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 or success in your job, these things mean a lot more than if they were just handed to you. This is because the car or the job is a concrete manifestation of your efforts and hard work.
From a psychological standpoint, the best things in life are not free, and self-esteem is no exception. It’s 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. People who sit around and wait for true self-esteem to “happen” will be waiting for a long time.
If you research the histories of successful individuals, you’ll see that the 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 experience failures throughout their lives. So how do they end up with the success they finally achieve? Through repeated action. 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 franchise his fried chicken business until he was 65 years old! His now-famous recipe and marketing strategy was perfected only after numerous failures. Similar success stories apply to countless actors, entrepreneurs and businesspeople.
People who enjoy self-esteem tend to set stimulating goals based on their ideas, but grounded in reality. Whether it’s the car of their dreams, a fast-food franchise, a master’s degree or an exercise program, they single-mindedly pursue those goals without letting anyone’s 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 the nurturing and reassurance they needed as children. Past is past. Acknowledge it, learn from it, and then move forward. The celebrated 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 when they’re not. My experience has shown that children are actually quite perceptive and can often see through the unwarranted, feel-good muck that adults (especially in today’s society) sometimes inflict upon them.
A prime example of this is the flawed notion advanced by Lauren Murphy Payne, author of the book “Just Because I Am: A Child’s Book on Affirmation.” 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, and refute it with case studies in just about every chapter of my latest book, “Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (and How to Tell the Difference).”
Think about it. Is it important that your car mechanic cares enough to properly fix your brakes, or does it not matter, since his pride in himself is supposedly unrelated to his skills? Do you want your heart 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?
Sometimes people don’t understand how to apply self-esteem and respect to themselves. But it’s simple: You feel better when you accomplish what you seek to accomplish. Self-esteem is 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 fulfill these conditions, you’ll be rewarded with an honest sense of happiness and genuine self-respect.
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