Is Self-Mastery about Conquest or Compassion?

Sir Edmund Hillary, who with Tenzing Norgay was the first to climb Mount Everest, famously said “It’s not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves.” Others have expressed similar sentiments:

  • Buddha: “It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles.”
  • Plato: “The first and best victory is to conquer self.”
  • Napoleon Hill: “The greatest battle that anyone will wage against their own selves will be fought within, not without.”

Now, who am I to argue with such eminent thinkers? Um, maybe I will anyway! Is that kind of forceful stance against ourselves a good idea? Someone intent on conquering others is generally known as a tyrant or a bully. Is “bullying” ourselves really the best approach to self-improvement?

One could say that the opposite of bullying others is to be a leader. So, what are some qualities of an effective leader? (And then we’ll look at applying those ideas to ‘leading ourselves’.)

  • Empathy: It’s like being a mind-reader, but for feelings — a ‘heart-reader’! Understanding what others are feeling and showing them we care.
  • Integrity: Sticking to our moral compass even when no one is watching. Being a secret agent of honesty and earning trust points from everyone.
  • Emotional Intelligence: Mastering the art of handling our feelings and understanding others too. Being an emotional mage — serene and wise.
  • Effective Communication: Talking and listening like a pro – imagine being a superb radio host for all your conversations.
  • Vision and Inspiration: Charting a course to a better place and getting everyone on the train with our enthusiasm and commitment.
  • Resilience and Adaptability: Bouncing back from life’s curveballs like a ninja cat – agile, cool, and always landing on our feet.
  • Accountability: Owning up to our mistakes with style and making sure everyone plays fair – like a friendly neighborhood referee.

And what if we took these same qualities, but applied them to “leading ourselves” instead we’d have:

  • Self-Empathy: Treating ourselves like our best friend, especially when times get tough – self-high five!
  • Personal Integrity: Being our own superhero of truth and sticking to our inner rule book.
  • Emotional Self-Regulation: Being the cool-headed captain of our emotional ship, steering through the stormy seas of feelings.
  • Effective Self-Communication: Practicing positive self-talk and being mindful of our inner dialogue. Being honest with ourselves in a constructive and supportive manner.
  • Personal Vision and Self-Inspiration: Charting our personal road map to our aspirations and being our own cheerleader along the way.
  • Resilience and Adaptability: Getting better at shaking off the tough times and rolling with the punches. Looking at challenges as chances to grow and get better.
  • Accountability to Self: Being the friendly but firm coach to ourselves when we slip up – no excuses, just learning.

Sure, there are times when we need to apply Tough Love to ourselves. If that’s rare with others, perhaps it might be rare with ourselves. In general, I’m wondering if it isn’t better to ‘lead’ ourselves — much like effective leaders lead others. Bullying isn’t an effective long-term strategy, but good leadership always is!

— William Zeitler

First published on Substack

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