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Self-Confidence vs. Self-Esteem: The Answer to a Lifelong Search

After a life of struggling to prove myself, one foundational truth changed everything.

All my life, I have worked hard to excel at everything I have done.  Sharpshooting, martial arts, school, music, work—you name it, whatever I did, I was good at it. I never hesitated to accept a challenge and attacked obstacles to overcome them and prove myself superior. 

Confidence? Yes, I had it in the way I went after what I wanted. And I got what I went after. But why, through my whole life, was I working so hard to succeed in every way? What drove the drive inside of me to always succeed and excel? I’ll tell you—low self-esteem. Sounds strange right? Why would I have low self-esteem if I accomplished so much and had confidence? Because self-esteem and self-confidence are closely related, yet separate things. 

I could confidently pursue my next goal but be insecure inside, hoping that this next accomplishment would prove my value to the world. I constantly thought that if I worked hard enough and succeeded enough, I would one day feel secure that I’m valuable and have a right to exist. It’s strange but true that two seemingly conflicting things can simultaneously exist. Outward self-confidence combined with inward doubt of my worth defined my whole life.  

You know what happened? No matter what I achieved or how many compliments I got, I still never found the security I longed for—the one that comes from being loved for who I am without doing anything. I was afraid to know the answer to this question: “If I’m not doing anything for anybody, will I still be valued? Am I enough?”

I had never felt like enough my whole life. From a childhood of being forced to fit into an image to a fourteen-year relationship of never quite measuring up after fulfilling every desire—yeah, I had some serious issues with self-worth and performance. I believe we all do to some degree or another, especially since today’s society puts such emphasis on material success.

What’s the answer? No matter what I do, I will never do enough or be enough outwardly for someone to truly be able to validate me.  All the praise and accolades can help my confidence, but I am the only one that can give myself the validation that I crave in my deepest core. 

It makes sense too because who knows me better than me? Who else knows every thought, feeling, motive, and desire that I have? Who else thinks the exact same as me? Who else sees and feels the same things as me? Science has proven that we are all different, even in something as common as a fingerprint. So if my physical fingerprint can set me apart from millions of people on this planet, how much more the way my mind works?  The way I perceive, process, and interpret life?

So, since no one can truly know and identify every little piece of me, it stands to reason that the only place to get my self-esteem is from me! I have the first and final say of whether I love or hate myself because I have that power. I never realized that before and searched everywhere for it, never seeing that the answer was within me and still is. If I esteem myself for who I am, a unique, one-of-a-kind human being, then I have the freedom to BE, not DO. I have a never-ending supply of well-being that constantly flows into my life and everything I do. Then I’m not looking to anyone or anything to validate myself because I already have my validation. With that as my foundation, all the outward accomplishments can come, and I’ll use them for my confidence, but know that my self-worth doesn’t depend on them. 

Now, this is something I just learned and am still learning more everyday. But it’s a foundational shift in how I look at myself and at life, which changes everything! What can I accomplish without the weight of always trying to be good enough? What are the possibilities if I can live already knowing that I have what I need and want most—my meaning, value, and self-esteem. I’ve already won! 

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People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

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