F*** Your Self-Esteem

Excuse my language, but fuck your self-esteem.

Yes, you heard me right. Strap in, kids, we’re in for a rough ride.

I don’t care how great you think you are, I don’t care how many people have told you you can do anything in life, and I don’t care what kind of trophies you have. At the end of the day, none of that matters. If you live your life doing things to feel good about yourself, you’re wrong. If you go after what other people think about you, you’re wrong. And if you think that the price of the car you drive, the size of your house, the name of your school, whatever external thing you use to measure yourself to others, matters- guess what?

You’re wrong.

A nurse had the idea to survey her dying patients on their greatest regrets. I don’t know if you guessed already, but “I didn’t get a Rolex” isn’t on the list.

The greatest regret of the dying, above everything else, was this:

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

The nurse noted,

“this was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realize, until they no longer have it.”

If that doesn’t make you take a huge step back and rethink your life, you’re either on the right track, or you’re in for a seriously unpleasant surprise when the time comes.

When this is an almost universal regret, why do we all spend so much time chasing these useless things?

I think the culprit is the idea of “self-esteem.”

A psychologist by the name of Nathaniel Branden is considered to be one of the creators of the concept of self-esteem and the “self-esteem movement” (which he is often called the father of) that followed. He believed that self-esteem is a fundamental human need, and that if it wasn’t fulfilled, psychological disorder would develop. That’s a great idea, and it makes perfect sense. The problems start to come in when people began thinking of shortcuts to building self-esteem.

If you’ve ever heard of a “participation trophy,” you understand the mentality behind these shortcuts. As a child, I was never particularly good at team sports- but I know that somewhere in a box in the closet at my parents’ house, there are a number of trophies for sports like soccer, tee-ball, and karate. We never won any real tournaments, but everyone on the team got a trophy. As much as I enjoyed those as a kid, that’s pretty obviously a stupid thing to give a child that wasn’t even competitive in any of those sports.

There are two primary schools of thought- one which advocates for building self-esteem, and another that advocates for “unconditional self-acceptance.” While there are a number of issues with the self-esteem movement, the alternative is far, far worse.

This is where things go completely off the rails.

Let’s return to myself as a child. I definitely didn’t deserve a trophy, but imagine if instead someone had told me, “it doesn’t matter that you’re bad, you’re just as good as the other kids.” Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that aptitude to any one skill or activity determines a person’s worth- I believe worth is earned. The mentality that everyone is of equal value inherently is just a cop-out.

If this sounds really harsh and unfeeling and dispassionate, you aren’t hearing me. You might be entertaining this grand notion about the equality of all humankind. That’s fair, and probably noble in some sense. I’m not speaking in generalities here-imagine if someone told Babe Ruth or Bruce Lee that they didn’t have to earn their self-worth.

Worse than that, imagine if they believed it- we would have never heard their names.

If you, for a second, think that the key to success (and I am definitely not talking about material success) or happiness (not fleeting happiness, but true, hard earned satisfaction) is to accept your faults and still feel good… have fun with that.Let me know how that works for you.

If you’re going to better yourself, you can’t believe you don’t need to better yourself.

If you’re going to improve, you have to know that you can be improved on.

Guess what?

Inadequacy is a fact of life- and it hurts.

It sucks.

It’s a terrible feeling. I don’t have a magic fix for that- there will be times when you feel like you’re not good enough, or the things you’re striving for are impossible. What will separate those of you who make it through that and those of you who don’t isn’t being rewarded for failure, and it isn’t feeling good about being a loser.

It will be that some of you keep pushing.

That’s it.

Every person out there who runs from challenges and the negative feelings associated with them will die unfulfilled. We have evidence to back that up.

Cowardice is punishment enough. Fuck your self-esteem.

Confront your demons, your failings, your inadequacies.

It will not be easy.

It will not be quick. It may take years, and it may take you to places you don’t want to be. To quote my favorite psychologist, the brilliant Carl Jung,

Even in Dante’s epic, the Divine comedy, the road to heaven begins with the gates to purgatory- hidden conveniently behind Satan himself, frozen in the lake of ice… in the lowest circle of Hell.

This isn’t a religious or spiritual argument here- I’m not talking about whatever you believe happens after you die. Frankly, I don’t care either way- because I believe there is no greater Hell than a life unfulfilled. Isn’t that truth enough considering that it’s the number one regret of the dying?

Can you imagine something worse than knowing you’ve wasted your life?

When I was a child (and still, to this day,) my parents always told me one important thing:

Life is not fair.

We don’t get to decide where we’re from, who our parents are, how we’re raised, or what our advantages (or lack thereof) are in life- it’s not fair. It’s pretty apparent that the person who said that all men are created equal wasn’t born without limbs, or with a congenital illness, or blind, or otherwise.

Life is not fair, your self-esteem does not matter to anyone, and your desire to feel good about yourself without earning it will not do you any good when time runs out.

What will you do with this knowledge?

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