Paraphrasing my TA I mentioned earlier in the week, "Don't be so hard on yourself. You're a shining star."
I've always had a high bar for myself. But this post isn't about that. This post isn't about expectations for yourself being loftier than the ISS. It's not about perfectionism looming like a shadow that takes up the whole bedroom wall, though I struggled with those, too.
This post is about my personal definition of self-esteem, and how I began discovering it was terribly, terribly wrong.
A lot of Soldiers grow up in a fixed world, where they're called "smart," "kind," "amazing," or, my two least favorite words in the English language, "special" and "inspiring." Those words alone deserve posts all their own. I'm even considering a TEDx Talk about them.
But the question is this: When these words wash over you your whole life, what's the result? The result is that esteem is measured on what you always have been, and will be, at least in your mind. You see yourself as stiff as the Tin Man, and it's crushing. In psychology this is a fixed mindset -- believing that your skills are set in stone with no malleable qualities whatsoever.
The result of that fixed thinking, then, is comparison. There's no room for healthy comparison to past you. Growth is at best ignored like your middle school yearbook photo, at worst avoided like the one-sided middle school crush. They're so liable to be an embarrassment. Just don't associate. It's not growth, it's luck, or practice, or happenstance. Heaven forbid people call you a braggart. You're abysmal at art. You're excellent with words. You can't comprehend anything about sports. You're just okay at debate, and it will stay that way.
This was me at TIP. I compared myself relentlessly to everyone with either a sense of arrogance or inferiority. It wasn't just my self-described Chocolate-Chip Girl. Oh, no. Everyone in my path was a measuring stick.
Until, that is, my final speech.
I did it. I finally decided to own up to my accomplishments. Yes, I was a debater, an apologist, an encourager. I did it all. Because I went through some stuff, and I was doggedly determined.
It was like finally settling gold and white or blue and black. Well, unless The Dress is still up for debate. I felt a swell of pride and relief. I could finally stop arguing with myself.
It was that day I took a first step to realizing the true definition of self-esteem. Self-esteem is not trust in your accomplishments. It is trust in your current perseverance, faith, purpose, initiative, growth, strength. It is acknowledgement the current you is better. The current you changed and can do it again.
Tell yourself "good job" for your growth. Otherwise you'd still be in sixth grade. No one wants to be in sixth grade again.
Good thing, then, that we all grew up.