Writing this feels like attacking myself because for so long I’ve always emphasized the importance of having very high self-esteem. Now, my advocacy for high self-esteem is not a blind one having seen the several disadvantages low self-esteem has caused for undeserving people.
However, I must admit that I and other strong advocates of high self-esteem have taken the issue of high self-esteem too far.
This is, therefore, my contribution to striking a balance.
Disclaimer: The scope of high self-esteem in this article tilted towards a person's work performance. The negative effects low self-esteem has on its victim's mental health is more than enough reason for it to be avoided. But when it comes to career performance, there is so much more that should be brought to the table than high self-esteem.
How Focusing On High Self-Esteem Sponsors Incompetence
I was recently reading a mum illustrate how she was tempted to tell her son his piece of art was beautiful when in actual sense it wasn’t because she wanted to build his self-esteem. Thankfully, she didn’t fall into that temptation and was able to find a balance.
But from time to time, every one of us faces that same temptation. We are tempted to do it for others and we are lied to because some people don’t want us to feel bad.
The real beast here is not the lie but the fact that we don’t get enough honest reviews that would help us grow, and most times we carry on this false sense of high self-esteem— giving ourselves value that we don’t worth.
Now in this lies the big battle: self-esteem teachers teach that you are always worthy and valuable and so you should see yourself that way.
But are we truly always valuable? Shouldn’t we be able to honestly accept that we are invaluable and go ahead to build value rather than have a self-esteem that is built on a false sense of value that isn’t there?
Usually, the result of carrying this false sense of value is that when we recognize later on in life that we aren’t truly valuable, it becomes more difficult to build our self-esteem because we no longer trust our judgment or sense of value— one that has always been built on lies.
Now we see a need here for building true self-esteem rather than a high or low one. That is, instead of giving ourselves positive or negative views about ourselves we should stick with just the true view of ourselves.
Now, Are You Always Valuable?
Simple answer: yes, you are always valuable in terms of your person (your existence and purpose as a human on Earth), but you are not always valuable in terms of your specific contribution to humanity unless you have taken out time to release and refine that value that is in you.
Once this distinction can be made, the concept of self-esteem will take its rightful place— the distinction between what you are worth (your value as a person) and what you are worth (your value for your work).
We must learn to separate our work from our person. Once this is done, we’ll be able to open up to the criticism of our work without seeing it as an attack on our value as a person, although it is difficult, I must admit.
For example, the child who paints a piece of art poorly produces low-value work but isn’t low value in himself.
Does Your Work Define Your Worth?
No, your work does not define your worth because, in the overall essence of life, you are always valuable, you are part of the stability of the ecosystem, and have a unique purpose to contribute. However, because people can only measure your significance by your contribution they end up judging your worth by your contribution.
It’s justifiable too because if you are valuable but are not releasing your value, we can’t see and say you’re valuable.
The only true step you can take in becoming a person of value is not trying to become a person of value but discovering that value built into you and refining it to be truly beneficial to others.
Your work is, therefore, the outlet of your worth but not the definition of it
What I’ve said so far…
- Don’t strive to get high or low self-esteem, strive to get true self-esteem
- You are worthy as a person already because you exist for a purpose and that purpose is very significant to humanity no matter how little it looks
- The only way you can release your value to people is through work (production)
- But your work does not define your worth, instead your worth defines your work
Now, over to our real discussion…
How High Self-Esteem Is Overrated
It is a popular belief that individuals with high self-esteem will usually produce better work and those with low self-esteem will produce poor work because how you see yourself is how you will act.
However, this is not always true. I first noticed this with myself before I extended the study to several others (both children, adolescents, and adults).
I found that there are four categories of people when it comes to self-esteem and work production and they differ based on their mindsets. Their mindsets are explained in the Self Esteem Work Output Board (SEWOB)
Usually, there’s a little difference between the work output of individuals in quadrants 1 and 2 because they both put in work to make the output good. The output they get at this level depends on the amount of work they put in and their level of competence and not so much on their self-esteem.
In some cases, individuals in quadrant 2 might get better output than those in quadrant 1 because their belief that they are bad usually can drive them to overwork themselves to get good since they think they can’t be good naturally or casually.
This results in more work and better output. Unfortunately, because they still don’t believe in themselves, they may present their work unconfidently and will still be seen as incompetent.
Only a few people ever notice this aspect of high self-esteem. I want to point out that this is not inflated self-esteem; it is just high self-esteem. The individual isn’t seeing himself as the most superior. Instead, he is just so assured of his worth that he doesn’t care how much his work turns out to be.
Everything seems just fine to him because he is “just fine” and doesn’t have any “need to impress anybody.” So he can put in a little input and get little output and he’s fine with that because he thinks he is always worthy after all.
This is the part of low self-esteem that is most studied. It should however be noted that the low output didn’t come because of low self-esteem but because of a lack of work or input.
Work is not a respecter of persons; no matter how you feel about yourself, the amount of work you put in will determine the amount of output you will get. However, the view that they have of themselves affects the amount of work they put in, which is what affects the output they get.
The difference between the level of output anyone gets in the same situation is dependent on the amount of work they put in, not on any other factor.
Self-esteem can affect the amount of work they put in but any other factor can affect that too (nutrition, emotional energy, stress level, etc)
The emphasis should be on quality work, not high self-esteem since high self-esteem has proven to be useless if there is low-quality work.
Is high self-esteem good? Yes, high self-esteem is good, it is even important, but it is not what matters if what you need is high-quality work.
Surprisingly I have discovered some benefits that come with having low self-esteem. It’s not all bad. So rather than writing a conclusion, I will lead you on to this post
Bonus Tip: In raising children, rather than giving the child a dishonest judgment of their work to build their self-esteem, learn to give them true self-esteem, not a high or low one.
How? Honestly tell the child the state of his work but make it very clear that it is not the state of his person: “this is not so good but you are good and can make it better. I trust you!”
Olusegun Iyejare is a career coach and certified counselor. He helps individuals discover and maximize their potential to live satisfying lives regardless of obvious limitations holding them back.