On self-esteem

How is your self-esteem? Do you have enough? Could you use more? Yeah, me too.

I was doing some thinking today at my favorite park — I was swinging on the swingset (one of my favorite stress-relievers in life), lying all the way back with my hair grazing the ground, watching the world from my upside-down position. And that kind of opened up a new perspective that I hadn’t considered on why so many of us are hitting roadblocks in our relationships, in our careers, in our ambitions. We don’t have enough belief in or respect for just what it is that we personally can accomplish.

From the time we are babies, we are confined somewhere — in a womb, in a playpen, in some kind of seatbelted apparatus. But despite that, when we are free, we learn to crawl, to walk, to run toward all of those objects that everyone tells us “no” and “stop that!” when we try to grasp them. And eventually, we learn that we get yelled at when we do certain things, so we don’t do them for that reason alone. But does it mean that the things are wrong to do in general or was our only fault in the situation simply going against an adult’s wishes?

That said, we are conditioned from Day One to mind our place. And essentially, that means we’re all just big babies. But with nicer underwear.

Most kids, if we weren’t bullied in school, then we bore witness to it. We saw what happened to the kids who were different in some way. Think about it. Were you overweight, did you wear glasses, or did you have another physical or even personal characteristic that kept you from fully blending into the masses? Were you outspoken and defiant, did you dress differently (whether on purpose or because you couldn’t afford what was trendy), were your intellect and interests on different levels than your peers?

What I remember from that time in my life was going from being an outcast to befriending some. And something weird happened — I wasn’t so weird anymore. More popular people would befriend me and tell me to ditch the “losers.” In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t, but the memory of that time is so powerful — that feeling of being included by those who previously made your life miserable. I wish I’d stood up and told the two-faced jerks to suck it, and I probably would have formed lasting friendships with the people that I stupidly left behind. I’m not in touch with anybody from those days — not surprising, eh?

But then, you escape the confines of high school and go to college or wherever you spend your next years, becoming enlightened and liberated and learning that the world is so much bigger than you’ve seen. You absorb all you can about your subjects, your comrades, even the weird Resident Adviser on your floor because she’s too eclectic to be ignored and, ultimately, too fascinating to resist midnight smoke and tea breaks with during exam week.

She is the girl you remember. She marched to the beat of her own drum. She is the girl you wanted to be. She is the girl I became. The one you really don’t think about when you meet me and yet the one you can’t forget because of something I said or the way I said it or, possibly, because of the absolute and utter passion I injected into whatever belief I held. I don’t ask you to believe the same as me, but I will tell you in no uncertain terms why you should just listen to me. Because I remember what it was like during that brief period when I didn’t stand up for what I believed.

But then you find a new venue … the real world. And it’s high school all over again without the ’80s hair.

And it’s back to the square root of self-esteem. The reason nobody has enough of it is because certain people can only feel successful if everyone around them is failing or, at least, feeling too uncertain to ask questions. And the easiest way to make that happen is to convince them of it until it eventually happens. Even the strongest among us can eventually succumb to mindfuck. I’m not saying that the bullies aren’t talented, but when the talent they decide to use is masterminding everyone else’s misery to escalate their own success, well, what a wasted resource. Really.

I was telling a friend the other day how so many hacks will always have a warm bed in which to sleep while the idealists who are truly potential change agents will die alone on the streets with only their dreams to keep them warm. He who refuses to play the game in the pre-established way is barred from playing again (e.g., “you’ll never work in this town again”).

This needs to stop. No matter what age we are at, we need to band together and save ourselves as a community. Why is the creative (or just plain different) class rejected to second-class citizenry when we are the ones who can become single-handedly responsible for the success of every individual who wishes to feel the rewards of honest, sincere contributions to our society? Be better than what they want us to be, friends, because even the best insurance plan can’t mend a broken spirit — yours or those of the people who were counting on you to be strong enough to help them, too.

On iTunes: Bon Jovi, “Bang a Drum”

10 Responses to On self-esteem

  1. Anonymous :

    or what also sucks is when the bullied become the bullies….like die Kraut.

    sing it sister!
    you can get a witness right here.
    prolly why i left the real world and came back to academia…..

  2. Anonymous :

    Truly an inspiring blog! I wish more of us asked questions and didn’t see limitations. And I wish less people were “yes men” when faced with decisions regarding “money” over “people”.

    Self esteem, well the needle is on E, the warning light is on, and the nearest station is 100 miles away. Looks like I’m gonna be walking to find mine soon.


  3. Pratt :

    well said!

  4. Dawn :

    What a shame what we let people do to us. We walk around, knowing we have something to offer to the world, but we resign ourselves to living in either terror for taking a chance (because, let’s face it, there is no safety net) or in apathy, where we watch others stick out their necks and become beheaded. We say, “Ooh, I’m going to be anonymous, then.”

    Well, guess what? I wasn’t meant to be anonymous. Neither were you. Nobody will support us if they don’t know who we are! There are people out there like us, and I suspect that they would be more than willing to let us be the ones in the spotlight (but with their support) just to participate in the evolution process somehow.

    I think it’s wild that I’ve been thought of as defiant. God, I couldn’t be nicer to people. I just don’t have to agree with them. Like how the new CIA head is telling his charges that they are to bow down and take the Bush Administration’s mandates up the wazoo. Skip the irony of Intelligence versus Bush, but come on — I thought the CIA was an independent governmental agency committed to seeking the truth at all costs. No wonder this country can’t progress — talk about the “trickle-down” effect of mind control!

  5. Anonymous :

    Amazing post. Truly right from my own head/heart.


  6. A.McSholty :

    Stand up and be heard my friend!

  7. Anonymous :

    Amazing entry! I can’t wait for the day I find courage enough to leave my day gig and jump into painting full time. It’s just a scary thing to do since I have a little to raise. But who knows? I know what would make me happier even.


  8. Dawn :

    Charm, I hope the day comes that you can do your painting full-time. It especially infuriates me when we have identified our gifts and have to put them on the proverbial back burners because we can’t earn money from them. Like me with blogging — I pay to do it. That’s a labor of love. 😉 And that’s what happens with a lot of artsy types — we pay to enter poetry contests, we pay (or don’t get paid) to play our instruments or hang our artwork where it will be seen.

    That’s what I’m hoping for — for rescue. For all of us. And if I can just get on my feet, I will come and rescue everyone who ever had a dream.

    In any event, one thing I forgot to say is that our bullies were bullied themselves, like Apollonaire brought up. We can’t be anything but understanding, when it happens, and know that we will have to triumph in a less conventional manner than perpetuating the cycle.

  9. Funkalicious :

    Oh my God, Dawn! Were we leading the same life or what? When I was in high school, I went through the very same thing…depressed because the popular kids didn’t like me, but then was befriended by a stoner chick, who in turn introduced me to her stoner friends, who simply just accepted me. I didn’t have to impress them or be a certain way to gain their friendship. That’s where I learned that acceptance is so much better than mere popularity, and NO, they are not always the same thing.

  10. Anonymous :

    that was an excellent read, thank you very much. it brought back a lot of memories, some bad, some good.

    girl. (heterophobic.org)