Those who know me are familiar with mymotto: If you want self-esteem, do esteemable things.
What are esteemable things? Those actions which are honorable, which reveal your good side, your committed side, the character trait which demonstrates you as a kind, giving individual, rather than one trying to get away with whatever possible in order to either further his/her own agenda, or avoid pain.
Let me give you an example.
When I was in college, I was a very good student, but it came at a deep price. I was obsessed with studying, driven with doing a good job, to the point that I was deeply anxious almost all the time. The anxiety kept me up nights, ruminating and mentally mapping all my potential strategies for the next thesis or the next test. The reports I wrote were produced after hours spent in the library doing research, poring over many books, taking profuse notes, frequently staying until the wee hours of the morning, writing, copying, reading. The results were wonderful, but I was a wreck. Test-taking, by contrast, was hell. My anxiety level was so high, I suffered from severe migraines. In fact, in the case of the final exam in computer programming, I was so anxious that I completely blanked out after writing my name on the test paper! Blanked out. Nothing, nada, zip. Not even reading through the multiple choice answers jogged my memory. I handed in my blank test in defeat, hearing the dreaded words from the teacher, “You’re going to fail the course, you know.” Yes, I knew. And I did.
Computer programming was not a required course for graduation, so I allowed that F to fester on my transcript. I ignored it. I made excuses for it. I didn’t talk about it. The years passed, and somehow I made good in my other courses, until the time came to apply for graduation. However, it appeared that although I had completed my required courses, my elective courses, as well as several graduate level courses, there was an entry level course which was required which I somehow did not fulfill. I could not graduate without it. Bummer! That is when the offending F from computer programming came back to haunt me.
It seemed totally pointless to take only one 101 course for three months on my way to graduation. I talked about my silly predicament with my mentor/best friend, who by now knew about my computer programming fiasco/F on my transcript. He suggested that I take two classes: The missing required course AND the computer programming course. What?!? OMG. The old anxiety came in again like a tsunami, forceful waves washing over me, angst, dark memories about blanking out at the final exam! After much hand-wringing, I said I would do it. I gave him my word that I would not quit, no matter what. Even if it meant another failure, I would not quit. My butt would be in that class for every session, I would pay attention, would do the assignments, I would go the distance.
Do you know how it feels to have just given your word about something so scary? You might as well have extracted a promise from me that I’d walk on fire! No matter what, I’d go the distance?!? What, are you nuts? Don’t you know I have no head for computers? I don’t need this class anyway, it’s not part of my chosen curriculum, it was an elective in the first place! Do I have to? MOMMY!!!!!!
After this agonizing, I stepped over to the other side. The side of resolve, serene acceptance, of surrender. There is a wonderful poem by Goethe: “Until one is committed, there is all manner of hesitancy, …”
I signed up for computer programming, the same course I had previously failed. My professor this time was a colorful, muscular, gorgeous specimen of a human being, with a crinkle in his eye and an attitude of taking no prisoners. He had no sympathy. He raked everyone over the coals, and when I presented one of my papers “backwards” in the sense that I first wrote out the steps, and then drew the flowchart, he announced in front of the whole class that “you will bomb the test.” Omg! OMG! I knew enough about self-fulfilling prophecy to really worry about that, so I meekly replied, “Don’t bet on it.” That drew some groans of respect from my fellow classmates. I was intent on defeating whatever pronouncements were out there in the universe intent on sabotaging me.
It was Thanksgiving week, and we had one month to complete our class project. The final exam was scheduled for the end of December. His words rang loudly in the crevices of my mind, and I did not feel my retort was nearly as powerful as his prophecy, but I had given my word to Woody, and I was committed. I could not back out.
Thanksgiving Day, 10 a.m., I showed up at the university computer lab, project in hand. In those days, if you got up from your assigned computer and someone else sat there, you were out of luck, and had to wait your turn again. I was assigned a computer and began to collect my thoughts. Again, I preferred to write my steps down, and then proceed to do the flowchart. I had designed the project with a few shorthand notes, and then proceeded to translate it onto a computer program. It was an airlines reservations motif with seat assignments and meal preferences. Reams and reams of printed paper later, I was done. The program flowed nicely, all the loose ends tied in a bow. It was 11 p.m.
I presented my finished project to the colorful professor in class Monday. He leafed through it, reviewed my precepts, reviewed the flow of information, and declared, “This is beautiful. You don’t have to take the test.” What? I was excused from the final exam, the monster which had haunted my dreams, the ogre that had tormented my sleep?
Now, THAT’S self-esteem.
Nothing – not chocolate, ice cream or sex could improve on that feeling.
And when I say that my self-esteem is enhanced by these actions, I am not being conceited. This is not a conceited, holier-than-thou proclamation. Rather, it is to say that I feel better about myself as a consequence. This has nothing to do with lording it over others; it has to do with my own self-love.