I was driving home from a friend’s house tonight, feeling sad about some stuff that’s going on in my life. I was listening to a country station (I know, I know. Country Music has correctly been called “three chords and the truth” but has never been called “The best possible pick-me-up music” so the station was perhaps not the best decision when sad, but I digress… ) They played an old Reba McEntire song called “I’m a Survivor”. The second verse so hit me that I’m going to type it in its entirety here:
I don’t believe in self-pity
It only brings you down
May be the queen of broken hearts
But I don’t hide behind the crowd
When the deck is stacked against me
I just play a different game
My roots are planted in the past
And though my life is changing fast
Who I am is who I want to be
With gentle hands and the heart of a fighter
I’m a survivor
I think it’s the “Who I am is who I want to be” that really struck me. There’s so much in life that I can’t control but I can be sure that who I am is who I want to be. And it is…I am.
That made me think about the nature of self-esteem. Low self-esteem is one of the things that I often hear people talk about. Sometimes people I know complain about low self-esteem repeatedly over a prolonged period of time. I’ve seen people’s lives ruined because of low self-esteem.
Typically when I hear people talk about self-esteem they are talking about how they don’t have as much as they’d like. How it holds them back. Usually they talk about low self-esteem coming from childhood, or a series of life failures. They blame it on someone or something that is “else”.
Here’s the thing. It’s called “Self-Esteem”. It’s not “My-Mother-Esteem” or “My-Boss-Esteem” or “Things-Always-Go-My-Way-Esteem” or “I-Don’t-Have-Any-Issues-Esteem”. It’s Self-Esteem.
You are the only one who can affect your self-esteem. Let me define self-esteem as I see it so as not to cause confusion. To me, self-esteem is your certainty, that you know like you know like you know, that you are intrinsically amazing.
It’s not the same as how you feel about yourself because you are good at your job, or because you get the approval of others, or because of your talents, abilities and successes in life. Self-Esteem is how you would feel about yourself if you were alone on a desert island with absolutely nothing to be good at.
“Self” is the operative word in self-esteem. In my experience, self-esteem isn’t developed – it’s discovered. It’s not a process of accumulating praise or success. It’s a process of letting go of criticism and failure, of letting go of praise and success. Letting go of everything and ending up with just yourself. Realizing that you are incredible because you just are – whether or not you ever accomplish anything.
If you don’t get that, then no achievements, promotions, praise, approval, love, or success will ever be able to give it to you. You have to get that you are amazing and worthy – at this moment, at every moment – and you don’t have to do anything to have that, be that, or deserve that. It just is. Nobody can give it to you, you have to discover it, claim it, and own it for yourself.
Then you scrape together everything that you found about your inherent, intrinsic amazingness and you hold it in your center and you say “This is my Self-Esteem. It’s Mine. It’s Precious. You Can’t Touch It. You can’t even get Near It. You can have my Self-Esteem when you pry it from my COLD. DEAD. HANDS.”
Then you set about the work of making sure that who you are is who you want to be in all the other aspects of your life. But it starts with self-esteem, and self-esteem starts with Self.