The Razor’s Edge of Self-Esteem

by Patricia Spadaro

Self-esteem’s a funny thing—a fine balancing act. You’ve got to believe you are wonderful just as you (because you are) AND you’ve got to keep on trying to improve yourself (because you can reach higher and be more).

That’s perhaps the ultimate razor’s edge of life—balancing confidence with humility. Knowing when to stand up for yourself and when to back down because you have something yet to learn. Taking care not to beat yourself up whenever you make a mistake and, at the same time, not becoming so arrogantly close minded that you shut out the message and the messenger who has been sent to teach you a thing or two about yourself.

As tricky as it can be to balance both sides of the equation of self-esteem, it’s refreshing too. Knowing that self-esteem and humility are necessary partners in your life gives you permission to honor the wonderful in you AND honor what is still waiting to be awakened.

Truth is often a paradox, and that both of these states can coexist within us at the same time—the wonderful and the as-yet-unawakened—is one of life’s greatest truths.

The Zen of Self-Esteem

The Zen masters knew a thing or two about the tricky paradox of self-esteem. The teacher Shunryu Suzuki simply expressed it this way to his students:  “All of you are perfect just as you are . . . and you could use a little improvement.”   (I don’t know about you, but that makes me smile and I see a playful twinkle in Suzuki’s eyes as he said that.)

I found the same sentiment put another way in a novel I read recently by Michael Koryta, where one of his characters, a high school football coach, talked about the balancing act this way:  “The attitude you needed to win football games was a difficult balance. Confidence was crucial; overconfidence killed. Success lived on the blade’s edge between.” 

In the game of life, it’s no different, is it?

Some tips for the balancing act:

If your pride (your ego) is hurt, acknowledge that and try this:

  • Ask yourself: Would I do better and feel better if I admitted that I have something to learn in this relationship, professional setting, or way of interacting with others?
  • If so, what specific advice is this situation trying to teach me so I can become better at navigating situations like this?
  • Stand up, close your eyes, spread your arms as wide as you can, and consciously open to the message or lesson waiting for you. What do you hear or see?

If, on the other hand, you feel yourself melting into a puddle from the heat of your own self-criticism, try this:

  • Remind yourself that the problem that’s happening right now does not define who you are. The labels people have given you—and the negative names you may call yourself—are not the real you.
  • Imagine a line on the floor, the fine line of self-esteem separating self-condemnation on one side and arrogance on the other. Physically take a step to stand right on that line as a way of reinforcing to yourself that you choose to wake up to the inner reality that is you and get back into balance.

Share your ideas here. How do you remind yourself of the paradoxical truth that you are wonderful AND you still have some things to learn?


Write Your Personal Declaration of Independence

by Patricia Spadaro

“The beginning and the end reach out their hands to each other.” —Chinese proverb

A new article I wrote called “Endings Are Just Beginnings was published this weekend on the Heal Your Life website. It talks about 4 ways to say goodbye to regrets and honor the endings in your life.  I realized just how unexpectedly apropos this was for the Fourth of July weekend, which celebrates a courageous ending that made way for a grand new beginning.

Here’s something to think about to really bring that spirit of freedom home to your own heart: What will you declare YOUR independence from today?

What’s the tyrant that is holding you back from being all you can be? Is it a not-so-healthy habit you want to let go of? A stifling job? A toxic relationship? Someone who is pushing you in a direction that isn’t right for you? Is it your need to always be right when interacting with others? Constantly living in the past or blaming yourself for situations that aren’t totally under your control? Or the debilitating habit of saying yes to everyone else instead of drawing boundaries and saying yes yourself?

What will you declare your independence from today? It’s an important question that deserves some deep contemplation and, even better, a written commitment where you sign on the dotted line. Think of this as creating your own personal Independence Day—the day you vow to cut the tie, the day you declare your liberation from whatever or whomever is crushing that part of you that wants to fly.

Tips for writing your personal Declaration of Independence:

  • Be honest with yourself: Name something (or someone) that is holding you back from fully being yourself.
  • Write out your personal Declaration of Independence from this inner or outer tyrant with firm commitment and passion.
  • In your declaration, state exactly what you are committing to be free from and why this is important to you. What will you be able to accomplish by liberating yourself from this yoke?
  • You can also write that you are inviting and welcoming into your life all the support (physical, emotional, and/or spiritual) that you need to stick to your pledge of freedom.
  • Then write down the specific actions you will commit to in order to see this through to the finish.
  • Date and sign your declaration.
  • This can be the start of a new thrust for you, especially when you see this declaration as a pledge—a promise to yourself that you will choose to cut yourself free from the negative habit or toxic tie because it is dragging you down—even smothering you—rather than raising you up.  Sure, it might take some work.  But the commitment, in tangible form, is the essential first step.

    The Scottish mountaineer W. H. Murray once wrote: “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.”

    Commit to your freedom today from one key thing that isn’t helping you thrive. See how it feels, and see what happens next. A new beginning is waiting for you.

    More resources:
    —Honoring and accepting endings is so important that in my book Honor Yourself: The Inner Art of Giving and Receiving I devoted four chapters to the subject of freeing yourself and honoring endings.

    —See my new article:  Endings Are Just Beginnings:  How to move beyond breakups, layoffs, and unspoken words with 4 ways to say goodbye to your regrets

    The Names We Call Ourselves

    by Patricia Spadaro

    What’s in a name? And what names do you call yourself? First, the story of two kinds of Pepper A few years ago, I met a young teenager who was bagging groceries for me. I saw from her name tag that her name was Pepper. “That’s a very unique name,” I said cheerfully. When she […]

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    Do You Know How to Receive?

    by Patricia Spadaro

    “We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves.” —Thomas Merton Giving is great, but is it always better than receiving? Is giving better than receiving if our giving ends up knocking us flat on our backs, compromising our ability to give with resilience to others? When […]

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    What Are You Giving Birth To?

    by Patricia Spadaro

    What’s the next part of you that is being born? And are you paying attention to what it needs? I was about to make a right turn onto a busy two-lane street today when I noticed that the cars in the left lane had come to a halt. I thought the girls sitting in the […]

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    Honor Your Inner Impulses

    by Patricia Spadaro

    “Most of us,” said prominent psychologist Abraham Maslow, “have learned to avoid authenticity.” That’s a serious charge and a worthy challenge. What he meant was that many of us are trained to ignore our inner signals. We suppress our feelings rather than express them. We haven’t dug deep and gotten in touch with our own […]

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    Honor Your Own Style

    by Patricia Spadaro

    Life is never a one-size-fits-all formula. If you are to develop and give your gifts (that’s why we’re here, isn’t it?), you must honor who you are and celebrate your own voice. That means embracing the paradox that while it’s important to value the mentors and role models who guide us, we must also rely […]

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    Creating Spaces in Your Togetherness – Part 2

    by Patricia Spadaro

    Are you honoring the paradox of dependence and independence? We honor ourselves when we ask for the support we need. And yet there are times when life compels us to rely on ourselves because flying solo is exactly what we need. The following story from the Hasidic tradition of Judaism highlights why self-reliance is indispensable. […]

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    Creating Spaces in Your Togetherness

    by Patricia Spadaro

    Honor your relationships by honoring yourself—a different approach to relationships that can make all the difference. Relationships, like most things in life, are paradoxical. Healthy relationships require an artful swing between dependence and independence, togetherness and solitude. Even in the closest of connections, where mutual support should come with the territory, it’s essential to strike […]

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    What’s Your Self-Esteem Quotient?

    by Patricia Spadaro

    Your sense of self-worth—how you value yourself, your innate value, and your gifts—guides your life. It determines how others see you and treat you, what kind of people show up in your life, how you act and react. Your self-esteem determines how you make choices and set priorities moment by moment, every day. What does […]

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