When we hold ourselves back

recently tweeted about how self-esteem is about being able to see one’s options and feeling free to choose from those options.

(If either of these is missing, self-esteem is lacking. If someone sees themselves as not having any options, it doesn’t sound like they have high self-esteem. Similarly, someone may see options but feel that most if not all of those options are too costly to really consider as options. So they feel trapped–just picking the least bad option–which also doesn’t sound like they have high self-esteem.)

Our self-esteem comes from our thoughts and beliefs. It seems like a part of the human condition for us to tell ourselves stories that limit our self esteem.

I’m not smart enough to publish a book.”

My ADHD prevents me from limiting my overconsumption of information.”

I have to do this because I set myself this deadline.”

“It isn’t really an option to publish what I wrote this morning—it’s just a draft, it requires editing, I’m not done thinking about that topic yet, and there’s more I intend to write about.”

In Arcane, Silco shares this thought about power:

You see, power, real power doesn’t come to those who were born strongest or fastest or smartest. No. It comes to those who will do anything to achieve it.


Now, as much as Silco is a villain and uses this phrase to manipulate someone, I think there is some wisdom regarding self-esteem hidden beneath the surface.

The way many of us seem to think about self-esteem is almost meritocratic: if I were a better communicator, I’d have more self-esteem towards using these new relationship tools I’ve been learning; they’re so good at what they do, it’s no wonder they have so much self-esteem.

But self-esteem has nothing to do with merit.

A recent example of this is Simone Biles. Biles is tied as the world’s most decorated gymnast of all time. If that isn’t a display of merit, I don’t know what else is.

Despite this, Biles withdrew from the 2020 Olympic Games following her experience of decreased self-esteem.

Again, self-esteem has nothing to do with merit. It has to do with the thoughts and beliefs we have.

Looking at the last part of Silco’s thought (ie. “It comes to those who will do anything to achieve it.”), three things jumped to my mind.

First, I thought about goal achievement.

There are times when we work towards are goals, and things become difficult. We may not know how to do something. We may not know what to do. We be doing what we know to do, but it just isn’t getting us the results we need.

When we encounter this, we may give up on the goal. We may move the finish line to something easier. We may shift focus to another task or goal. But all of these communicate “This goal as it is isn’t an option for me.”

If instead we push through those feelings of discomfort and uncertainty, we can continue progressing towards our goal. And this helps you to see freely-choosable options where you didn’t see free-choosable options.

Those feelings that once seemed like insurmountable summits now feel like speed bumps on our journey.

Second, I recall examples of this is in 14 Peaks.

Nirmal Purja wanted to climb all 14 mountain peaks with an altitude higher than 8,000 meters over the course of 7 months.

He had so many opportunities where he could have given up.

Harsh weather could have prevented him from climbing certain peaks. But he and his team decided to take the risk and climb anyways.

Governments had shut down certain peaks due to dangerous conditions. But he rallied his supporters to write to the government to open the mountain to Purja and his team.

After summiting one of the peaks, he volunteered to summit again to help rescue another climber who got in trouble coming down. This could have been an excuse for why other peaks couldn’t be climbed in time. But Purja kept his focus on why he could accomplish his dreams instead of focusing on why he couldn’t accomplish his dreams.

Finally, I recently rewatched The Last Lecture.

In this lecture, Randy Pausch presents the theme that brick walls are there to show how badly you want something and to stop the other people who don’t want it bad enough.

One of the examples he shared was how he wanted to experience zero-gravity. With a team of students, he entered a NASA competition where the prize was to take a ride on a jet that would allow them to experience zero-gravity. And the team won.

But then he found out that faculty advisors were not allowed to participate in the zero-gravity experience.

It would have been easy for him to see this as an option he couldn’t take and quit there. But he knew it was a brick wall.

So he e-mailed NASA and told them he was resigning as the team’s faculty advisor and applying as the team’s journalist. And (after a bit more bargaining because it was very transparent to NASA about what he was doing) he was able to experience zero-gravity with his team.

He kept going where many of us would have allowed our thoughts to stop us.

So where in your life are you feeling stuck or low on options?

What thoughts or beliefs do you have that are keeping you there?

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