I heard Tony Robbins say this recently, and it made a lot of sense to me, so I thought I would expand upon this thought of his.
The idea that you have poor self esteem because of your upbringing or getting bullied is somewhat of a misnomer. Yes, if you allow yourself to believe the harsh things others say to you, then your self image will suffer accordingly. If it starts early enough in life, before you have a chance to prove yourself a capable human, than you may have some real issues that accompany this. But if you are like many of us who have a few people who throw a random comment at you to see a reaction and you take the bait, you may be culpable in this issue.
If someone told me that I was a terrible person, I would just laugh at them. I have spent a large portion of my life helping others in one way or another, including as a volunteer coach of a college racquetball team. My day job is to helping Risk Managers solve problems and take better care of injured employees. I help my family and friends often. There is no basis for that comment to be taken seriously…unless in my head I decide to allow it. Don’t get me wrong, I am capable of doing terrible things, as others are. But this does not make me a poor example of a human being, it is part of the human experience called life. It is better to be capable of things that are dark and powerful, just in case it is ever necessary. But once you learn to control these things, you can become a good person that has capacity for not so nice things.
To develop better self esteem, you need to learn to do things that you struggle with to a better degree. For example, if you are chronically late, you need to master this issue to be taken seriously. By being late to your job or to meet your friends, you are giving the other party(ies) the impression that this wasn’t important enough to you to be on time, and therefore they may become anger. Now you are in a loop of apologizing for your behavior, and they are angry at you because of it. You feel badly about yourself for letting them down and causing them to be angry, and thus the feedback loop begins. “I can’t ever be on time” is the starting point, but it can easily spill over to “I can’t do anything right” in a hurry, and now you have a blanket statement about yourself that can really make you doubt your abilities. This is how poor self esteem can take hold in your psyche.
Another example is you played a sport such as Little League Baseball or Youth Soccer as a kid. You strike out with the bases loaded and your team loses, or you have a chance to score the winning goal and you blow it. Despite this happening to anyone who plays sports at some point during their time on the field, you take it to heart. You start to see yourself as someone who chokes under pressure, and this will have far reaching impact on your self esteem. You will likely avoid putting yourself in this situation again, and quit the team to do so. By doing so, you have set the pattern in motion for lack of belief in yourself, and thus your self esteem will be lacking. It is a very common occurrence, and most people do not put their kids into sports for this experience. They put them there for the opposite, to hit the winning single and score two runs to win, or to make the penalty shot and be the hero. But life doesn’t always work out that way. How you deal with the outcome is going to factor heavily into how you view yourself and your place in the world.
So the magic question is…how do you improve your self esteem? Well, that is a tough one to answer, but here is my take on it. I believe that you need to start small and “prove” to yourself that you are more capable than you think. Anyone who plays a sport, a musical instrument, sings, dances, is an actor, or another number of other performer, you will have some failures. You will not always put your best performance on, and you will need to recover from this. If you blew your chance at being the hero, work on the skills to hopefully let you succeed the next time that opportunity arises. Remember, Michael Jordan missed a game-winning shot dozens of times in his career on the basketball court, so no one is ever going to execute in every clutch moment. A great baseball player is only getting a hit less that 40% of the time, so measure your success ratio accordingly.
Start small, pick a task that you are pretty sure you can do, and then go do it. Do it more than once if you are really hesitant to put yourself out there. Maybe the best place to start is something that you love to do and are already somewhat proficient at. If you are really struggling to find a way to feel better about yourself, this is a great starting point as it provides a twofold benefit. First, you are doing more of something you already have a desire to do, and secondly, you can gain the benefits of making progress with something that you seemingly already have a knack for. That should shorten the process a bit, and allow you to gain some momentum in this exercise. Then, once you gain a little confidence, try something a little more difficult and see how you do. More importantly, see how you react. If you fall down in the process, all you have to do is get back up and try again. No one sticks the landing on the first try. Success doesn’t matter at this stage, the most important piece is that you not deterred. If so, you are already on the right track. All you have to do, as oversimplified of a statement as this is, is you need to dust off and try again. It doesn’t matter who laughs, who chastises you, who you think is making fun of you. You need to read this famous quote, known as Man in the Arena:
“It is not the critic who counts, the one who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
I love this quote, at it exemplifies the warrior mindset. You need to try and fail and try again. You need to do this until you have failed in every manner possible and run out of ways to fail and therefore you can succeed. This is the secret to an amazing life, one of purpose and fulfillment. One without any doubts or haunting thoughts of “what if…”. A life that, down the road you can look back and know, with full certainty, that you tried and failed and tried again, and eventually you made your way towards something you wanted. Don’t sell yourself short, whatever YOUR bigtime is, it is important. Even if it is only to you, it is of great importance, because this is the vehicle for self discovery and improvement.