Self-esteem is a wonderful thing. We grow this by being successful in the “outer” world, whatever we deem that success to be, whether making the Dean’s List, getting that new job, fitting back into those size-6 jeans. Or any host of other measuring sticks.
But have you ever noticed that any time we measure worth by something external, that external thing can go away? Next semester you may miss that Dean’s List. You may lose your job. Gain back that weight.
And self-esteem can tank.
But self-worth is quite a different beast. It’s based on how you see yourself from within, and remains as a sturdy ship no matter how roiling the seas.
While mastering outer issues can surely be confidence building, relying on those outer things can ultimately do a number on your actual self-worth. You feel like you’re banging your head against a wall.
And, in actuality, you are.
People who base their own self-worth on what others think and not on their value as human beings might pay a mental and physical price, according to research by Jennifer Crocker, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.
Crocker has worked on a series of self-esteem studies, and found in her latest research that college students who based their self-worth on external sources—including appearance, approval from others and even their academic performance—reported more stress, anger, academic problems, relationship conflicts, and had higher levels of drug and alcohol use and symptoms of eating disorders.
But we’ve all been there, no?
In today’s world of celebrity worship, of all sorts, and Promote! Promote! Promote!, it can seem as if the only thing that matters is grasping that brass ring. Everyone else is a loser.
Wow. How did we get to here? But that’s another topic.
The point of course being, if you don’t find it within, you don’t find it anywhere. And being constantly barraged by all the “successful” people on the planet makes it sometimes more difficult to find that constant center within.
And this comes down to who you are, rather than what you are.
Weren’t most of us raised (dinosaurs that we are!) to believe in solid moral concepts? Oh, not the “my god is better than your god” kind, but rather, to foster those character traits that make us decent human beings. You know them:
To be honest. To treat people as you want to be treated. In fact, to see the good in others and celebrate that. To do what you say you’re going to do. To find beauty and meaning in the most awful of places. To leave the world a better place. To always do your best.
To be able to look in the mirror and say, “Good job.”
And yes, it can be pretty tough to hold that center, the insular Tahiti of which Herman Melville spoke. As your little boat gets battered about on the 40 foot seas of this life, and you’re hanging on for dear life while trying to row, yep, it’s easy to ask what the heck you did wrong to get here.
But those seas of life will always ebb and flow. And while yes, sometimes you made a pretty wrong turn back there to get you into this fine mess, you’ve doubtlessly made at least that many correct turns. So once you get out of the crashing ocean, you can figure out the next move again.
Let’s face it, we all have those feelings now and then. The ones that cause you to doubt into your very soul the path you took.
Authors know this oh-so well. It’s a tough world out there, made oh-so-much tougher by the 15 million e-books expected to be released this year. And then a publisher does find you, does publish you, and, well, nobody’s reviews are all stellar 🙂 I have about a 15-1 ratio of good reviews to bad about I Just Came Here to Dance. And you guessed it—the negative ones stopped me flat.
The ill winds of defeat will always whisper through the gang planks.
The stronger your center though, the deeper that insular Tahiti, the more that defeat can stay in your head (where you can slay it), and out of your heart (where you live).
Because with me, I’m pretty danged certain of my purpose. Which is an incredibly fabulous thing. It sustains me through all those soaring peaks and watery valleys. It drives me from my core. It warms that solitary, well-lighted place where I sit for endless hours and days, weeks and months, writing a story that otherwise existed in my psyche alone.
The doing of the thing sustains me in the end.
Are the good reviews just manna from the gods? Of course. Of course.
But I don’t live from them. Nor suffer too many slings and arrows from the bad ones.
You have this too, no? Your own internal idea of success, no matter what the outer world might say.
Grasp it. Hold onto those ropes when the high seas roil. They will sustain you.
And now go out and do the thing you were put here to do.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson said about success:
“To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.”
Award-winning writer and editor Susan Mary Malone is the author of the novels, "I Just Came Here to Dance" and "By the Book," as well as four co-authored nonfiction books, including "What’s Wrong with My Family?" and many published short stories. Forty-plus Malone-edited books have now sold to traditional publishers.