The Real Challenge Is Not Survival – It's Surviving As Yourself

“No one can figure out your worth but you.”
Pearl Bailey (1918-1990, entertainer)

Last week I wrote about the millions of people in prison … a prison of their own making … the prison of low self-esteem. It’s a place where you DON’T FEEL THE BEST.

The comedy writer Robert Orben talked about that. He said, “Sometimes I get the feeling the whole world is against me, but deep down I know that’s not true. Some of the smaller countries are neutral.”

Low self-esteem is also a place where you CAN’T DO YOUR BEST. After all, psychology teaches us … clearly and unequivocally … that you perform exactly as you see yourself. If you see yourself as somewhat mediocre, you’ll perform at a somewhat mediocre level.

And yet, as I mentioned last week, some people are almost afraid of working on their self-esteem. They’ve seen some conceited, arrogant and offensive people, and they think if that’s what self-esteem is all about, they don’t want anything to do with it. Well neither do I.

So let me make one thing very clear. Such behavior is NEVER a sign of good, healthy self-esteem, and it’s never a sign of having too much self-esteem. Just the opposite. Pride, arrogance, and conceit are always signs of insecurity and low self-esteem.

Johnny Unitas, the great football player, knew that. He was the legendary quarterback who threw at least one touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979. But it never went to his head. Unitas said, “Conceit is bragging about yourself. Confidence means you believe you can get the job done.”

Whichever of the options you choose, let’s get started today. Try these techniques.

=> 1. Act as-if you already have high self-esteem.

One of the most basic, reliable facts in psychology is the act-as-if principle. If you start to act a certain way, you will begin to feel and be that way.

Coach Barbara Pachter says, “If you act confidently, others will perceive you that way (even if that’s not how you feel on the inside). Eventually you will feel more confident and the inside will match the outside.”

That’s good news. So I advise you to pick out two or three people with great self-esteem and watch how they behave. Let them serve as role models. And begin to act-as-if you have the great self-esteem they exhibit.

Just one caution. I’m NOT suggesting that you try to BE somebody else. That would be a put down on yourself. As entertainer Aida Overton Walker (1880-1914) pointed out, “Unless we learn the lesson of self-appreciation and practice it, we shall spend our lives imitating other people and deprecating ourselves.”

No, you can’t BE and shouldn’t try to BE somebody else. All you can and should do is try to BEHAVE as though you have the confidence you see in the true champions of life.

=> 2. Be yourself.

People like REAL … authentic … people. They don’t like fakes.

I suppose that’s why most of us have a hard time swallowing most politicians. Instead of being real and saying what they REALLY think, they say whatever will get them elected. But that’s another issue for another “Tuesday Tip.”

For our purposes, if you’re ever going to have high self-esteem, you’ve got to BE yourself. As the entertainer and sausage maker Jimmy Dean said, “If I could give the world any advice, I’d tell ’em exactly like my great-granddaddy told me. He said, ‘Jimmy, be yourself. Because if people don’t like you as you are, they’re not going to like you as somebody you’re trying to be.’ Generally, I’ve followed that advice. In the moments I haven’t, I’ve gotten into more trouble than a centipede with fallen arches.”

Of course, it won’t be easy to BE yourself. Almost everyone in your job life and personal life will try to change who you are. But Elia Kazan, who won two Oscars as Best Director, said, “The real challenge is not simply to survive. Anyone can do that. It’s to survive as yourself, undiminished.”

And then…

=> 3. Look for and document the positive.

When you have low self-esteem, it’s easy to focus on the negative things … and as a result … stay negative. You’ve got to change your focus. As the famous novelist Charles Dickens advised, “Reflect upon your present blessings, of which every man has plenty; not on your misfortunes, of which all men have some.”

Jill Weston of the Mayo Clinic can vouch for that. She wrote, “Thank you for your book, ‘PIVOT: How One Turn In Attitude Can Lead To Success.’ I’ve been reading it and getting SO MUCH out of it. I appreciate your allowing me to take the book even though I did not have my checkbook on me and couldn’t pay for it at the seminar. I was pleasantly surprised by what you said, ‘Go ahead and take the book and mail me a check. I trust you.’ Wow! You didn’t know me from Adam. Thanks so much. The check is on the way.”

Of course I’m glad she paid me. But it was much more gratifying to hear what the “PIVOT” book did for the self-esteem in her family. Jill continued, “There was once such negativity and ungratefulness in my home that I knew I had to do something different or else die trying. I decided to start a gratitude journal with my children. Each night I asked each one of my kids to spend 2 minutes with me and fill out a piece of paper that had a few questions on it. I asked them to list at least one thing they were good at … or liked doing … or one thing they did to help someone else that day … and then list one thing they were grateful for. It was amazing what happened.”

“After a few weeks,” Jill continued, “self-esteem sky rocketed because my children were seeing and affirming the goodness that each one of them possessed. The contention in the home lessened, and we all felt more thankful for the blessings in our lives which brought more peace and happiness to our home and our lives. I also asked them to pick a family member and jot down one good thing about that person.”

“Most of my children found it hard … at first … to even admit their siblings possessed such goodness, but each one of my children has asked me to revisit those answers at some point and tell them the good things their brothers and sisters said about them. They loved it, even though they didn’t want to participate at first.”

So there you have it … 3 ways to get out of your low self-esteem prison … or 3 ways to build and maintain a lasting high self-esteem.

Action:  Start a gratitude journal and make an entry every day.