Where do you sit on the self-esteem scale? Do you like who you are and have a high sense of self-worth? Do you think you’re good at stuff that matters? Or would you like yourself more if you could just fix that issue, or that complaint? Perhaps a lack of self-esteem has long held you back. Or there has been a recent setback that has knocked your confidence.
If that’s the case, it might be time to do some work on your self-esteem. Because it matters, a lot. The science shows self-esteem is strongly linked to life satisfaction and life satisfaction is strongly linked to personal and professional effectiveness. The good news is self-esteem can be built over time.
One of my favourite thinkers on this topic is psychology academic, Dr Scott Barry Kaufman. He has a wonderful new book called Transend: The new science of self-actualisation. And one of my favourite podcasters, Cory Muscara, recently covered this topic on his podcast called Practicing Human (see episode 190).
Kaufman describes healthy self-esteem as an outcome of genuine accomplishment, intimate connection with others, and a sense of growing and developing as a whole person. The research breaks this down into two primary components: self-worth and mastery.
Having a sense of self-worth is the basis for who we want to become. That means it’s harder to learn and grow if we don’t think we’re worthy.
Mastery is about making progress and achieving our goals by exercising our agency. Achievement has a compounding effect – the more we achieve our goals, the greater sense of mastery. Some of this is about skill. Much of it is about doing the work, showing up, putting in the time and effort. The approval of others matters for our sense of mastery too. But sourcing approval from within matters most.
For me, this feeling like I wanted more from my life, and I was worthy of it, has been a huge driving force in my personal growth. From about 10 years old, I had a yearning of sorts in me; it was this sense that having an extraordinary life was in my grasp but I was not quite there. For decades that yearning was a slight empty, lonely feeling, like a craving that needed to be filled. It meant I didn’t like to be alone and was always looking for sources ‘out there’ to fill me up.
That coping strategy worked and then after mostly happy, thriving teen years, I became depressed in my early 20s. It was 1998 and depression wasn’t well understood or supported. It really sucked but the love of family and friends, and travelling the world became my path out of it.
I was 23 and bumbling my way through when the company I worked for offered to send me on a personal development course that changed my life. That experience started the lesson that has taken another 20 years to fully learn. That is, the extraordinary life I believe I am worth isn’t achieved through the people I meet, the money I earn or the parties I go to. Instead it comes from doing the work to shift my self-created suffering.
Since that moment I’ve spent countless hours exploring what it takes to quieten my inner critic, let go of the unhelpful stories I tell myself and be open and responsive instead of reactive and defensive. I still get lonely, sad, angry and bored. But it doesn’t grip on to me like it used to. I find space around it now and in that space lies wisdom and peace. Let’s be clear, it’s a lifelong work in progress. Believing I’m worth being better was, and still is, my leg up.
If you worked on your self-esteem, where would it take you?