I am fascinated by self-esteem because it’s such a huge differentiator among everyone – even among the smart and talented. And I don’t think people can fake it. Maybe it is my own, overzealous self-esteem when it comes to my ability to read self-esteem, but I think people reveal their own levels no matter how hard they try not to.
And I don’t think I’m the only person who is fascinated. I read commentary about Paris Hilton, (that I have spent way too much time trying to retrieve online,) that said that the reason we are fascinated by her is that she has an unshakable sense of self. You can argue that you don’t like who she is, but it’s hard to argue that you’ve ever seen her feeling insecure about who she is.
A lot of self-esteem is dependent on self-knowledge. Knowing what you want and what’s important to you. This is why the infamous Starbucks memo is infamous — because the chairman of the company outlines the company’s weaknesses so clearly and accurately. The memo shows unabashed and on-target self-reflection.
I want that. I want what the chairman has and also what Paris has. One of my biggest worries is that I project an image of myself that I do not fully understand. And this is, of course, a career issue. The people who do best at getting the career they want are the people who understand how they appear to others.
But you don’t want to put too much stock in how others view you. Hold on to yourself in the face of peoples’ opinions; this is what I tell myself all the time. And then I think about how Seth Godin does not accept comments on his blog because he thinks he reacts too strongly to how other people see him. Maybe Seth could take some lessons from Paris in this regard. Meanwhile, Seth’s idea that he can only hold on to his self-esteem if he is not exposed to other peoples’ direct input seems a tenuous spot to be in during the era of Web 2.0.
I think self-esteem will be different soon. After all, millennials are the self-esteem generation, and maybe they will commodify self-esteem in a way that is not even accessible to Seth or me. Their parents brought them up with the idea that the most important thing was self-esteem – they played soccer games where everyone’s a winner because everybody played. Some people call millennials narcissists, but I think those people are taking their own self loathing out those bursting-with-confidence twentysomethings.
There is a sense of celebrity that permeates millennials. They have been online for so long that they assume everyone is looking at them, no matter where they are. In this way, millennials have a strong sense of self that they assert constantly. And when I was interviewing Rebecca Blood (a celebrity in her own right – at least in the blogosphere), she said that celebrity is so mainstream among kids today that young Hollywood debutants may be better role models for how to act than the kids’ own parents.
Soon after that, I saw a very public scene of a girl getting dumped, and I realized that it’s a great example of a seemingly mainstream young person being able to hold onto her self-esteem by adapting to celebrity status in a matter of minutes.
Some of you will argue that celebrity status has nothing to do with self-esteem. But I can’t help thinking there is a connection between one’s ability to live in front of a web cam and one’s ability to hold onto a sense of self no matter what is going on around her.
So maybe the best training for being successful at work is to learn to think about yourself in terms of celebrity before you get there. Because the people most secure with themselves are the ones who stand out in the workplace.