However one defines success, the greatest contributor to success in life is how we see ourselves in relation to the world around us. Our motivations, relationships, work life, personal interests, body image, and even our religious beliefs are all derivatives of the way we see ourselves. In fact, self-esteem controls virtually every aspect of our lives. We may believe that we make decisions independently, but the underlying influence on the choices we make is to maintain the way we see ourselves. That is why making significant changes that require us to take on new challenges or opportunities in our lives can be so difficult—they force us to see ourselves as changeable.
Although the dynamics of self-esteem are not constant over time, they calibrate the range of behaviors we allow ourselves to entertain. For example:
- If you are a pleaser, then behaving more independently is threatening.
- If you are a perfectionist, then letting go of some of the details can cause anxiety.
- If you are a workaholic, then leaving the workplace at a more reasonable time can produce apprehension.
Low self-esteem causes us to unconsciously perpetuate problematic behavior. It is important to realize the past really is prologue to the future, and the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior!
In the work environment, people with low self-esteem get stuck in jobs that reinforce their sense of inferiority. Pleasers often have bosses who are dominant. Perfectionists try to satisfy bosses for whom their work is never quite good enough. Workaholics often have demanding bosses with impossibly high expectations. Dependent employees stay with controlling bosses. In the workplace, the bosses with whom we stay usually reinforce the behaviors and beliefs that maintain the familiar level of self-esteem to which we are accustomed. Self-esteem can be the anchor to which people are tethered or the engine that propels their success.
Of course, changing your level of self-esteem at work matters the most in situations such as being dissatisfied with your job, believing you can aspire to more, having strained relationships outside of work, or no longer tolerating a boss you hate. Developing healthy self-esteem puts you, not others, in the driver’s seat of your life! Those with healthy self-esteem are able to make decisions that are based on positive self-interest, instead of simply reacting to the demands of others.
People with healthy self-esteem exhibit the following types of behaviors:
- Act in accordance with what they think or believe without excessively worrying about the consequences.
- Trust their own judgment to make decisions about their lives.
- Consider themselves to be equal to others, and not wasting energy on comparisons.
- Experience intimacy without being either dependent or exploitive.
- Voice differences and finding solutions, without belittling or disrespecting themselves or others.
- Focus on living in the present, without worrying about the past or the future.
- Appreciate the value they bring to a situation and that they can be as valuable as the next person in their own unique way.
- See mistakes, setbacks, and failure as normal parts of living, from which they learn and move on.
- Are willing to take calculated risks without letting fear of failure stifle them.
Research has shown that increasing self-esteem is not an impossible task. The main thing that differentiates people with high self-esteem from those with low self-esteem is the development of mastery. Mastery is having proficiency and knowledge in certain skills or areas of expertise. With mastery, you increase your ability to manage the situations that confront you. It begins by taking baby steps outside of your comfort zone:
- Identify a skill or aptitude at which you would like to become proficient.
- Set a goal to increase your mastery of that skill by a small but noticeable amount within a specified time frame.
- Set aside a small amount of time each day to practice improving your mastery of the skill.
- When you reach the end of the established time frame, recognize the degree of mastery you have acquired. These moments are when you begin to increase your self-esteem and gain confidence in taking greater risk.
Never underestimate the power of one small change. It can ultimately precipitate a domino effect of removing obstacles in your life. Don’t be afraid to step out. As you gain in skill and confidence, you must make the move to a more active mode of experimentation. This could mean taking on more responsibility, initiating a project unfamiliar to you, or doing work that exposes you to the criticisms of peers or even the public. You will find that your worst fears will be unrealized and that the mastery you felt after acquiring one skill generalizes to experiencing success in new areas. Do not allow yourself to be content with a sense of inferiority or victimization that causes you to settle for less than the happiness you deserve! Improving your self-esteem is up to you, and only you can do it. Well, what are you waiting for?