In 1986, former California state legislator John Vasconcellos established the “Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility.”
This prompted a three-year, twenty-five-member investigation into the effect self-esteem has on society. As it turns out, we really don’t need more self-esteem; we just need fewer task forces.
In 1996, researcher Roy Baumeister and his colleagues killed this sacred task-force cow in their study of genocidal killers, hit men, gang leaders, and other violent criminals.
These researchers found that perpetrators with unwarranted high self-esteem become violent.
This suggests that children instilled with unwarranted high self-esteem (and without any demands of praiseworthy behavior) experience confusion.
When these children face the real world, which tells them they’re not as great as they’ve been taught, they start lashing out with violence.
When Self-Confidence Becomes Spiritual Furniture
Might we accurately conclude that violence stems from the misbegotten notion that valuing how people feel about themselves more highly than how we value how they behave causes problems? Is it also possible that this everybody-gets-a-trophy mindset that people learned in childhood might also keep leaders from taking risks that might threaten their self-worth and that of their employees? Innovative disruption becomes tougher when we confuse reality with what we think ought to be.
Rewarding smart risk takers is not something that promotes envy or enlarges the number of losers in society. Rather, it provides support for ideas that have shaped past progress and that will continue to contribute to the future.
Society can only win in such a case.We become better educated, more productive, and healthier when we have the self-confidence to take prudent risks and the self-esteem to leverage the gains and learn from the losses. Click To Tweet
The Danger Of Replacing Self-Confidence With Self-Grandeur
Americans have stubbornly clung to the myth of egalitarianism, or supremacy of the individual average person. We created the everyone-gets-a-trophy culture among our young before it morphed into Cuckooland, a place where we shield losers by consequence from thinking they deserve to lose. Moreover, it’s a place where we think we should bar winners who win fairly from feeling confidence and pride.
Organizational success, economic recovery, and global resurgence depend on something better, not different.Success depends on a shift back to the notion that self-fulfillment must march in lockstep precision with a commitment to achievement. Click To Tweet
When Spiritual Furniture Isn’t Enough
Now, let’s not totally disregard the importance of self-assuredness. Instead, let’s understand it better and dispassionately evaluate the role it plays in engendering success. To start, we need to rediscover the intellectual confidence it takes to sort out and rank competing values.
Failing Our Own Expectations
Fairness does not equal equality; and equal opportunity at the starting gun does not and should not guarantee equality at the finish line. Those who run through the tape at the finish line offer our greatest hope for thriving in what is becoming the “no normal” economy.
Dr. Martin Seligman, the vanguard in the arena of positive psychology, pointed out that we have become depressed with a disorder of the “I,” meaning we fail in our own eyes relative to the expectations we have for ourselves or that other people have for us.
In a society in which individualism has become rampant, people too often believe they are the center of the universe. This dark side of self-esteem, therefore, makes individuals who fail inconsolable, and tough calls feel more threatening.
The Unpleasant Reality Of Time
A second force, which Seligman called “the large we,” formerly served as a force to buffer failure.
When our grandparents failed, they had comfortable spiritual furniture to rest on — a safe place to land. They had their relationships with God, with a nation, with communities, and with a large extended family.
Our faith in religions, community, the nation, and in each other has eroded in the past 50 years.
Overall, the spiritual furniture we used to sit on has become threadbare.
Facing Our Losses (Or Becoming Our Own Spiritual Furniture)
The self-esteem movement has not helped us recover what we’ve lost.
I’ll call what we’ve lost “self-respect.” When we have feelings of self-worth, not just entitlement, we can resist feelings of inadequacy and the imposter syndrome that makes us fear we’ll be identified and humiliated — or fired.
The greatest obstacle so many of my clients face involves the voice in their heads that murmurs words of discouragement.
The reason? So many at the top don’t solicit objective feedback from trusted advisers who have no other agenda than helping them improve.
Here’s what does happen: They get confused and either don’t take the disruptive risks that would cause success, or make imprudent ones only to rue them.