WHEN Sloane Stephens beat Serena Williams at the Australian Open yesterday she was asked what she would do with the poster of Williams on her wall.
“I think I’ll put up a poster of myself now,” she said.
With that one sentence Stephens encapsulated what it is to have a healthy self-esteem. She had along admired Williams and when all her hard work paid off and she, in an upset, beat Williams she gave herself the credit that was sorely due. Albeit a little tongue in cheek.
So many of us waste so much time and energy beating ourselves up, denying our achievements and trying be humble because we feel like we’re supposed to for religious or social reasons. But no one thought badly of Stephens yesterday because she had earned her victory.
The concept of self-esteem is one that has eluded me for many years. Oft told I didn’t have enough of it, it has been this intangible notion I have always sought to understand. The chase has been made all the more difficult because I have a lot of self-confidence, but as I have discovered it’s not the same as self-esteem.
The difference between self-confidence and self-esteem is the first and hardest lesson to learn. A person can be really brave, really loud and have a lot of faith in their abilities but it doesn’t mean they have self-esteem. In fact sometimes I have probably been guilty of being over-confident, even arrogant, while at the same time harboring very low self-esteem. Self-confidence is something a person projects outwards. Self-esteem comes from a deep belief within.
But why should self-esteem matter? Isn’t a little bit of humility a good thing? Blessed are the meek and all that. Well here’s a few of reasons why it has mattered. 1) I accepted less than I deserved in a relationship because I didn’t think I was worthy of more. 2) I have never been able to ask for a pay rise because I never believed I deserved it. 3) I’ve always had problems with getting and keeping friends because I just don’t feel good enough. 4) I don’t set enough boundaries in all sorts of interactions because, I have realised, deep down I believe I deserve to be treated that way. And finally, it’s hard to for a person to find a partner who loves them if they don’t believe they deserve to be loved. Instead people pick someone who doesn’t really love them and think the ones that do actually love them are just stupid. They don’t go after the person they really like because deep down they don’t believe they have a chance.
Men don’t seem to have the same issue that women have with self-esteem. I’m not sure why. If you look at advertising and marketing though “ordinary blokes” are often celebrated. They are hapless, clumsy, beer-gutty and almost lazy in most commercials. This is the world telling men they are just fine the way they are. I think the world i.e. parents, girlfriends etc tell men this a lot. I don’t need to get into a discussion of marketing to women. We all know it’s about making us feel less than we are, so we buy buy buy stuff to make us more. And maybe men just have an unwavering belief in self that we don’t have. Even the not-so-confident men seem to believe deep down they’re pretty s–t-hot.
A friend once explained to me that it’s all about self-esteem in and self-esteem out. So if a person has a bad day, are tired, have been working hard and looking after others – that’s self-esteem out. So they have to do things to take care of themselves to put it back in – have a bath, get a massage, get their nails done, play some sport, eat well etc. That makes sense because stress will make it harder to feel good about oneself and a person does have to do things to look after themselves.
Hippy-dippy self-help books suggest writing a list of all the things you like about yourself. I tried that but came up with a very trite list that included items such as: “I have nice ankles. They are not cankles”.
For so long I thought the answer to my self-esteem problems was fixing the things I thought were wrong with me. Getting my eyelids fixed, my bite fixed, my boobs done. If I was just a bit nicer to people more people would like me. Just work a bit harder and the boss will notice and give me a pay rise. But the problem with that is the list never ends.
The finally, the other day, I think I struck self-esteem paydirt. I wrote a letter to myself but as the man of my dreams. I wrote all the things I imagined in an ideal world he would love about me and all the qualities I wanted him to see in me. I thought about the qualities I wanted him as an individual to value. Big boobs were not on the list. Nor were small eyelids, a flat belly or a slightly more attractive bite. But there were things like my big, loud laugh, my compassion, my career and my organisational skills. In fact, there were two pages worth. Do you know what I realised? I am pretty damn loveable.
Maybe I’ll put a poster of me on my wall too.