From an early age, most of us were told that we were perfect, just the way we were. We were told that we were special. We were told to love ourselves.
Our parents believed that if they repeated these mantras enough, we would believe them.
It was a nice idea, filled with the best of intentions.
Yet, it wasn’t true.
If you are like most people, hearing that you were good and worthy and loveable wasn’t enough. You cannot “take someone’s word” for self-esteem—even your own.
It matters not how many times your parents, or your friends, or your teachers tell you how amazing you are: It doesn’t guarantee self-esteem. And standing around, looking in the mirror, and saying, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me,” doesn’t work either.
The truth is: You have to earn self-esteem for yourself. You have to cultivate your own self-worth.
But no one ever taught us how.
So, here it is …
You cultivate self-esteem by living your life in a way that aligns with your values.
Cultivating self-esteem is a two-step process:
First, identify your values.
Second, make decisions that align with them.
So, how do you identify your values?
First, identify the qualities you think are admirable in a person. In other words, what are the virtues that separate a good person from a not-so-good person? They differ for everyone, but these virtues might include things like honesty, hard work, and authenticity.
Then, identify the qualities you think are desirable in a life. In other words, what do you need to have a high quality of life? Do you need stability, fitness, meaning, friendship, family, or adventures that are new and different every day?
Everyone gets to choose the unique constellation of values around which they will build their life. There’s no right or wrong, and you can change your mind anytime.
Once you’ve identified your values, make decisions that align with them.
Go out into the world and live the virtues you admire in people. Be honest, hardworking, and authentic (or whatever your virtues are). Surround yourself with people who share similar virtues.
Go out into the world and do the things that make life desirable. Create a life of stability, fitness, meaning, friendship, family… or whatever your desired life qualities are.
When you behave in ways that align with your values, you feel worthy. When you engage in activities that align with your values, you earn your own self-esteem.
Define for yourself the kind of person you want to be and the life you want to have. Then build that for yourself one decision at a time. Keep your list of values handy and use it as a compass each time you come to a fork in the road. This is how you build self-esteem, and this is how you build a life that feels authentic, worthy, and satisfying.
It is true that you are perfect, just the way you are. It is true that you should love yourself. And it is true that you are special. But these words have little impact until you give yourself evidence to believe in your goodness.
Self-esteem cannot happen any other way.