The great myth of self-esteem is that it is somehow a passive thing. That our self-esteem rises and falls based on what happens to us— that it is created and is nurtured and lives outside of us.
The truth is, it’s the exact opposite. Self-esteem can only be created within. We are 100% responsible for our self-esteem.
It’s true that external events can make it easier or harder for us to esteem ourselves. It’s also true that people born with cultural, economic, and social advantages don’t face certain obstacles to building self-esteem that people not born with these advantages face.
But when it comes down to it, building self-esteem is entirely an internal affair. It’s based entirely on choices we make. And we can make choices that enhance (or diminish) our self-esteem, regardless of our economic state, social status, or any other variable.
Self-esteem is mostly our brain’s response, our brain’s appraisal, of our chosen way of being in the world. Our brain does not choose to esteem us based on our financial success, our social success, our conventional attractiveness, or our talent at any given skill— though it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking these things create self-esteem, since these are the types of things that the people around us tend to esteem.
Your self-esteem doesn’t particularly care if you’re rich, or popular, or beautiful, or talented.
There are plenty of rich, popular, beautiful, talented people out there who do not esteem themselves. Who, behind closed doors, when they’re alone with their thoughts, consider themselves frauds, and wonder when everyone else will catch on to their scam.
Take care not to confuse what the culture, or the people around you, think of you, with genuine self-esteem. Self-esteem can never be created— or destroyed— by other peoples’ reactions to or judgments of you.
Of what use is being rich, if you don’t feel in control of your life?
Of what use is being popular, if you constantly fear that you’re about to be abandoned?
Of what use is being beautiful, if you secretly fear that people only like you for your impermanent beauty?
Of what use is being talented, when you feel overwhelmed by life’s obligations outside of the domain of your talent?
Self-esteem can only be created by our choices. And the fundamental choices that create self-esteem are faced equally by people who are rich or poor, introverts or extroverts, on all points of any personal characteristic spectrum you choose to consider.
We have the choice to think and engage, or go on autopilot.
We have the choice to clarify and pursue our goals, or let someone else direct our life and energy.
We have the choice to protect and value our resources— our time, energy, expertise, experience— or capitulate to anyone’s demand that we expend our resources at their whim.
We have the choice to think about the roles of purpose and meaning in our life, or to behave as if our existence is an accidental footnote in a chaotic world.
We have the choice to take responsibility for our choices, or to focus on how we’re jerked around by circumstances and history.
We have the choice to live with radical acceptance of what is, even if we don’t like it, or to live in denial of facts that we find inconvenient or frustrating, simply because it’s more comfortable that way.
These are all choices that are 100% made internally. They don’t have to do with our age, our gender, our race, our class, or our history. Every breathing human being is confronted with these choices— and every breathing human being must live with the consequences of these choices.
It’s not the case that in order to have healthy, realistically high self-esteem, you have to make these choices perfectly. Nobody makes choices perfectly, every time.
What we do have to do, however, is approach these decisions with seriousness, mindfulness, and focus. We need to take these choices seriously. And if we’re intimidated by these decisions— which, why wouldn’t we be?— we need to seek out the kind of support and personal growth necessary to confront them without shrinking.
Don’t fall for anyone who tries to tell you self-esteem is a function of money. Or popularity. Or beauty. Or talent.
Don’t fall for anyone who tries to tell you you cannot develop healthy self-esteem because you weren’t born a certain race, class, or gender.
Don’t fall for anyone who tries to tell you self-esteem is beyond your reach because of your history.
Don’t fall for anyone who tells you you need their specific advice, guidance, personal development program, sweat lodge, triple espresso, or philosophy to create high self-esteem.
High self-esteem is not your birthright— but you can earn it. All with decisions that are free, and that you, as a human being who has the capacity to think, are eminently capable of making.
You are enough.
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