A Practical, Easy Route to Self-Esteem:
Learn How to Be Really Selfish

by Susan Ornstein

Few people would associate the words "selfish--ness" and "self-esteem." When we think of self-esteem, we think of attaining our most lofty vision of ourselves. When we think of selfishness, we think of pettiness. 

In real life, I find selfishness and self esteem to be intimately intertwined. In order to attain true, deep and long lasting self-esteem, I not only have to figure out what genuinely motivates me, but even more important I have to see myself going after it--hook, line and sinker. I must be ready to please myself to the ultimate. 

If this sounds simple, it's not. It's hard to be deeply and genuinely selfish. 

Watching children at play can help. When I observe small children carousing in an outdoor pool -- slipping down water--slides, diving in, overturning each other's tubes, squealing with delight, then abandoning the pool to run, wet feet slapping the cement, until they reach a cooler where they grab and then gobble down toasted--almond--fudge ice cream bars -- I marvel at their expertise in selfish pleasure--seeking. 

Would going after those same things give me pleasure? Yes. Would it make me proud? To a certain extent, yes. If I value pleasure -- and I certainly do -- going after these things would show me value myself enough to give myself pleasure. 

Unfortunately, many of us make the mistake of stopping right there. Members of the me--generation, we make much of giving ourselves all the worldly pleasures possible -- the finest Jamaican coffee, the most impeccably tailored clothing, the newest entertainment electronics -- in order to feel valuable. 

But this is living only on the outer crust of our potential. If this is as far as we go, our self-esteem will be just as superficial and will need constant patching over as holes break in this delicate crust. Hedonism, despite its grand reputation, can't give adults the same satisfaction it gives children; at best it's a quick fix. That's because as adults, in order to feel lasting self-esteem, we need to be more profoundly selfish than this. 

lf we go deeper into ourselves and what motivates us, we have a chance to feel a deeper self-esteem. Beyond physical pleasures, there are other goals -- power, respect, success, affection. 

But even these goals, like physical pleasures, may have limited power to build our self-esteem because the satisfaction we get from them will be dependents on a host of other factors. 

For example, the self-esteem we feel when we receive respect will depend on who it is who is giving us that respect. So too with success. Success almost always brings us self-esteem, but if the project or goal we succeeded at is not deep enough -- not true enough to who we are -- then the self-esteem also will be shallow and passing. 

So how do we find self-esteem that lasts and lasts? There's only one way: By taking the time to figure out what it is that's really important to us, and then pursing those goals single--mindedly, wherever they take us. 

Again, being really selfish-- that is, being true to that which is most important to us -- is not so easy. It means disregarding what society tells me should be important to me. It means disregarding what advertising and the media tell me I should care about. It may mean disregarding what my parents or teachers expected of me. And most important, it means disregarding what my paranoia tells me I should be pursuing or achieving. 

In essence, it demands we be as honest with ourselves as children are and as persistent in getting what we want as they are. 

Ironically, we can often identify a desire that is genuine to us, and would build our self-esteem tremendously, if only we would pursue it. But a self--destructive part of us keeps us from sincerely attempting to attain it: we even kid ourselves it's not so important. Yet nothing is as crippling to our self-esteem as ignoring that which we really want, and almost nothing can boost our self-esteem more than seeing ourselves actively pursuing it. 

How each one of us gets in touch with her true motivators -- her true inner voice -- will differ for each of us. Finding that genuine inner cry that says: "This is what I want!" and then getting up the courage to pursue that goal may not be easy, but it's work none of us can afford to ignore. Our self-esteem depends on it. 

SUSAN ORNSTEIN is the editor of The Jewish Women's Journal.


Other articles on SELF ESTEEM

The Lost Art of SELF ESTEEM by Chaya Harnik 

The First Step to Self Esteem


Sample Lectures: Self Esteem; Feminine Trait; Intimate Road; Parenting; Politic



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