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Self Esteem – The Gift Myth

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During the course of defining, explaining and discussing self-esteem in my training sessions, I actually apologize to my younger audience in regard to this important principle of success. Why? Over the past twenty plus years we (baby boomers) have created a generation of young people who, in many cases, believe it is more important to feel good then do good. When my two children were attending elementary school, I can vividly recall when the new fad for improving education was to provide our students a greater sense of self-esteem. How do you accomplish that, tell them how wonderful they are? I can share with you, enhancing self-esteem is not putting a purple star on a five-year-old student’s forehead and saying, “feel good about yourself”. Those may be tools for encouragement, but it does not instill self-esteem.

According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, “self-esteem” is defined as “Pride in oneself”. Upon further page turning in the dictionary, “pride” is defined as “A sense of one’s own dignity or value; self-respect.” How does one attain that sense of dignity, value and self-respect in their life? Does some spiritual entity come down from the sky and pronounce you a person of self-respect? I think not. A great excuse I hear often to justify relinquishing ones personal responsibility is, “I have low self-esteem.” In a professional and empathetic way, my usual response is, “What are you doing about it?”

A sense of dignity, value and self-respect / pride in oneself / self-esteem, is not given to a child, or an adult, it is earned. It can only be earned based on day-to-day behaviors. These behaviors should be based on an individual’s understanding, or at least an awareness, of what their core values are. Those core values are established, or not established, in a child by their parents, or the family structure that they are raised in. This is an example of how core values, accountability, and self-esteem are interdependent of one another. It also provides the evidence needed to understand the relationship between ones level of self-esteem and the impact of peer pressure. Without an understating of what I stand for and believe in (my core values), I am less likely to hold my self accountable, more likely to be indecisive when my sense of self is challenged, and as a result, behave in a way that does not reinforce a sense of pride (one’s own dignity or value; self respect) i.e. self-esteem.

A key indicator of an individual’s level of self-esteem in the workplace is their ability or inability to make decisions. Two major fears that all human beings have are the fear of failure and the fear of rejection. Fear of failure is fear of self, and fear of rejection is fear of others. These fears stem from how we were parented (in a later blog). If the fears of failure and rejection are so strong that it prevents an individual from being decisive, it can be a reflection of their lack of self-esteem. Why? The individual does not have the inner strength to stand up for their convictions and beliefs, because they do not know what their core values are, as a result they doubt their own value, and therefore, how could they possibly be decisive.

Instill in your children, and those you influence, that a fulfilling sense of self-esteem is earned and based on behaviors that reinforce their sense of self-worth and self-respect. Those behaviors should be a positive reflection and understanding of their core values. The key benefit to earning self-esteem, for young and old alike, is increased self-confidence, and a greater ability to be strongly decisive when challenged with tough decisions, both personally and professionally.


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