It’s not a simple matter, self-esteem.
It’s as fragile as my son’s Walking Dead action figure that I recently stepped on in bare feet, and some would argue it’s at least as painful, though generally less freighted with profanity.
When did I get so old? I’m remembering a time before the ubiquity of the internet, back when I was young and my mother used to pop her Sinatra 8-track into the tape deck. As of this morning, I have exactly four grey hairs and I’m hoping the pattern of one grey hair for every decade persists well into my future.
There have certainly been days when I have felt more than twice my age and less than half as good as I am, but I am getting better at lessening the frequency of those days.
The truth is that I’ve become nostalgic and existential in the face of my 25th high school reunion. Even happily married and gainfully employed I’m thinking about how I’ll measure up to the men and women I came of age with. I haven’t even spoken to the majority of them since we graduated all those years ago. That’s the way self-esteem works, you’re never certain exactly what’s happening with it, but you can’t ignore its effects.
The good news is that even though you can’t know exactly what’s happening with your self-esteem, there are plenty of things you can do to take control of it.
1. Be Honest with Yourself
I cannot say enough about how important honesty with yourself truly is.
To take control of your life and self-esteem, you have to know where you stand, even if it’s emotional mire. Take stock of the things you’re good at and how they contribute to your self-esteem. They may not be as good for your self-esteem as you think. Some of the things we’re good at start to gnaw at us because suddenly it’s not about enjoying what we’re doing, but instead, living up to these high expectations. You may decide whatever it is isn’t worth it, and you can give up your Saturday squash game. Or, you may decide that it is worth it, and just being armed with the knowledge that those expectations exist, but don’t truly matter, will go a long way toward keeping your self-esteem at a healthy level.
Then, take stock of things you’re not good at. Do you procrastinate? Are you physically frail? Do you get nervous when you speak to attractive or authoritative people? Are your teeth showing wear and tear? As soon as you acknowledge these shortcomings, you can begin to either work on fixing or improving them, or you can look to your talents and abilities as being more than compensation.
Personally, I’d opt for improving them. You may decide that the competition of your squash game is adding more stress to your life than it could ever take away, so you decide to switch over to weightlifting to put a little muscle on that frame.
2. Set Realistic Goals
Once you’ve seen where you stand, you can change things. But you have to understand (and be honest with yourself) what you can change and how you get there. If you’re 100 pounds overweight, don’t expect that you’ll be ready for your reunion in two months. You can safely lose about two pounds a week through diet and exercise changes, so that’s nearly a year to drop 100 pounds, but 15 pounds, on the other hand, that’s doable.
3. Stop Negative Talk
Of course you want to lose all 100 pounds before you reconnect with all your old friends, or go to the pool, but just because you won’t make it in your perfect time frame, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop, nor does it mean you should beat yourself up about it.
I know it’s difficult, you know it’s difficult, and guess what? So does everyone else. So when they see your effort, it won’t be a bad thing. And we’re old enough now that it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks, right?
Drop all of your comparisons to the people around you, or to celebrities, for that matter. The fact is that you’re not any of those people. You’re you.
I’m in good shape and while I’m sure that my penchant for running contributes to it, I have a thin frame. My brother outweighs me by 40 pounds and 90 percent of that is muscle that my frame will never support. This goes back to being honest with yourself. There’s no ideal person; there’s only an ideal you that you’re either earnestly working towards or you’re not.
All the humans I know are notoriously bad multi-taskers. For me, if I try handling more than two tasks simultaneously, I’m almost certain to fail. It is better to do one thing well. I mean, pour-your-heart-and-soul-into-what-you’re-doing well. If each week you play poker and squash and attend a toastmaster’s group and a cooking class and go out to the bars with the boys and play chess in the park and half a dozen other things, try cutting these commitments down over a few weeks, a different combination each week to see what really matters to you. And then pour yourself into those that really matter to you.
Pouring yourself into things is one side of the focusing coin; the other side is working on issues to completion. All the loose ends of things you have to do act as fraying strands in your sanity. It’s hard to focus your attention on any of the things you love when your attention is being dragged away by your ongoing work projects. And while it’s not practical to quit your job, you can improve your life by focusing your attention on one project at a time. Or, at least evaluating those things that need to be done and sorting them into a staggered timeline to see which projects you absolutely must work on at the same time, and which you can devote your whole time and attention to.
5. Start Today—and Start Big
There’s no time like the present, as they say. Draw up that work timeline and announce it to all your friends to make sure you’re accountable. If you’re tired of your image, change it. Buy some new clothes. They don’t make the man, but they certainly shift his mindset enough for him to change himself.
You know how when you first wake up—once you’re actually out of bed and have had your tooth-staining coffee—you’re the most energized you’re going to be all day? You know, before the day goes downhill when you step on an action figure? Use that burst of energy to make something happen.
And if you’re getting nostalgic for Sinatra on 8-track, by all means spend your next Saturday afternoon on an adventure tracking down an 8-track player. At least you’ll be doing something.
Drew Kobb studied civil law at Gonzaga University. He loves long distance running and considers himself a health and fitness enthusiast. His interests range all over the medical field: due to his son’s need for braces, he has been researching options for Invisalign braces in Charlotte, NC. Drew highlights that range on his blog www.doctorouch.com.
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Assistant Ed: Karla Rodas
Ed: Brianna Bemel
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