Last updated: 7 October 2015
Take a second to think about this:
Why isn’t everyone successful?
Why can’t everybody achieve the things they want to achieve?
What’s the difference between life’s winners – and the rest of us?
The answer to all of these questions is…
Confidence in your own abilities.
Belief in your value as a human being.
Pride in your accomplishments.
All of these make up that thing we call self-esteem, and without it you might as well be spitting into the wind.
Just to be clear, self-esteem is not the same as ego. That big-headed jerk in the office down the hall might not have high self-esteem. He might have a high (and usually inflated) opinion of himself, but that’s not the same thing.
He’s playing a role, hoping to impress other people with his wit or knowledge. He assumes that if he thinks a lot of himself, other people will too. He thinks making a big noise will make him stand out from the crowd in all the right ways.
But he’s wrong.
If he had a reasonably balanced sense of his own worth, he wouldn’t have to show off. He wouldn’t have to play the part of Mr. Know-it-all. He wouldn’t have to constantly seek the approval of others or be the center of attention.
And that’s what separates self-esteem from ego.
The Difference Between Ego And Self-Esteem
If you look up “ego” in a good dictionary, you might find it defined something like this:
“A person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance”
But ego and self-esteem are not the same thing. Ego is an intellectual device created to protect you from imagined or perceived threats.
Ego is something you develop over time. It’s a coping mechanism. Self-esteem, on the other hand, is something you’re born with.
That’s why you’ll never see a shy baby. They don’t care what other people think of them. It wouldn’t even occur to them. They just smile, cry or do whatever it takes to have their needs met.
In short, they’re born with perfect self-esteem. They don’t know anything else. They don’t imagine the people in their world will do anything to harm them. Or to belittle them. Or to disappoint them. Or to annoy them. They don’t worry about their own value, because they have nothing to prove.
But then, something happens.
Life comes along and delivers its blows. They get ignored, they get hurt, they get frustrated. People yell at them, talk down to them, and treat them badly. It all conspires to knock the natural self-esteem out of them like air in a paper bag.
Teachers tell them they’re not clever. Other children tell them they’re not handsome or pretty. Suddenly the world becomes a very different place, and they have to find the resources to cope with it. And there’s only one thing they can use to do that:
You can see the ego in action if you visit a school classroom. Some kids showing off, others trying to be the class clown. There’s always a rebel too, the one who won’t do as they’re told no matter what. So what’s going on?
It’s simple – the story has changed. The unquestioning love and continuous support has gone.
They’re not babies anymore, and they have to learn to stand on their own two feet. It’s tough, though, doing it on your own. So they use coping mechanisms to navigate their way through it.
They start making up their own stories.
Ego Gets In The Way
Sadly, these stories are not true. They’re created to help people survive. They feed off others and their own need to be recognized, to be appreciated, and to get attention.
As long as that recognition, appreciation, and attention is there, everything’s hunky-dory. But when it disappears, the ego feels threatened.
Ego is not a person’s real nature. It exists to protect on the one hand and to give credence to the stories on the other. Here’s how it does that:
- By maintaining your story (also known as saving face)
- By preventing you from doing something that will show your story to be untrue
- By blaming others for your mistakes or failures
Remember, the ego is a made-up thing. It needs to be constantly reinforced in order to survive. It’s not the real you, it’s something you’re projecting. A version of yourself that likely has little resemblance to the genuine person behind it.
But you are a lot more than that. Your self-esteem doesn’t need constant reassuring. You don’t always have to look good. If you make a mistake, you can learn from it and move on.
You don’t have to be better than everyone else; you just have to be the best you can be.
If you’ve got self-esteem, you don’t need to rely on ego. You don’t need the approval of other people. You don’t need them to admire or accept you – because you admire and accept yourself.
Kill The Ego: Long Live Self-Esteem
How can you tell if someone’s got a balanced sense of self-esteem?
Easy. They don’t give a hoot what you think. They’ll respect your opinion, but they won’t rely on it for reassurance. They’ll take your advice, but it’s not necessarily going to sway them. They’re not arrogant, but they’re comfortable in their own skin.
When things go wrong, they don’t sit in a corner and cry their eyes out. They look for solutions. They ask themselves what they can do differently. What they can learn from the experience. They don’t fall apart or crumble under criticism.
You’ll never hear them say “I’m not good enough” or “I don’t think I can do it.”
When self-esteem is strong, ego’s not even in the ballgame.
If ego’s getting in the way of achieving your goals, here’s how to give it the elbow:
- Be true to yourself – ask yourself what’s important to you. Are you really a big mouth? A show-off? Or something else? What needs to happen in order for you to relax and just be who you are?
- Remove all resistance – forget about looking good. Even if you do, it only lasts five minutes. Focus on learning things, doing them better, and moving your life forward in a positive and proactive way.
- Aim for goals that matter – it’s fine to have goals, but they’re just targets to aim at. They don’t define you. The journey is the key. If you don’t achieve your ultimate goal, remember that you will have achieved a bunch of other ones along the way.
If you’re not living your life according to your true nature, you’re just pretending. Your ego’s in control. You can kid yourself into thinking it’s not, but deep down there’s no escaping it.
Trying to change your life without addressing this issue is like putting new wine into old bottles.
That’s what’s so cool about babies. Sure, they make a mess. They throw up all over you. They stink a lot of the time. They take up enormous amounts of your energy. But they’re never pretending to be something they’re not.
Give them some food they don’t like and you’ll find out. They’ll just chuck it on the floor. Doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks. Doesn’t matter how long it’s taken you to prepare it either.
They’re not out to make an impression. They don’t have to, and neither should you.
Give Your Self-Belief A Boost
If you or someone you know is losing the “ego versus self-esteem” battle, there’s good news. It’s never too late to do something about it.
The point is, if you don’t believe in yourself, why should anyone else? You might not be able to play basketball like LeBron James, but he probably can’t do some of the things you can do. Figure out what makes you tick, and focus on that. Here’s how:
- Stop comparing yourself to other people. You can’t live up to their expectations. Because where you’re concerned, they don’t have any!
- Try to remember that life’s not a competition. If it starts to feel like that, then you need to change your priorities.
- Let your talents and abilities shine. Do what you love, and love what you do. Don’t settle for anything less.
- Mix with people you admire. If you need support and encouragement, get it from people who like you. And from people who are like you.
- Realize that your contribution is important. Remember that there’s only one of you and you have as much to give as the next person.
- When something you do makes you feel proud, revel in it. Take the confidence it gives you and build on it.
- Put your best foot forward. Don’t do things by halves, because you’ll only get half the reward. And you deserve it all.
Sure, they’re only words. They might not amount to a hill of beans on their own. That’s why you need to act on them.
Do that, and you will be successful. You will achieve what you want to achieve. And you will become a winner.
As long as you believe in yourself.