Stressing the practice of living purposefully as essential to fully realized self-esteem is not equivalent to measuring an individual’s worth by his or her external achievements. We admire achievements—in ourselves and others—and it is natural and appropriate for us to do so. But that is not the same thing as saying that our achievements are the measure or grounds of our self-esteem. The root of our self-esteem is not our achievements but those internally generated practices that, among other things, make it possible for us to achieve.-Nathaniel Branden
Sometimes we seem to get it backward and think that we are worthy because of the things that we accomplish. Most of us live in cultures and societies that value achievement above all else, and that sort of attitude can get us to think that we have to continue achieving in order to maintain our self-esteem.
Unfortunately, though, we don’t realize that until we improve our self-esteem, there’s a strong possibility that we won’t be able to achieve much of what we set out to do. It’s hard to do our best work when we don’t feel good about ourselves, so our achievements may be lessened by the way we see ourselves. While we may luck out and achieve something great with low self-esteem, the chances are that we won’t.
True self-esteem is not dependent on anything outside of ourselves; rather, it’s the way we regard ourselves as human beings. If we see ourselves as worthy people and treat ourselves as such, then we have a good chance to accomplish what attempt. But succeeding or failing at that attempt will have no effect on the way we see ourselves, for our self-worth is already something that we accept completely. It doesn’t depend on what we do.
Sometimes we get it wrong–we can’t improve our self-esteem by our accomplishments, but we can improve our accomplishments by working on our self-esteem and valuing ourselves as human beings who deserve the best we have to give ourselves.
Questions to ponder:
1. Why might we tend to base our worth (or feelings of unworthiness) on the things that we accomplish–or fail to accomplish?
2. What are some ways that we might improve our self-esteem?
3. How do we fall into the trap of developing low self-esteem?
For further thought:
It is a psychological fact that people always conform to the image they hold of themselves. Change their image and you change their actions, their reactions, their environment, their worlds. -Jack Holland