Why High Self-esteem Isn’t a Sure Path to Success

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There are other factors at play.

Forget everything you thought you knew about what it takes to be successful and listen up: your soaring self-esteem might actually be holding you back. Let’s just digest that for a second. Contrary to the popular adage that confidence is king, there is actually compelling evidence to suggest that as our self-esteem levels increase, so too does the likelihood that we will fail to live up to our full potential. Here’s why.

Fear of failure

While having low self-esteem can be problematic in its own right, having high self-esteem isn’t the automatic path to success we might have assumed. At the crux of it, our self-esteem is determined by how we value ourselves – yet most of us seek that validation from outside sources, such as praise and other accomplishments. In these instances, our self-esteem is intrinsically entwined with a fear of failure.

This means that unless we’re fairly certain that we’ll achieve the goals we set out to – whether it’s winning a competition or landing our dream job – we’re reluctant to even attempt them as the judgement of others has the potential to shatter our confidence and self-worth.

Insecurity reigns

Do you have high self-esteem? If so, you probably won’t be surprised to hear that when we do try and “fail” at something, feelings of depression and anxiety are common side-effects. As Dr Kristen Neff, a psychology professor at the University of Texas points out, “We tend to eviscerate ourselves with self-criticism when we don’t meet our high standards. As soon as our feelings of superiority slip – as they inevitably will – our sense of worthiness takes a nose dive,” she explains. “We swing wildly between overly inflated and overly deflated self-esteem, an emotional roller coaster ride whose end result is often insecurity, anxiety and depression.”

Switch up your mindset

Instead of placing emphasis on our self-esteem, concentrate instead on your self-compassion. Here’s the difference: while we’ve already established that some of us with high self-esteem will shelve our dreams until we’re certain we can achieve them (whenever that might be), those with high self-compassion are actually going for theirs without giving outside judgement a second thought.

Why? Because those with high levels of self-compassion don’t punish themselves when they fall short of their goal. “Self-compassion doesn’t demand that we evaluate ourselves positively or that we see ourselves as better than others,” explains Dr Neff, the author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. “Rather, the positive emotions of self-compassion kick in exactly when self-esteem falls down; when we don’t meet our expectations or fail in some way.”

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