(Part 3 of 3)
Guest Post by Sherry Sourial
Self-Esteem Definition: confidence in one's own worth or abilities; self-respect.
This topic may look similar to the first two, but what sets self-esteem apart is the following:
“Self-esteem is derived from our abilities, accomplishments, social positions and things we believe we can achieve. We can bolster our self-esteem by improving our skills or performance, and our self-esteem goes up and down depending on how we are doing in various aspects in our lives.”
- Adia Gooden
My journey with self-esteem has been a colorful one, dashed with hues of pain, valleys, triumphs, setbacks, and a steady undertone of Christ’s guiding love. As an adolescent, much like many adolescents, I fostered the nasty habit of undermining my abilities in favor of the outward societal standard of perfection. I overlooked that I was intelligent, an avid reader, extremely helpful to those around me, loved looking after my sisters, beautiful, and had the best sense of humor in town (undisputed fact). Well, hindsight is 20/20, eh?
Unfortunately, that’s not how I perceived myself for a long time. I often (by “often” I mean “always”) held myself in comparison to those around me; and naturally, not those whose abilities I surpassed. I managed to find those who outperformed me in some aspect or another and compared myself to them (farewell, joy). Let’s talk about body figure for example, my lifelong struggle and companion. I have struggled with obesity since my teenage years, a circumstance that I allowed to diminish my self-esteem. My focus was on the physical feats I was unable to perform, and the clothes that didn’t fit right. I won’t even get into the countless, COUNTLESS, moments of shame, embarrassment, and negative self-talk.
Then, I embarked on a journey that triggered a monumental paradigm shift for me. This is going to sound outlandish, but I was looking through my high school yearbook shortly after it was published and I remember stumbling across a picture of three classmates, with the center one on crutches and wearing a blouse just like one that I owned. She had a beautiful smile and attractive face. A realization hit me… I was the only one on crutches that year (broke my fifth metatarsal, in case you’re curious), and that is my blouse. I turned to my friend, and asked “who is that?” She looked at me as though I was being cheeky, and I just nodded and continued flipping through. That was me! I was that beautiful girl!
I wish I could say I adjusted my mindset after that, but that doesn’t happen until later, MUCH later. Until then, the trend was the same. In the moment, I resented my physique. Years later, I see pictures of my younger self and realize how stunning she was and wish I gave her a fighting chance at realizing that. Unfortunately such beliefs are not stagnant, and they manifested themselves in the way I behaved and carried myself.
It’s interesting how we assume Jesus is only speaking of how we should esteem others when he says “Judge not, that you not be judged” (Matthew 7:1). As though to say it’s acceptable to judge ourselves harshly and unfairly, but others? Judge them not. Perhaps that command applied universally, inclusive of our judgment of ourselves as well.
Perhaps you find yourself in a similar situation? Some of you get stuck lacking self-esteem because, according to your parents, your grades are never high enough, you’re never married soon enough, or you’re simply not a male. Some of you are still healing from the battle scars left by the demands to be impeccably dressed and made up for the posted photos. But is that really an accomplishment? Are any of those things goals to aspire to?
While some of these aspirations are valid, I want you to level up and base your self-esteem on what truly matters: your own personal achievements, accomplishments, and goals that you set for yourself to define the trajectory of your life in the direction that you want it to head in. Focus on all of the times you made a commitment and met it. Did you write an assignment while being crammed in the house with your entire family, attend a virtual meeting when you were sick of being in front of the screen, did the extra dishes created by being home more often, woke up a little earlier for some quiet time before the house got busy, drank a little more water? You get the idea.
The funny thing about self-esteem is that no one is born with it, seeing as one is not born with any accomplishments to his/her name. Rather, it is a muscle that’s exercised. It’s garnered each time you decide to choose yourself. Choose mental clarity by waking up early for quiet time instead of sleeping in. Choose physical wellbeing by working out instead of lounging on the couch binge watching Netflix. Choose to sharpen your mind by reading or learning a skill instead of sharpening your thumb by scrolling aimlessly into Insta-abyss.
Cultivate self-esteem by setting small, attainable, yet meaningful goals for yourself that you know you can achieve and contribute to your wellbeing. Invest in yourself.
What finally brought me to my paradigm shift was when I stopped condemning myself for what I didn’t have and thanked God for the thought and care and love he poured into me when He decided the world needed one of me. King David was thinking of me when he wrote:
“For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.”
Wonderfully made and skillfully wrought was I. I thanked my life long Best Friend and Cheerleader, for countering my negativity by reminding me of my accomplishments and talents that He has blessed me with. I can return a spike in volleyball, intercept a flying frisbee during Ultimate, knock a grown man off of his feet in jiu jitsu, and dance at a cousin’s wedding like no one is watching. These are not life-altering milestones, but they're my ways of acknowledging that my body is strong, able, and carried me faithfully through all of my adventures.
Your mind is powerful, so much so that it controls your every success and failure, or whatever label you decide to use. I know, and you know, that you have at least 10 things to be proud of. Write them down and take a moment to acknowledge your accomplishments. “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them” (Romans 12:6). Notice St. Paul says “having gifts”, not “if having gifts”. You most certainly, by Biblical standards, have gifts. And you are obligated, by Biblical standards, to use them.
So, where will you take yourself next?
Sherry Sourial is a great friend of mine who I met in college while we were both studying engineering. Today she is a successful biomedical engineering project manager and my official blog editor. I’m glad to be able to share her words of wisdom with you. Sherry is a passionate and kind servant who loves to share the love of Christ, with a focus on helping youth define their careers. You can find Sherry on Instagram @shersoural.