Be who [you are meant] to be, and you will set the world on fire. – St. Catherine of Siena
The world is what we make of it, and in turn, what we make of ourselves. There is a tremendous power that lies within us all, that determines whether we will succeed or fail, whether we will be joyful or miserable – and it is called self-esteem. This chapter will divulge my reflections on the impact and power of self-esteem, and how to best cultivate a healthy sense of self-esteem to ensure a lifetime of success and happiness.
Defined, self-esteem is the emotional evaluation of an individual’s sense of worth that dictates the attitude and judgments made towards the self. Self esteem is not an organic entity, we do not come pre-programmed with how we feel about ourselves, nor can we be measured by any particular pre-existing scale; rather self esteem is an intensely personalized perspective shaped by our thoughts, actions, environment, and circumstances. It is the internalized thoughts and feelings that even in its essence can be different between every individual, with the ultimate outcome of feeling good about who we are. Why is this so critical to every aspect of our lives? It is because self worth is the internal compass we use to navigate our world and how we perceive our value; self-esteem dictates how we feel about the way other people treat us, what we believe we deserve, and what we will tolerate when it comes to the health of our emotional, physical and spiritual selves, the parts of the whole of our person. Self-esteem shapes our personal expectations, and how strongly we believe in our abilities and strengths.
Having a healthy sense of self esteem is the foundation of confidence, which allows us to be who we are, express who we are, and to enjoy doing it! It is the driving force that urges us to pursue goals, persevere in them because we believe we are capable of greatness. It encourages us to walk away from destructive situations, because healthy self-esteem allows for self-reflection and critical evaluation, without damaging our self-worth. The importance of healthy self-esteem is most exemplified in its absence; having low self-esteem can be one of the most detrimental obstacles to face in your life, as it can project an aura of negativity that can hinder our ability to feel good, to make smart decisions, or even to pursue our dreams. It can feel hopeless, impossible, as if you are drowning or caught in darkness without a way out. For this reason, cultivating a healthy sense of self-esteem is one of the most advantageous and beneficial personal skill sets you can acquire.
The most important step of cultivating your healthy self-esteem is to first discover who you are. Self-esteem and confidence can only exist in an environment of authenticity; pretending to be something or someone that you are not is a personal declaration that who you are is not desirable or worthy, and an indication of low self-esteem. Finding one’s identity is not necessarily easy, nor is it a one-step process. It will take time, and it is okay to be confused about your identity, because developing your sense of self and personality is a growing and learning experience filled with ongoing changes. Therefore, being true to this explorative process is crucial to healthy self worth. One path to your true self is exploring your passions, to discover what activities and dreams inspire you to feel accomplished, and to investigate goals that test your boundaries. Locating aspects of your life where your passion shines will allow you, and your confidence to flourish.
To ensure the authenticity of your self-exploration, do not be afraid to embrace your quirks and flaws. Self-esteem is an honest power; it does not delude or deceive, and it will not give you the image of perfection. Instead, having a healthy self-esteem brings about the understanding that no one is perfect, everyone has flaws and struggles, and embracing that reality is a monumental step towards feeling good. It will be a strong reminder that though there may be aspects of yourself you feel self conscious about or may not entirely like, you are no less amazing. It is impossible to ignore these feelings; therefore the learning experience is to accept your flaws, your weaknesses and challenges, to work on them or to embrace things you are unable to change. With the right positive mindset, the character faults you perceive about yourself can be overcome, modified into strengths, or accepted as not as glaring as they may feel. Flaws and peculiar or unique quirks are a part of who you are, and should be loved and accepted as much as the parts of yourself that you are proud of.
Self-esteem is a social animal, and part of the journey towards confidence and self-assurance is finding a way to feel comfortable interacting with the world. Socialization has a huge impact on our self-esteem, and how we perceive our value to society. For this reason, do not be afraid to seek help from others while working on your self-esteem. Most importantly, surround yourself with positive people who will lift you up, rejoice in your accomplishments and support you and your goals, rather than bring you down or criticize your efforts. Seek out the people in your life that inspire you to be better, as your genuine, authentic self. Often, some of the most negative influences on our self esteem can be our closest kept company, and it may be difficult to distance yourself from negative people in your life, but being able to separate yourself from negativity will greatly enhance how you feel. In the company of people who boost your confidence and self-appreciation, it will quickly become apparent that positive social circles have magnetic qualities. Therefore, when you are working to build your sense of self worth, pay attention to the people who project a positive energy and willingness to support and give confidence, and draw them into your life. They will be your support network, folk you can rely upon for encouragement in your self-building goals. Furthermore, surrounding yourself with people who help your spirit flourish will make you a beacon for others who will be drawn you and your passions.
Creating a positive social atmosphere and support network is a milestone, yet it is equally as important to engage in positive individually driven experiences as well, such as taking time to explore and reflect. Individually driven experiences can be to do something that scares you, and to overcome the perceived hurdles holding you back. Being able to instigate experiences that enhance how you feel about yourself will reinforce the fact that a social group is not absolutely necessary to initiate healthy self esteem, rather they can be an added benefit. Individually driven experiences are thought provoking and reflective, to help reveal what areas of your life may need more work. For example, if you were to wake up each morning and tell yourself that you are a beautiful person with a genuine soul, a wonderful mind and a warm caring heart, and something about the statement does not feel comfortable, it is important to reflect on why you feel this way, and to develop new skills for dealing with your uncertainties.
Cultivating self-esteem is also the perfect environment for the creation of healthy habits, which will in turn reciprocate your efforts. Your body listens to the positivity of your mind, and adapts to perform better, just as a healthy body will encourage the mind towards positive thinking. This means taking care of yourself – eating and sleeping well, engaging in adequate exercise, and managing your stress is important in creating a physical atmosphere where your growing self esteem can flourish. Maintaining the lowest stress level possible will enhance your ability to master tasks, and facilitate healthy hormones for productive thinking. Treating your body right will result in a physical craving for further positive, healthy treatment and the mind is similar in that when you feed it with positivity, it will flourish and both demand and share more. Feed your mind with positivity by forging affirmative habits, such as writing down your successes and strengths, or rewarding yourself for your hard work with things or activities you enjoy doing. Building positive habits such as these will curb negativity-spreading habits such as gossiping or putting others down, for they will feel toxic in your emotional space. Negativity, and the sharing of it, will only destroy authentic self-esteem, and may also be harmful to others who also might be struggling with their self worth. In committing to habits of positive thinking, encouragement, and self-reflection, you will help shape and grow your self-esteem.
Finally, you can use this positive outlook and positive habits in all aspects of your life, including setting goals. Often, the desire to create and pursue a new goal is instigated by a level of dissatisfaction, or unhappiness with ourselves. However, the most successful and well-won goals are inspired by self-esteem – when we believe we are worthy and deserving of something great, our journeys are clearer, defined, and we are more capable of success. When goals are made in a positive mindset, we can, and will reach them. The journey to self-esteem can be a long and arduous path, but it is a trip worth traveling. With a healthy sense of self-esteem and confidence, there is nothing that you cannot do!