Self-esteem must be earned

Have you noticed how we humans tend to value something less if we didn’t work for it or earn it somehow? If you work hard for your car, your house, or success in your job, these things mean a lot more than if they were just handed to you. This is because the car, house or job becomes, in part, the embodiment of your efforts, your intelligence and competence.

The best things in life are not free, at least from a psychological standpoint, and self-esteem is no exception. Self-esteem is the consequence of work and commitment, not the cause. It’s not a reward for who you are; it’s the result of what you do, and it grows out of persistent, relentless action. People who sit around and wait for real self-esteem to “happen” will be waiting for a long time.

If you research the facts and histories of successful individuals, you’ll see that the happiest, most confident people are the ones who take action. They take risks — some perhaps more reckless than others, but risks nonetheless. In fact, productive people regularly experience failures and disappointments throughout their lives. So how do they end up with the success they finally achieve? Through repeated actions. They use their minds, they think things out, and then, most importantly, they act.

A notable example of this is the celebrated Harland Sanders. He didn’t begin to actively franchise his fried chicken business until he was 65 years old! The Colonel’s now-famous recipe and marketing strategy was perfected only after numerous failures and false starts. Similar success stories apply to countless actors, performers and businesspeople — all entrepreneurs, each in his or her own unique way.

People who enjoy self-esteem tend to set rational, stimulating goals based on their own ideas, yet grounded in reality. Whether it’s the car of their dreams, a beautiful garden, a fast-food franchise, a master’s degree or an exercise program, they single-mindedly pursue those goals, no matter how big or small, without letting anyone else’s doubts or negativity get in their way.

Don’t fall for the popular cop-out that you can’t achieve self-esteem and happiness because you didn’t get all the nurturing (or whatever) you needed as a child. Very few people get all of the nurturing and reassurance they needed as children. Past is past. We should acknowledge the past, learn from it, and then move forward all the same. The famous TV and Broadway actress Doris Roberts (Marie Barone from ‘Everybody Loves Raymond’) says, ‘It’s OK to look back. Just don’t stare.’ Wise words indeed.

A lot of people misunderstand the notion of self-esteem as it applies to kids. Thoughtful action, even in the simplest day-to-day endeavors, comes BEFORE self-esteem — not the other way around. Kids don’t develop real self-esteem by being told they’re great even when they’re not. My experience has shown that children are actually quite perceptive and can often see through the unwarranted, positive muck that adults (especially in today’s society) sometimes inflict upon them.

A prime example of this are the flawed notions advanced by Lauren Murphy Payne, author of the book ‘Just Because I Am: A Child’s Book on Affirmation.’ On children and self-esteem, she states, “The value of each human individual is separate from their accomplishments, tasks, possessions. The value is intrinsic, and it’s a birthright.” Sounds very sweet and nice — and I disagree entirely.

Think about it. Is it important to you that your car mechanic cares enough to really fix your brakes, or does it really not matter, since his pride in himself is supposedly unrelated to his skills? Do you want your surgeon to be capable and dedicated, or does it really not matter, since her values are, as Payne suggests, intrinsic to her only as a person, with nothing to do with what she has accomplished?

A person who has achieved nothing cannot enjoy the same self-esteem as a hard worker. This may seem obvious, yet what doesn’t seem so obvious to many people is how to apply esteem and respect to ‘ the self. Well, it’s deceptively simple: You’ll feel better about yourself when you accomplish what you seek to accomplish. You’ll feel worse about yourself when you don’t make an effort to get done want you want to get done. Self-esteem is like a barometer for your sense of self. Watching it closely can help you take action when needed.

It’s psychologically healthy to attach conditions to your self-worth. As you make the effort to carry out and fulfill these conditions, you’ll be rewarded by an honest sense of happiness and the satisfaction of genuine self-respect.