The Great Escape

“He who has lost confidence can lose nothing else.”
Pierre-Claude-Victor Boiste (1765-1824), lexicographer

Some years ago, one of my siblings was convicted and sent to prison where he served two year’s time. I went to visit him frequently, but I have to tell you … nothing you see on TV or in the movies can prepare you for what it’s really like in there. And even though I got to talk to my brother … on the telephone … with a glass wall separating us … I experienced a tremendous sense of separation, depression, and helplessness.

Of course there are millions of people around the world who live behind brick-and-mortar prison walls every day. And I’m sure their sense of separation, depression, and helplessness is much stronger than the emotions I felt as a mere visitor to the prison.

However many people that might be, that’s a small number compared to the multi-millions of people who live inside their own self-constructed prisons. They incarcerate themselves with low self-esteem, building walls of negativity, pessimism, resentments, complaints, and excuses. And their lives are as bleak, dismal, and joyless as the prison I used to visit.

Now I know that might sound like a bit of an exaggeration, but don’t miss the fundamental truth I’m giving you. If you don’t have HIGH self-esteem and STRONG self-confidence all the time, you’re trapped in a prison of some sort. And that prison is holding you back from achieving some of your career goals and personal dreams.

Of course, I have to admit that lots of people … and I do mean lots and lots of people … have gotten used to their marginal self-esteem. They don’t realize what they’re missing. They don’t realize the problems they’re causing for themselves. So let’s talk about it.

=> 1. The problem with low self-esteem

There are a host of problems associated with the self-imposed prison of low self-esteem.

***The FIRST one is self-imposed helplessness or almost assured failure. As Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian Nationalist leader, observed, “Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end up by really becoming incapable of doing it.”

In “The Seeds of Greatness,” Dr. Denis Waitley affirms Gandhi’s observation. Waitley says, “If you believe you can, you probably can. If you believe you WON’T, you most assuredly WON’T. Belief is the ignition switch that gets you off the launching pad.”

Both of them are saying that your belief in self … your self-esteem … is the ultimate bottom line. So let me ask you, “How’s your self-esteem bottom line? Do you have enough self-esteem to live the life you want to live?”

***It’s critical … because a SECOND problem with low self-esteem is the loss factor. You simply miss out on a lot of good stuff in life. As consultant Dan Klatt notes, “When people don’t feel they deserve wealth or abundance in any area, they don’t take the opportunities they’re given.”

I see it all the time in my speaking business. The top salespeople in a company, for example, are always confident. They believe they can make the sales they need to make. The less successful salespeople express their doubts and blame their problems on a poor economy, an unsatisfactory product, or difficult customers.

Of course, you may be wondering about the so-called benefits of high self-esteem. Let me outline a few.

=> 2. The benefits of high self-esteem

***Well, the most obvious benefit is the fact that you simply FEEL BETTER. Author Charles Handy writes, “When you are comfortable with who you are and what you are — bald or old or fat or poor, successful to struggling — when you don’t feel the need to apologize for anything or deny anything … (that) is the beginning of strength.”

He’s saying with high self-esteem, you accept yourself and like yourself. You just FEEL BETTER.

***But there’s even bigger news than that. With high self-esteem, you DO BETTER.

Gandhi knew that, and he changed a nation. He said, “If I shall have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capacity to do it, even if I may not have it at the beginning.”

Dr. Walter Doyle Staples actually outlined the process of how greater self-esteem will help you DO BETTER. He wrote,

When you change your thinking,
You change your beliefs;

When you change your beliefs,
You change your expectations;

When you change your expectations,
You change your attitude;

When you change your attitude,
You change your behavior;

When you change your behavior,
You change your performance;

When you change your performance,
You change you life!

Dr. Staples is right. And research backs him up. When you raise your self-esteem, you raise your performance. You DO BETTER.

***Finally, for today’s purposes, with higher self-esteem, you CONNECT BETTER. You improve your leadership skills and your personal relationships.

In fact, I just came back from a European speaking tour, speaking to The Institute For Management Studies in London, Manchester, Brussels, and Amsterdam. I spoke on “The 7 Critical Turns For Success.” The first turn has to do with self-esteem or self-confidence. I told the 200+ leaders in attendance that they couldn’t expect other people to believe in them and follow them if they didn’t believe in themselves.

Of course, Horace, the poet from ancient times said as much. He said, “He who has confidence in himself will lead the rest.” So ask yourself, “Do you as a leader project a self-confidence that others can believe in … that others can and will want to follow?”

With high self-esteem, you also CONNECT BETTER with people in your personal life. As one attendee asked in my Amsterdam audience, “What if you get too much self-esteem? Isn’t there a problem with arrogance?”

Good question, but it reveals a common misconception. Arrogance is never a sign of having too much self-esteem. It’s the cover-up people use when they have too little self-esteem. They’re insecure, and they don’t want you to see their insecurity so they put on a false front of bravado. They may even try to cut others down in a vain attempt to build their own self-esteem.

But that never works. You never learn to CONNECT BETTER by hurting someone else. As Virginia Arcastle puts it, “When people are made to feel secure and important and appreciated, it will no longer be necessary for them to whittle down others in order to seem bigger by comparison.”

If you’re in the prison of low self-esteem, quit justifying it. Don’t make excuses for it. Don’t blame it on somebody else. None of that serves you.

Get real. Start to understand the problem with low self-esteem and the benefit of high self-esteem. And if you actually want to do something about it, please understand that self-esteem can be changed and can be raised. I’ll talk about that next week.

Action:  Identify five people who exhibit high self-esteem. Become aware of how they behave.