Awesome! Incredible! Do words encouraging self-esteem do more harm than good?
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Working women appear to be the primary target market for products, services, events and chants promising to improve self-esteem.
There are historical reasons why this has been the case, and this portion of the self-help market's served some good. There are also plenty of reasons to cultivate a culture that promotes a woman's self-esteem, particularly among young girls still coming up against gender stereotypes, and for those who feel pressure to evaluate themselves based on their appearance.
But when it comes to a woman's career success, a lot of us could be better off spending our money on other things.
We may well be better off putting our time and energy (there's no need for cash on this one) into raising our self-compassion, rather than our self-esteem.
Self-compassion's a theme that's been coming up in more recent years, and one promoted today in the Harvard Business Review.
It's a term I believe is relevant to our audience: career-minded women who are often trying to get on top of conflicted priorities. It's also relevant to anyone looking to take the next career step but are perhaps questioning their own confidence, and those working at their self-esteem in the hope that it's the missing piece of the success they desire.
According to psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson, self-compassion is about moving away from an industry that's telling us to believe we're all undeniably brilliant, to learn from our mistakes in such a way that you're not afraid to make them, and to tone down the self-praise.
Grant Halvorson says the idea that we should all believe we're 'awesome', 'incredible', 'amazing' is getting a little old. After all, to be awesome you need to live in "quiet terror or making mistakes, and feel devastated when you do".
The end result of inflated self-esteem is that we start concentrating too heavily on the few things we can do well, where we can massage our egos and feel safe against the threat of failure. It can result in us moving on too quickly from failure in a bid to forget all about the mistakes we've made as quickly as possible.
In some cases self-esteem can simply mean added pressure: we don't always have it, we shouldn't feel guilty for not having it, and promoting it personally means it'll only hurt harder when we inevitably trip up.
A recent Berkeley study by Juliana G. Breines and Serena Chen found that embracing personal failure can make us more motivated to improve ourselves. It also suggests that those embracing self-compassion over self-esteem were more likely to believe they could improve on their personal weaknesses. It's not the first piece of research to back a move to self-compassion.
Effective self-compassion does not mean lowering our own personal standards. It's about accepting personal responsibility and concentrating on how you're arriving at your end goal, rather than the goal itself.
Don't believe you're awesome. You're not. You're human. So go easy on yourself this weekend.