Self-esteem is not bestowed, either by God or by others. Instead, it is rooted in two specific and controllable character traits. First, you need to develop and exercise humility in order to forgive yourself and others. Second, you need self-discipline to make empowering decisions for the benefit of yourself and those you serve. Self-esteem comes from strength, and strength comes from habitually making empowering decisions.
One of the interesting things I’ve noticed about the study of the development of self esteem is that it’s a relatively recent issue. From colonial America through World War II, the books, sermons and newspapers made scant mention of it. Perhaps when people are engaged in either a large and noble cause, or a vigorous challenge to survive, self esteem isn’t much of a concern.
Today, low self-esteem is blamed for almost everything except cancer. Here is a sampling of what some of the “experts” (including some self-appointed) have to say about self-esteem: (my comments in parentheses)
- Wars are started due to lack of self-esteem. (If everyone had healthy self-esteem, there would be no wars?)
- Our self esteem is instilled in us during our youth. (If you don’t have healthy self-esteem by the time you reach adulthood, you will suffer and there may be little you can do about it?)
- Our low self esteem strips us of our self confidence to make even the smallest of decisions. (Low self-esteem causes dis-empowerment?)
- Improving your self esteem increases your confidence and is a first step towards finding happiness and a better life. (If you’re not happy or your life is unsatisfactory, low self-esteem may be the culprit?)
Might I suggest a reality check?
I think the story of Charles Atlas is illustrative of the proper development of self-esteem. At 17, Atlas was a 97-lb wimp. He could have felt sorry for himself, or developed an outlook that “life isn’t fair,” or that his problem was really somebody else’s fault. He might have even decided to find some way to “get even” with everyone he thought was bigger, stronger, or more successful than he was. Instead, he chose personal empowerment, because, as he later observed, “nobody picks on a strong man.”
And Atlas is not alone. Many great men and women have had significant personal challenges, from Helen Keller to Nick Vujicic. Each had a choice: self-pity or self-improvement.
That same option is available to each of us. One can build strength, power, and self-esteem by simply choosing consistently to make empowering decisions. These choices fall in three key areas: how you use your time, how you use your money, and how you use your energy.
You can test this. Make a ‘genie list.’ This is a list of all the things you would get done if you had a magic genie that you could command to do them for you. Next, look at the list and choose the one item that you have put off for the longest time.
Now, since you don’t have a magic genie, you will have to take care of this item yourself. So do that one item.
At this point, you have either done the task or you have decided to do something else. Either response is valid for proving the point. If you actually accomplished the task and have resumed reading this article, you feel within yourself the sense of personal empowerment that comes with the task’s completion. If you are continuing to procrastinate, you still feel drained and uninspired: dis-empowered. Your decision to complete the task was empowering, and your decision to avoid the task was dis-empowering. Would you care to guess which leads to enhanced self-esteem?
Your use of money works the same way. Wise use of money is empowering. You can decide to build yourself up every time you reach for your checkbook. Squandering money leads to feelings of remorse, self-vilification, and helplessness.
Spend some of your energy helping someone who really needs, and appreciates your help. For instance, do some yard work for an elderly or infirm neighbor. Work up a good sweat and give it everything you’ve got. Then give yourself an attitude-check. How do you feel about yourself? How’s your self-esteem?
Notice that this has nothing to do with how people treat you. It has much more to do with how you treat people, and how you use the resources you already have. Contrary to the expert opinions cited above, low self-esteem is actually a result of decisions and actions, not a cause.
Finally: be present. Your efforts to develop self-esteem will be seriously hampered if you spend your time mentally in either the past or the future. You need to participate in life with power and presence. You must be aware of and involved in the purpose or mission you were born to complete. All you really have to work with is your time, your money, and your energy. How you apply them to the opportunities that surround you will determine your strength, your energy, your wealth, and your self-esteem.