Reality Check: Another Route to Self-Esteem

Last posting, I recounted Brady’s story. Brady’s high self-esteem as a youngster came crashing down in adulthood when he encountered a boss who didn’t interpret awesomeness as just showing up. The profuse praise Brady was accustomed to receiving for minimal accomplishment hadn’t prepared him for an adult reality where praise is often scarce and (sadly) where criticism is often the norm.

In contrast to Brady, Brandon didn’t receive much praise in his life. Granted, when he performed a task particularly well or achieved a goal that was difficult for him, Brandon’s parents let him know they were proud of him. But the family culture and expectation was that accomplishment matters; that recognition comes from setting and achieving goals.

Brandon was expected to work for his spending money. Through that experience, he has learned that earning money takes effort. So, he’s pretty careful about not wasting his money or damaging his possessions.

Even though he has just a minimum wage job, Brandon recognizes that the more he works, the more money he’ll earn. Thus, he volunteers for every extra shift he can, even when it’s inconvenient. He wants to bring in as much money as possible while the opportunity exists.

Brandon has his heart set on becoming a veterinarian. Book-learning, reading, and writing don’t come easily to him and he knows it will take a lot of consistent study and work to succeed. But Brandon has already done difficult things in his life, and he knows that he can do difficult things again, especially when he’s strongly motivated.

How’s Brandon’s self-esteem? He feels pretty satisfied, but he’s not smug. He knows he needs to work to succeed. When new equipment or new processes are introduced, he’s never the first person to catch on. However, he persists and at the end of the day, it’s Brandon who is there, still pulling his weight.

Brandon has learned some helpful lessons about money, which also contribute positively to his self-esteem. He knows that his employer values his work enough to pay for it. He has also learned that his strong work ethic makes him appealing to other employers, who would like to hire him. It’s a secure and comforting feeling.

That minimum-wage job has taught him how much money he can make, and how quickly that can disappear if he does not pay attention. It has also taught Brandon that he would rather not work for minimum wage all of his life, providing an additional motivation to pursue his veterinarian career.

Brandon has learned that he needs to put in more time than other people when it comes to understanding new information. He has to try harder, read again, work out his own ways to make sense of new concepts before he can fully understand.

Brandon is fully aware that he’s not the most awesome. But all in all, Brandon feels pretty solid. Why?

When Brandon attempts something that’s difficult and doesn’t succeed, his approach is to make a plan. How should I proceed? Where can I get help on this? How can I practice this? Then he persists.

And when Brandon attempts something difficult and does succeed, it’s another solid deposit to his “self-esteem bank.”

So, my opinion is: Earned self-esteem builds resilience and can’t be taken away. Unearned praise, no matter how well-meaning, sets one up on a fragile, brittle pedestal, easily crumbled. What do you think?

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