25 days after he broke up with me, he sent me his latest oeuvre. As is his style, there was no explanation, no context, no reader’s guide. I was on the phone with my best friend in Seattle, who had…


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What Is Better Than Self Esteem?

If you are one who struggles with self esteem issues, take comfort — you are in a very large cohort. Achievements and success will always only take us so far in life — for better or worse, maybe, but only so far. This is because whenever we derive our sense of self from anything that is outside of us, or from the pursuit of anything that is outside of us, we are simply set up for disappointment. Win some, lose some. Furthermore, someone will always be better, have more, be cooler, a better mom, more successful; if not now, then later down the road. We do not control everything. There is so much for which we cannot even prepare. However, when we build our decisions and behaviors around a healthy Self Concept (or Identity, maybe), we can move forward in life under all circumstances with confidence. Full stop.

Most people I have met have no real idea who they are or who they aspire to be. People seem to be busy getting busier spending time on things that denote success but achieve only fleeting happiness. Accolades and achievements come and go. If you are not clear with yourself outside of these external factors, it can feel like an earthquake — or at least be a bumpy ride when the Universe turns left on you and takes them away, while you are out there living right.

What is the difference? Self esteem is based on emotions and is subject to all kinds of whims. Your self esteem may go up and down based on how you feel, what your hair does today, how your boss responds, what you are wearing, how much applause or kudos, how your personal relationships are going, etc. It is transient and often based on things that we do not even value. If people are judging you based on these things like you are judging yourself by these things, it will be difficult to live up to all of those expectations forever. Someone is bound to be disappointed.

Self-Concept, on the other hand, is an aspirational idea; this is the You that you are working towards every day. (Appreciate that this is a big topic.) The difference is that Self-Esteem is based on our assessment of our past behavior — how well (or how short) we measure up to our (or others’) expectations. Are we winners? Are we good at this? Are we worthy? Are we valuable? Are we better than? This is important because part of our Core Values is forward-movement. Everyone needs to feel like life is moving forward — towards their goals — be they known or unknown. When you have low self-esteem, when you do not feel like you are worth it, you will pursue the Next Best Option (NBO) in life, which leads to lower self esteem, less confidence, less recognition from others, etc. If you are uncomfortable with failure, now it is even more complicated. When you believe that you should BE better than this, you might feel even worse.

It is this discrepancy between Self-Esteem (your assessment of your past) and your vision of your future Best Self Concept that informs our sense of Self Worth (which is what we base our Self Esteem on). This cycle will continue until you come to realize that you are only human, life is unpredictable, but moving forward has meaning for you.

You can see how this is complicated. Perhaps, but the way out is not a secret.

Mature people, on the other hand, have healthy self-esteem. They know that they can fail and recover, that others’ opinions are based on Who-knows-what; that they are not perfect, but they are doing their best. And this is enough. A healthy Self Concept scenario: If you are learning to play piano (or run a marathon), that might factor into your sense of self-discipline, follow-through, which impacts your sense of Integrity making you feel more worth it (Self Worth). One might choose piano over running a marathon because it gives one a chance to perform for, teach and impact others. Or not! They are obviously very different. But it is the pursuit, this forward-looking perspective of our better Self in the future that substantively drives us, compels us, motivates us — not running the marathon. That experience will come and go and then what? Who we are is not the things we do, but rather the purpose and meaning for which we do them. This is who we are.

It is important to remember that Self Concept is forward-looking also because healthy people are not prideful. They know that they are not perfect and continue to grow. But the pursuit of a better Self (or better world, or better something) is the goal — not more, better — up to and including making the world a better place.

If your self-esteem is low, you will naturally find yourself deferring, deflecting, abdicating exactly the things that will improve your self-esteem. But it does not have to be. Recognizing our behaviors and wanting to improve on them is a mature and healthy thing to do. People do it all the time as they grow, or as their life circumstances change, or as their relationships change. We are all assessing ourselves and changing and growing all the time. You are fooling yourself if you think you cannot change. We all do it all the time.

One guess might be that you simply do not know how.

​Perhaps I may be of some assistance?

Bloom where you are planted.



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