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Get Over Yourself

I heard something that made me pause for thought. I was listening to a podcast and the subject of self-esteem came into the discussion. The view was that we should not seek to measure our self-esteem, and we should certainly not aspire or feel the need to have high self-esteem. I thought this was rather odd. Surely having high self-esteem is the ticket to success. Isn’t that what gets us promoted at work? Having such a trait means we attract more people to ourselves, doesn’t it? What on earth could be wrong about wanting to be confident in my own worth? It tickled my thinking cells so much that I did some research (because I just can’t let things like this go) and I can now conclude that I do indeed agree with the podcast* presenter and guest. We shouldn’t want to improve our self-esteem and we need to get over it. Stay with me on this...

I looked around for the definition of self-esteem. It was pretty vague to begin with, stating that it is about having confidence in one's own worth or abilities; self-respect. Furthermore, self-esteem encompasses beliefs about oneself (which can be positive, “I am worthy”, or negative, “I am unloved”). So, I wondered about how we go about measuring our self-esteem, especially against the positive and the negative beliefs we can harbour. How exactly do you conclude that you are “unloved” if it is about one’s own confidence and self-worth? The simple answer is that it isn’t about our own measures at all….not really. We look to others for our self-esteem.

You may have heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs which is a list of motivating elements humans need in order to be satisfied in their lives. Self-esteem is one of them, but interestingly he notes that this is made up of two things, the first being:

‘the need for respect from others in the form of recognition, success, and admiration’.

Can you guess where I am going with this? Maslow highlights that our self-esteem is very much measured against how others react to us, how they recognise our achievements, value our successes, and how much (and I am going with how many) people like us. Now this was a little lightbulb moment for me. How often have we felt confident in ourselves because someone has said how well we did, or how brilliant something we said was, or how wonderful our efforts were? Maybe we already felt pleased with ourselves, but their positive feedback provides affirmation, or perhaps we didn’t really know we had done a good job until someone gave us kudos, and therefore we came away buzzing that we achieved greatness. Either way, our self-esteem is largely based on others’ opinions or feedback.

If you perceive yourself to be in a competitive environment, it is easy to compare yourself to others in order to measure your own self-esteem. I think I am safe in declaring that most of us have done this. Whether that’s training for a run (‘at least I ran faster/longer than X’), in the workplace (‘I got my project in before X’), or in parenting (‘my child can't use the potty yet, but X can’). We may not think these things in a malicious or ill intended way, but what has happened here is the measurement of ones (or others) abilities (and therefore confidence) against others. We have turned up the dial of our self-esteem based on comparing ourselves to someone else. Well, hello ego!!!!

Here is what we need to do when this happens…we need to get over ourselves. We are not allowing or giving self-respect when we compare and contrast. We are doing ourselves a disservice. We need to put compassion over ego. We need to love ourselves based on who we are, our goals, our achievements and not the fact it betters someone else. Self-esteem based on how others see or validate us, or how we compare ourselves to others is not the confidence or acceptable self-worth we deserve.

Through the research it transpires that self-love is what we need to do. With self-love we are not favouring our abilities, our skills, or other people’s compliments to determine our confidence or self-worth. Instead, self-love is all accepting. Knowing our flaws and our weaknesses makes us stronger and should make us more confident. Truly confident. I have come across numerous managers and leaders who are happy to show masses of self-esteem to the world based on their strengths, but an inspiring leader will talk about how they overcame mistakes, how they are still learning, and how we can all progress together.

Whilst scrolling through Instagram at the usual positive memes and beautifully crafted quotes (I don’t say this in jest, I love them and I also dabble with it myself) I came across this quote…

I thought this was a great example of showing how self-love is the process of embracing every part of ourselves, letting go of ego, and getting to know oneself. For me, I don’t think there is anyone as powerful as someone who knows themselves, who understands what they excel in, what they aren’t so great in, how to improve, how to hold up and support others, and how to love themselves without validation from anyone else. That’s the power of self-love, and that’s where confidence and self-worth live.

*Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris

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