It has been brought to my attention that I am sometimes too full of myself. I will stipulate that this is true. And it made me curious: Is the opposite approach to life – cultivating low self-esteem – working out well for its many practitioners?
A lot of people tell me I need to lower my self-esteem in the service of modesty, credibility, and protecting the sensibilities of those around me. I would like to heed that advice and be a team player, but I’m also plagued with bouts of rationality that are keeping me from making this improvement to my character.
Before I do anything drastic in life, such as evolving into a person who thinks less of himself for the well-being of others, I like to do a pros and cons list. I’ll start with the advantages of thinking too much of myself.
- It feels great! All the time!
- It boosts my testosterone.
- It improves my performance at most things. Science agrees.
- Higher testosterone makes muscle growth easier.
- I take more risks. (This is admittedly a mixed bag.)
- I rarely feel embarrassment even when I should. (Such as now, for example.)
- I am emotionally immune from criticism.
- Cockiness has an aphrodisiac effect on some. (You know who you are.)
Now for the downside of thinking too much of myself…
- I take more risks than I probably should.
- People call me a dick in every online comments board on the Internet.
- Higher testosterone increases cancer risks.
Advantage: cockiness (until I get cancer anyway)
I see my inflated sense of self-worth as more of a strategy for happiness than a flaw. And by that I mean I know how to dial-back my self-esteem but I choose not to. Just moments ago I was reading the five-star reviews for my new book (How to Fail…) for no other reason than boosting my morning energy. I manipulate my self-esteem the same way I manage my intake of coffee. When I need a jolt of feel-good, I spend some time dwelling on whatever has gone well recently. And when my mind wanders to the graveyard of my many failures, I change the mental channel as quickly as I can.
There’s no such thing as the right level of self-esteem. Everyone who interacts with you will have a different idea of how much is too much for you. So I intentionally err on the side of too much. The benefits simply outweigh the costs.
Keep in mind that I have succeeded in several fields in which I had no identifiable talent before starting, including cartooning, the speaking circuit, and writing books. Had I cultivated a more socially acceptable level of self-esteem I wouldn’t have tried any of those challenges.
I have failed in my personal life and in my career about ten times more often than I have succeeded, but my artificially high sense of self-esteem allows me to quickly bounce back and keep punching until something lucky happens.
Some of you will be quick to point out the difference between quiet inner-confidence and being an arrogant dick all over the Internet. But if you think high self-esteem can be masked, you probably don’t understand what it is. The moment you feel high self-esteem, you lose the filter. In other words, if you feel you need to hide your high self-esteem, you don’t have high self-esteem. That’s how self-esteem works.
So I ask the following question in all seriousness: If you think I’m too full of myself (which I am), how is the alternative strategy working out for you? Are there some additional benefits of low-to-moderate self-esteem that are not obvious to me?
How to Fail at almost Everything and Still Win Big