My father was in the military and as a child we moved. A lot. Because of this, it seemed like I was in a new school every couple of years. For me, it was a whole new set of people that were watching me, judging me, waiting to see if I measured up. It felt terrible. I also stood out for all the wrong reasons: I had a shock of bright red hair, I had a zillion freckles, my ears were adult sized on a child and…..I was mouthy. I had been blessed with a quick wit and it became my weapon of choice to deal with a world that seemed obsessed with status. I became a verbal bully, looking for weaknesses in others so I could be seen as the funny guy that people would accept, all the while wondering why I couldn’t be accepted as just me. Every day, I fixed my mask firmly in place, drew my weapons and reluctantly faced the world, waiting for the next attack. To say that I spent most of my childhood running away from me instead of working on me was an understatement. My self-esteem was in daily, sometime hourly flux. I couldn’t get a grip on who I was or what I was supposed to be doing. I was a mess.
Fast forward a few decades, and I don’t feel a mess anymore. I like who I have become, I am aware of my talents and my shortcomings and I use them to continually grow myself as well as help others learn how to grow themselves. So what happened in between? In short, people happened.
I was lucky enough to run into some people who cared enough to see beneath my mask, called me out on my defensive strategies and got me to realize that the fight for me was a worthy one, a daily one and a never ending journey of discovery. I must admit I fought them tooth and nail for a long time, after all my habits were ingrained. I had worked hard on my mask and my weapons and there was a certain comfort level to my madness, I had fluctuated so long between feeling better than others or worse than others that feeling equal seemed out of place. And I was weirdly attached to the worry that consumed most of my waking hours about how people felt about me and I was unsure about what was going to take its place. But these people persisted, they didn’t take no for an answer, and they made me work for me. Because of them, I have learned much about self-esteem and have happily become an advocate for everybody’s fight to feel equal.
These are my opinions about self-esteem:
1. It is intensely personal. You cannot change someone’s self-esteem, only they can.
2. You cannot argue a person into changing their self-esteem. Schools have been trying this for a while now with positive affirmations and trophy’s for just showing up and it isn’t working. Discipline has become a major issue and bullying is up, not down.
3. If you want to “be” different than you are, you must “act” different than you do. Self-esteem is not changed by talk, only by action.
4. Changing self-esteem is a brick by brick building process. It takes patience and honesty.
5. In order for you to partner with someone in raising their self-esteem, you must be invited in by showing how much you care before you show them how much you know.
I have been a coach, a teacher and a leader for many years now, and I have come to enjoy the battle for “me”. I still make more mistakes than I’d like, still struggle with old habits that rear their ugly head every once in a while, but I’m better than I was and I’m planning on being better than I am. Underneath it all, my self-esteem really is tied to others in a strange way. By understanding how to grow me better, it has helped me to help others grow themselves and as they grow, my self esteem grows. Weird huh? The paradox of self-esteem is that the answer that people seek to raise their self-esteem lies outside themselves, it is bigger than “I” or “ME”, but the battle for that answer lies within. It is personal, it is frustrating and it is totally worth it. So how’s your Self-Esteem?