As a career and life and career coach, people will come to see me for all kinds of reasons. It is a privileged position to be in. They share their personal hopes and dreams, their business goals and aspirations. Sometimes people just need an ear to listen, or to feel they are not alone in what they are going through. One of the reasons I enjoy this work is that the stories are as diverse as the people themselves.
But if there was one common theme that I see in a lot of these stories – it is the struggle that many of us have for self- acceptance. Self esteem. Why do so many of us think a lot less of ourselves than others do?
As I pondered this question, I reflected back on some answers that my former local parish priest, Fr. Frank McNulty, once gave in a homily. He message bears repeating:
“I can think of two reasons why we struggle with self-acceptance: I think one of the reasons is that in our culture, in our time, in our society, we so often put each other down. We so often get over-critical of each other. We so often discount each other. And that’s not good for any of us. And oddly enough, sometimes-even friends do that to each other.
I think constructive criticism is very valuable, but some people overdo it. You know the kind of friend who is always sitting you down and saying, ‘There are 10 more things that I want to tell you that are wrong about you- It’s for your own good, but I’d like you to know that.’ And when that starts to happen, you can hear the sword come out and it goes ‘SWISH!’…And you say, ‘Stick it right in there, go ahead—close to the heart.’ A better thing would be to say, ‘Not today, it’s Friday.’ Or a better thing to say, ‘Hey, I thought you were my friend! Friends are supposed to build us up, not tear us down.’
Any maybe the second reason we have so much trouble with accepting ourselves and having good, healthy self-esteem is that we all get caught up in this “performance syndrome.”
When you were born and you were a tiny baby, during those first weeks, all you had to do was to ‘just be there’ and everybody loved you to death. They just loved you and love you and loved you. But very soon, they started to demand a performance. ‘Look it up in Dr. Spock, ‘Isn’t this baby supposed to smile at five weeks?’ ‘The kid down the street smiled at five weeks.’ ‘Shouldn’t the baby be rolling over now?’ ‘Shouldn’t the baby be walking and talking, after all, he’d 10 years old, ‘ya know.’
So right away, performance. Right away the little kid catches on and says, ‘In order to get love, I’ve got to do stuff.’ And you can’t blame parents really; it’s hard for parents, because parents are torn between trying to get the best out of their children, and getting them to do well; and loving them as they are. Even when they strike out in the big game. Even when every time you go to a teacher night, you’re embarrassed. Even if they do things like run out in the street. Even if their S.A.T.’s were terrible, because parents are going for that performance, and we do it to ourselves too. Because we pick up that idea and peers do it to each other, from grammar school on.
When I was in college studying for my degree, there was a bulletin board in the dorm where we lived and people used to put good cartoons up there and one cartoon stayed the whole school year- and it was Linus and Charlie Brown and he was going to kindergarten and he’s got a blanket and the kids all say, ‘Hey, Linus, don’t bring that blanket to Kindergarten, all the kids are gonna laugh at ‘ya’. And he pulled himself up to his full height and Linus said, ‘Nobody laughs at straight A’s!’ Any nobody does. So we get into that performance thing.
Would that we had the kind of self-esteem that this little 5th grader had when he wrote this thing at Thanksgiving time. He said this:
‘I’m glad I’m not a turkey.
I’m thankful, I’m me and you’re you.
I’m glad I’m getting smart in school.
I’m glad I am here and not there.
I’m glad I’m a person and not a dog or a cat.
I’m glad I go to this school.
I’m glad I have nice friends to play with.
I’m glad I have parents who love me and a brother to talk to.
I’m just thankful I’m me.
I’m just thankful I’m me.’
And so I have an important message for you today: ‘Love God, love your neighbor, but also, CHERISH yourself.’ Cherish is a lovely old word, people used to use it in the marriage ceremony. It means, treat with tenderness. It means nuture with care. It means treasure. It means indulge. And we have to do that for ourselves. It means having kindly, positive, accepting attitudes about ourselves.