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Why Our Self-Worth (Legitimacy) Cannot Come From Our Gifts

This may be one of the most important lessons you can learn from MDNA.


Heard of Ronda Rousey? I am pretty sure everybody has in some form or another (she’ll be on the cover of Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition which is a first for an athlete). Rousey is the former mixed martial arts UFC women’s champion. What she has done for women in MMA is nothing short of amazing. In fact, many women are breaking the gender barrier in professional sports today on all levels.

Rousey is a gifted athlete. Not only is she physically tough, but her mind has to be tough as well. The demands of being an athlete and celebrity working for the hype machine that is UFC are nothing short of impossible. She deserves respect. Again, she is gifted.

Rousey lost her title recently in a stunning upset to another gifted athlete named Holly Holm. It was crazy. The internet blew up (in good and bad ways) when Rousey lost. The invincible champion was no more. Her mystique completely shattered. The haters and trolls pounced–especially attacking what appeared to be Rousey’s arrogance before the fight. Rousey conducted herself in a way, using her megastar platform, in a manner that people wanted her to lose.

Was Rousey too cocky? Did she deserve to lose? I have lots of opinions but that’s not the purpose here. Nor is this an MDNA profile of her.

Rousey is as an example of how not to find our self-worth in what we do.

Recently on Ellen, Rousey and shared that she considered suicide right after her loss. It was quite telling. She admitted questioning her entire identity if she was no longer the champ. I am sure taking a kick to the head that knocked her out didn’t help. But the fact her heart went to the dark place of suicide, despite all that she had accomplished, is worth considering. Check out this clip to listen to the interview.

Many say how Rousey bounces back from an upset loss is where we can all learn the most. I disagree. While it is important to pick yourself up–a sign of resilience–it is important to understand why we get knocked down in the first place when it comes to our self-worth.

In MDNA, we teach something called the “Legitimacy Gap.” The reason we include this teaching is that we are susceptible to finding our self-worth in what do versus who we are. We are human beings not human doings. However, the trap is our identity can be defined by our level of performance. We believe we are legitimate only when using our gifts well. That’s how the world works and wants us to think.

I have two children. When they were born, they did not have to perform for my love. My second son Julian was born premature. He could not breathe on his own and spent six weeks in an incubator. Every day I would watch in horror as alarms would go off and they fed him through a tube in his forehead because his body was not cooperating.

You could say that my son was an under-performing right from birth. He wasn’t doing anything to win awards or accolades from the masses. In fact, he disrupted our lives and drained our resources. Yet I loved him. Every day I prayed to trade places with him in that incubator. He was my son. He was legitimate to me regardless of his gifts.

We use the term Legitimacy Gap because there is a space in our hearts we try and fill through performance that can never be filled. Have you ever lost a tooth? Your tongue becomes very fixated on that gap. We too get fixated on our gaps. We work so hard to feel secure and significant to the world by proving our gifts.

Yet when we get knocked down, all seems lost. When we lose our identities, we lose ourselves. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We just need to understand why.

You are legitimate not because of your gifts, but because you are you and nobody else can. You are worthy of being loved and loving others, not because of what you do, but because of who you are. We all need to find that place deep within as a foundation for our entire beings. This may sound strange coming from someone that spends every day teaching others how to use their intrinsic motivation and social DNA for professional success and personal fulfillment. But trust me, I have been where Rousey was after her loss. I’ve lost it all as well.

The fact is personal fulfillment never comes from professional success. We get duped into thinking it does. Personal fulfillment comes from being loved for who we are. Love doesn’t fill the Legitimacy Gap. It makes it completely disappear. I am not trying to get all mushy here. This is something I have learned the hard way. Others around me, people I respect dearly for the mastery of their gifts, have had to as well.

If you noticed, Rousey decided she needed to live because of a relationship. Love got her through. So you don’t have to just take my word for it. We all need to find that unconditional source of love in our lives. Do you have one?

Ask yourself this question: If you could no longer do what you do, everything was taken away, who would you be? Would you question your identity and self-worth? Or is there something more to you than what you do? Find the Legitimacy Gap in what you do and ignore it by finding true legitimacy by being loved for who you are. You may have to make some hard choices to get there, like how much you care about the opinions of others. But it’s worth it.

Just like you are worth it.

4 responses to “Why Our Self-Worth (Legitimacy) Cannot Come From Our Gifts

  1. Barb Dusek February 22, 2016 at 8:48 am

    Fabulous articulation, Ed, thank you for this critical perspective!

    • Ed Kang February 29, 2016 at 12:11 pm

      Hello Barb! Thanks for your comment. I check ed out your site Corspective, enjoyed it, and decided to feature you in an upcoming article on branding. It is schedule to post Wednesday night. Thanks again for your kind comment. Best of luck to you in training leaders. Worthy endeavor indeed.

  2. Lance Brashear March 12, 2016 at 1:50 am

    Why do some successful people have low self-esteem while at times people who have failed have a high level of self-esteem? Is it something that we gain from external sources such as praise or is it something internal?

    • Ed Kang March 14, 2016 at 7:59 pm

      Thanks for the question Lance. Everything that happens externally for us is processed through our inner lens of personal self worth. So if inside, you find yourself unworthy, no matter what success you achieve you will always have low self-esteem. There are those that are free from external validation and legitimacy. Therefore when you are secure in your own sense of worth, failure externally has very little impact. In fact you simply learn and grow from it and eventually become successful. Great question and important to always ask.

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