I’m challenging myself to write more. Welcome to my first #postaday post! I perused a couple threads and fell on what I think is a fitting topic, an amalgam of entries for this new challenge: self-esteem.
Let’s start with the basics.
self-esteem (n): confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; the esteem in which one holds oneself; self-respect
esteem (n): respect and admiration
I’d like to point out a critical feature of the given definition: self-respect. I’ll post another time about “showing respect vs. having respect vs. giving respect” — for now, the key point is SINCERITY. Do I really respect myself? Am I truly confident in my abilities? Do I actually admire myself, my accomplishments, etc?
In personal terms, for the longest time, the answer was, “Yes!” while a voice deep inside me weakly whimpered, “No…” I was raised to put my shoulders back, my chin up, and speak with volume. I was academically strong and spoke eloquently. And I had very few friends… And I scoffed at activities that appeared too easy… And I generally didn’t like myself — not that I was consciously aware of it. Four critical experiences come to mind:
(1) I was in 7th grade and received my mid-year report card. Under “English Language Arts” I had an “A-” and in the notes my teacher wrote, “Not enough effort.” I was bewildered.
(2) I danced at a studio throughout middle and high school. My eighth grade or freshman year, I went to a convention in Santa Barbara with my troop. I was placed in the beginners/intermediate group for class rotations. I was pretty upset about the decision, but tried not to let the hurt show too much. I was awarded a ribbon for excellence in the Hip Hop class, and the instructor said upon handing it to me, “Well, don’t look so excited…” Apparently I had a terrible scowl on my face…
(3) In later high school, while at another dance convention, I tuned out about a third of the way through a Tap class because it was “too easy.” By the time I tuned back in, the piece had become far more complicated — too complex with group interaction for me to even catch up by the end of class. I was forced to sit back and just watch as these very basic steps became this awesome masterpiece of interwoven percussive sounds performed by different groups of dancers. It was truly amazing.
(4) During my freshman year of college, most students in our university dance program assumed that I was a transfer student, from what they described as a combination of my confidence, presence, and knowledge. What stood out to me most, though, was after an internal audition for the annual dance showcase, a fellow freshman described me as arrogant and overconfident. At the time, I thought it was ridiculous. Within a few months of self-assessment, I determined otherwise.
“Ryan, precisely what do these instances have to do with each other?”
Essentially, I had been trained explicitly and implicitly that I should behave confidently, regardless of my actual confidence level. Standing in front of a mirror in my dorm room, I suddenly had this picture in my head that represented “me” as two concentric circles: the inner circle represented my self-opinion, the outer represented my projection of self, and there was a HUGE gap. Over time, I pulled the outer circle in and grew the inner circle out, until they matched and both grew together.
Additionally, I had not been very challenged in what I did throughout my life, and in the areas of my life that were challenging, I held a low opinion of myself for their mere existence. I didn’t know how to accept a challenge or how to be satisfied with my accomplishments. I have WAY more stories to demonstrate these phenomena, but I think you can fill in the blanks with some of your own.
In my opinion, two ingredients are critical for self-esteem, and by extension, satisfaction: struggle and measureable achievement.
satisfaction (n): fulfillment of one’s wishes, expectations, or needs, or the pleasure derived from this
I want to emphasize “…or the pleasure derived from this.” As an educator, I have said for years that one student’s “B” is another student’s “F,” and one student’s “C” is another student’s “A.” Some students can put in no effort and wonder why they didn’t get an A… “I may as well have an ‘F’ then…” Another student may have to work incredibly hard for a C, the result of which can be elation and a sense of victory. “Well, it wasn’t an ‘F,’ and it was a huge improvement over my last paper!”
substandard (adj): below the usual or required standard; less than adequate
“All or nothing.”
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
All of the above = B.S.
Each statement ultimately leads to
“Why even bother?”
If a critical component of self-esteem is struggle, none of the above can be a real thing. The only requirement for developing self-esteem is honest engagement. Nothing will ever be adequate if you think you’ll master something quickly that is challenging. “I’m no good at math/dance/singing/writing/_____.” That’s why you are in this class: to learn, not to already be an expert. Maybe you will never master a task. Maybe you’ll discover that a task or activity isn’t for you. But that is significantly different than running away from a challenge. Each time we run away from a challenge, we essentially judge ourselves to be substandard. We suck all of the possibilities for self-development out of the situation, we erode our self-esteem, and we rob ourselves of the satisfaction we might gain from taking on something outside of our comfort zone. If anything less than perfection/mastery is substandard, then we’re all screwed.
I have so much more to say, but don’t know how to say it without rambling, so I’ll pause here for the time being. Instead, final thoughts:
(1) Always being successful does not build self-esteem.
(2) Nothing that is easy builds lasting self-esteem.
(3) Growth mindset is essential for long-term satisfaction with life.
(4) Having a fixed mindset does not allow for honest engagement, ever.
(5) “Pretending yourself into being” only works with continued, regular, honest self-assessment.
(6) Not everything is for everyone, and that has to be OK, too.
I’m taking on this writing challenge. We’ll see how that goes. Not bad, for a start. 😉
I hope you challenge yourself today.
P.S. I love this Twitter post
When I preview this post, the video is not playing… which is kind of the whole point of the reference. Click through to the tweet if it doesn’t play.
P.P.S. This photo makes me think about satisfaction.
Satisfaction with self: A scar early in the apple’s formation led it to creating a pretty fascinating pattern… Definitely not substandard. Neat!
Satisfaction in experience: “What a crisp, delicious apple! Looks super tasty.” And it was!
And as a teacher, I’m biased towards apples. 😉