In this issue ~~
Self-esteem looms large on our radar screen these days. There's tremendous – and well-warranted – concern about self-esteem in our children and ourselves. As a society, we've realized that having high self-esteem is crucial to our development. Without a healthy sense of self-esteem, we block ourselves from expressing our creativity and fulfilling our potential.
As children, we depend on the reflection of others to build our self-esteem. If you grew up in a loving and supportive household, you entered adulthood with high self-esteem. If your experience, like most of ours, was less than perfect, it's not the end of the story. As an adult, you have access to strengths, information and resources you didn't as a child, and you can continue building self-esteem throughout your life. You don't have to live out your days as a victim of your childhood circumstances.
As adults, our self-esteem needs to come from within us. Admiration and praise from others is great, but if we don't have a receptacle of self-esteem in which to hold it, compliments will feed our egos for awhile and then fall into a bottomless pit, leaving us waiting for the next "fix." We can never get enough to make us really believe it, and we continually seek to please others in order to get more.
In building our self-esteem, healing our past is helpful, but it's just the start. Self-esteem, along with self-confidence and self-respect, is something we earn. According to the National Association for Self-Esteem (www.self-esteem-nase.org/), we do that by taking action. Two ways, among many, that we can do this are 1) to face or invite challenges and 2) to act with integrity.
By facing challenges, we gain skills and confidence in dealing with life. We come to know our own strength and stretch our limits, and we experience the joy and satisfaction of our own accomplishments. We discover that we can succeed, and also that we can fail and learn from it. We learn that we can cope with whatever life throws at us. As we build strength and courage, we can then take on challenges by choice, to open up new areas of life and continue building those strengths. As we do, we also build our self-esteem.
In the beginning, we need to plan our challenges strategically. If you haven't been to the gym in ten years, you start with small weights, rather than risking damage by doing too much too fast. In the same way, you can rack up small successes and build on those, continuing to raise the bar. If you're afraid – and you're not alone on that – don't try to take on a huge challenge right away. Take it in steps, and allow your growing confidence to propel you higher.
Often, we avoid big challenges because we're afraid of making fools of ourselves. In the Tarot deck, the 22 cards of the Major Arcana map the journey of the Fool, who faces the world with a sense of wonder and a willingness to take a leap of faith, knowing that it will lead to something worthwhile. When we take ourselves lightly and leap with a sense of playfulness, we can exhilarate in our risks, rather than fearing them and berating ourselves if they don't work out. We can include our mistakes as part of the journey and use them as a guide to redirect our efforts.
Having high self-esteem does not mean that you will always meet with success. In truth, most successful people have failed a few – or many – times before they succeeded. Thomas Alva Edison filed over 1,000 successful patents, but also 500 unsuccessful ones. He ran thousands of experiments, testing over 6,000 filaments, before he created a successful light bulb. Where would we be if he had gotten discouraged after ten?
Dealing with failure is part of the picture. It teaches us valuable lessons and builds the "muscles" we need to handle success. How could you be CEO of a large corporation if every setback makes you want to crawl under the covers? How can you be a successful artist if every criticism crushes your spirit and creativity? One of my greatest lessons in failure was watching a gymnast fall off the balance beam during the Olympics. My heart sank for her, but she leapt back on the bar and continued her routine, going on to win a medal. I learned from this world class athlete that on the road to success, wallowing in self-pity is a costly luxury.
Another path to self-esteem is through integrity. Living with integrity means having principles and standards we believe in – and then upholding them. It's not enough to give lip service. By acting on our principles, we come to respect and even admire ourselves in a way that's more solid and lasting than simply taking in praise from others. It helps create the receptacle into which we can receive that praise and be nourished by it, instead of continually craving more.
Some of the ways we may be called upon to live our integrity include:
Living your principles and standards takes courage and resolve. You will inevitably be faced with the choice to stand up for what you believe in or to sell out in order to please someone or avoid conflict. It's by having congruity between your words and deeds that you build self-esteem. You learn that your word means something. You learn that while you may lose some people by taking a stand for what you believe in, you will attract people with the level of character you aspire to. That in itself will increase your self-esteem.
Building self-esteem is a solo journey. It's something you can only do for yourself, and it has to be based on your internal sense of values and direction, not somebody else's. Positive competition can be a great way to challenge yourself, but constantly comparing yourself to others (usually negatively) can point you away from your internal compass.
Build your self-esteem step by step. Challenge yourself, and live by your principles. Set standards for how you want to be treated and to treat others. As you get stronger, you'll face bigger challenges, but you'll have a history of handling challenges successfully that will help you face the fear and uncertainty of new levels of challenge. You'll become a person you respect and admire, and you will draw people to you who appreciate you for who you are. You will have the courage to follow your heart and pursue your passions.
In the journey of the Fool, the final step is Mastery. Through
daily practice, you become better at taking the actions that
build your self-esteem and self-confidence. It's a courageous
journey, and an exciting one with ever-increasing rewards.
To raise your self-esteem, choose something you've been avoiding doing out of fear. Then, do it. If it's something big, break it down into steps, and take the first step. If you fail the first time, try again. You can do it!
"Creativity flourishes when we have a sense of safety and self-acceptance."
"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
"The level of our self-esteem creates a set of implicit expectations about what is possible and appropriate to us. These expectations tend to generate the actions that turn them into realities. And the realities then confirm and strengthen the original beliefs. Self-esteem – high or low – tends to be a generator of self-fulfilling prophecies."
"Whatever good things we build end up building us."
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