By Barry Maher
The business gurus are right when they tell us that many of us have trouble filling the glass—have trouble living the business life we feel we should be living—because of our lack of self esteem. Of course, sometimes one of the reasons we don’t esteem ourselves more is due to the very fact that we are not living that life.
This is the place where a self-help article is supposed to pat you on the back and tell you that you are a valuable human being, so you should hold yourself in higher esteem.
I’m not going to tell you that.
I don’t even know you. You know yourself a lot better than I do. You are, when it comes right down to it, the world’s foremost authority on you. And if you don’t think much of yourself, who am I to contradict you? Maybe you know something I don’t know.
Your Place on the Continuum
Obviously, you are a valuable human being to yourself. You are the only you that you have. But whether or not you are valuable to the rest of us—to the rest of humanity—that depends upon what you’re doing for us.
What have you done for any of us lately? Maybe, not much. So as far this, “I’m okay, you’re okay” stuff, maybe you’re not so okay. It’s not like everybody is.
The universe has produced Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer and Adolf Hitler. They weren’t okay. From those guys it’s a bad/good continuum leading ultimately to those people who donate their kidneys to complete strangers and Mother Theresa. On the way it passes through Benito Mussolini; Al Capone; Richard Nixon; the salesperson who sells some poor little old lady some overpriced annuity she doesn’t need; the driver who runs a red light because he doesn’t have any patience, annoying and aggravating everyone else at the intersection and maybe even risking somebody else’s life; and the bozo who talks in the movie theater because he’s too self centered to care that nobody around him wants to listen to him babble while they’re paying $9 to watch a film.
None of these people are all that okay—at least not when they are doing what they’re doing.
Continuing across the continuum, we have the guy who gives an occasional buck to somebody in need, the woman who donates regularly to the United Way, the volunteer who gives several hours a month to help the homeless, etc. etc. etc. We are all on the continuum someplace at various levels of okay-dome. And though most of us don’t swing from Hitler to Mother T, we do swing along it at different times of our lives, on different days, even in different hours.
Obviously we don’t all have the same values. So each of us is going to have their own perception of the bad/good continuum. But still, on balance—by our own standards—some of us aren’t so okay at all. No matter how much we try to justify some of the things we do.
Try being a better person—by your own standards. Maybe then you’ll think better of yourself.
Improve the Product, Let the Image Take Care of Itself
I’m all for self esteem. Too many people stop themselves before they ever start. They can’t do it because they’re certain they can’t do it. And positive thinking is a wonderful thing. But Pollyanna positive thinking and the more Pollyanna aspects of the self esteem movement are the logical outgrowths of 1950’s style selling and marketing: the mindset that it’s easier to improve the way people think about a product—improve its image—than to actually improve the product.
“Let’s not worry about making you a better person, Mr. Manson. Let’s just improve your self esteem, and maybe that will make you better.”
Yes, in most cases you probably can if only you believe you can. Human potential being what it is, you should never, NEVER limit yourself by selling yourself short. And if you’re a manager, you want to help your people avoid selling themselves short. You want to help them realize just how much they’re capable of accomplishing.
But, for yourself, if the reason for your low self esteem is that you’re not living up to your own standards, then perhaps the best way to improve that self esteem is to work on improving the product—the self you aren’t esteeming. Do that, and you may find that the esteem—self and otherwise—takes care of itself.
Barry Maher speaks, consults and writes on increasing productivity AND job satisfaction, as well as motivation, management and sales. His book, Filling the Glass: The Skeptic’s Guide to Positive Thinking in Business was cited by Today’s Librarian magazine as “[One of] The Seven Essential Popular Business Books.”