I’m Feeling Pretty Good About This Blog

by Eric Samuels

There seems to be an epidemic of unusually high self-esteem.

Now don’t get me wrong. When it comes to the taking a stand on the half-full or half-empty analogy, I like to think of the glass as simply being larger than required. I believe that makes me an optimistic leaning pragmatist.
But you can’t help but notice that in an increasingly complex world with more than its share of challenges, we seem to feel pretty darn good about ourselves!
Efforts to help build our self-esteem are everywhere. While self-help books, endless classes and courses, framed posters with clever sayings and soul-stirring images, are nothing new, now, more than ever, they seem to propose the solution for whatever ails. Marriage in trouble? Must be your self-esteem. Can’t find a job? Got to be your self-image. Can’t sink the putt or put away the competition in game 7? Look no further than how you see yourself.
Feeling pretty good about who we are is important, particularly when we deserve it, by doing the right thing whenever possible. Similarly, feeling lousy about ourselves when we do something we know is wrong (and let’s face it, we all fail to live up to our own best standards, at times) , is also proper and correct. But the suggestion of many of the self-esteem snake-oil salesmen, is that a robust sense of self will help you to burst through all the uncertainties of life and allow you to carry yourself with nothing but confidence and certainty. Herein lies the problem.
Doubt and caution serve a specific purpose in the way we go about making decisions. And if the uncertain thoughts themselves weren’t enough to cause pause and reflection, the accompanying visceral response of our body to stress, is the equivalent of our car’s GPS announcing, in that warm but determined voice….”at the first available opportunity, turn around.”

We’re not supposed to always have the answer. We can’t possibly know it all. There’s actually no such thing as ‘the smartest guy in the room’ (and even if there was, the moment we think we are that guy – we’re not).
You can certainly understand why we’re drawn to this notion of infallibly feeling good about ourselves. The appeal is self-evident.
The problem, however, is that it’s behavioral Prozac and dulls the senses. But its par for the course. We’re suckers for a quick fix. Feeling lethargic at the mid-point of the afternoon? Have an energy drink. Not happy with lines and wrinkles on your face? Botox them away. Feeling a little uncertain about that presentation you have to give on Monday? You can certainly try a pharmaceutical solution like beta blockers, or, better yet, rehearse to the point where you know the material as well as you can. Know what? You’ll still get butterflies in your stomach before stepping out in front of the audience – you’re supposed to!
Back when I first performed as a stand-up comic, overcoming severe nervousness before stepping out on stage was a major concern. I’d never felt that level of discomfort before. Someone suggested having a drink before my set, just to take the ‘edge‘ off. I tried it. In fact, I made it a double. It certainly took the edge off. It also threw off my timing, focus and most importantly, my connection with the audience. The same material that had previous audiences laughing, was met with blank stares and polite applause as I left the stage. It was the first and last time I used alcohol to dull my anxiety. Years later, I still get a little nervous moments before beginning any presentation or performance. The day I stop feeling this way, I will really start to worry. That ‘edge‘ serves a purpose!
Like dynamics in music, our feelings are meant to vary and shift. Feeling constantly too high or too low are equally disconcerting. It’s all about the balance.

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