The other day I was sitting with a CEO who shared a challenge he was facing.
Let’s call him Jim.
On the one hand, Jim was feeling incredibly confident, powerful and successful when it came to leading his team and facing the challenges that hit him day in and day out at the office.
On the other hand, when it came to his personal life, at home with his wife and children, Jim felt like a different person.
Instead of feeling powerful, Jim felt powerless. Instead of feeling confident and successful, at home he felt like a failure and was constantly second-guessing himself. Jim’s wife said he complained non-stop about all the things he didn’t like.
Because of his struggle, Jim looked forward to his frequent business trips and, while he loved his family very much, he never really looked forward to returning home.
Jim opened up to me that he had never shared these feelings with anyone before, but it was causing him a lot of distress and he wanted some support.
The more he shared, the more I started to get a feeling for what I believed might be happening.
Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde
At work, Jim is the boss. Nobody questions that. While he treats his employees fairly and they admire and respect him, the bottom line is, whether they like it or not, Jim calls the shots, and everyone knows it.
At home however, it was sounding like Jim may not have been “the boss” and, in fact, it sounded like his wife played more of the dominant role in the family.
That inherently wasn’t the problem though – in most couples, often one party plays a more dominant and the other the more submissive roles. Often times these roles even change, depending on the circumstance.
My feeling was that Jim’s challenge was founded in his self-esteem.
Your reputation…with yourself
Famous psychologist and author Nathaniel Brandon writes that self-esteem can be called the “reputation we have with ourselves”. It’s how we think of ourselves – how good, how capable or how successful we see ourselves as being…or as not being.
The problem though is that many people have fallen into the habit of seeing themselves according to how others’ see them. When others are inspired, or they praise our work, or they’re envious of our success, we often feel validated and our sense of self gets a boost.
But it’s not our self-esteem getting a boost here….not at all.
Validation, or seeing ourselves according to how others see us, is a pattern we naturally learn in childhood, but as adults, this pattern doesn’t serve us. It significantly diminishes our potential for success and often keeps us trapped in an endless search to get more validation.
Validation has nothing to do with self-esteem.
By definition, self-esteem is created by you – you’re the self in the equation! It’s about how you see yourself and it has nothing to do with anyone or anything outside of you at all.
Seeing yourself according to how others see you might better be called other-esteem and, while it’s pretty common, it can be a painful and debilitating way to live.
Jim had a bad reputation…with himself
So like a lot of people, Jim had high levels of other-esteem, but his self-esteem was very low.
That meant it was easy to understand why he felt powerful and confident at work; he was the undisputed King of the Castle! Nobody questioned his position or his authority. He was, after all, a brilliant businessman who knew how to implement his vision and navigate the waters of industry like a shark.
But at home Jim felt low and lacked confidence. His decisions with the family were always being scrutinized, he complained and, without the clarity and validation that came from his team and his position at work, he felt really unhappy.
Jim was stuck in an old pattern of seeking validation and seeing himself through the eyes of others.
The work for Jim, now that he had touched the root of his challenge, was to focus on building an unshakable self-image, rooted in strong self-esteem.
If you struggle with this yourself, or if you know someone who does, share this on Facebook so they can get to work on the homework I gave Jim, below.
3 Action steps to building unshakable self-esteem
1. Notice your thinking
For the next week, I want you to keep a journal of your thoughts.
Pay attention and make a note every time you catch yourself thinking (or saying!) something negative about yourself.
Everything counts. Negative self-judgment is one of the most destructive things to self-esteem and it’s insidious. You’ll be surprised how negative comments about yourself sneak their way in under the guise of honesty, or having high expectations of yourself.
Be ruthless. See how many times you can catch yourself in the act, then commit to erasing negative self-judgement from your mental vocabulary.
2. Ditch your desire for comfort
Years ago I read in the US Army Survival Manual that the one thing which most endangers a soldier’s chances of survival when caught behind enemy lines is his desire to achieve a state of comfort.
Literally, comfort can kill – and the same is true for killing your self-esteem.
Breaking out of your comfort zone – doing at least one thing a week (or per day!) that is uncomfortable for you is as powerful for building self-esteem as lifting weights is for building muscle.
3. Forget Perfect
Research at Harvard discovered that a continual drive to achieve `perfect results` – in any aspect of life – significantly lowered self-esteem.
Even according to ancient spiritual principles, the idea of “perfection” is a lie which is completely unattainable.
Instead, shifting your focus toward achieving excellence is a powerful (and far more productive) goal that also quickly builds self-esteem in the process.
Where perfection could be seen as, the straightest distance from A to B, excellence would be a slightly wavy line connecting those two points, with some natural ups and downs in between.
Just like in a hospital, a straight line from A to B on the heart monitor spells very bad news, being a perfectionist wreaks havoc on your life and, more importantly your self-esteem.
Striving for excellence – instead of perfection – means anticipating the natural flow of life, with all of its ups and downs, in all that you do.