.

More resources:

To Recover from Failure, Try Some Self-Compassion

Podcast: Being Happier at Work