Just Believe in Yourself


Brian Sandler, Staff Writer

“You know George, if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything!”

Do those words sound familiar to you? Does that very combination of them ring bells of similar ideas and thoughts you’ve heard since you were a kid? The quote itself, which is from the 1985 classic movie Back to the Future, was said to someone to inspire them, to push them to…wait for it….follow their dreams.

Ah, yes, following one’s dreams. Such a seemingly simply, yet puzzling concept. Everyone from parents, teachers and coaches has probably insisted that you do this, that you just “believe in yourself”, and that if you do this, then you’ll be able to become whatever you want, whether a fireman, a professional athlete, even the President. As long as you “believed”, the sky was your limit.

Growing up, I wasn’t immune to hearing such tired phrases, being told that any difficulty from trouble with math to making friends could be solved with having “self-confidence”. I definitely grew bored of said platitudes and I’m sure many of you have as well. As such, the question must be asked as to whether or not the self-esteem craze has any genuine value. Is it folksy wisdom that will endure generations of increasingly more complicated ideas, or is it simply nonsense that should be relegated to an older time?

According to the experts, the less self-assured camp might have an advantage. In fact, there might be an alternative to self-esteem that is believe to be more beneficial.

“Research shows increasing self-compassion has all the benefits of self-esteem — but without the downsides,” says Eric Barker. “You can feel good and perform well while not turning into a jerk or being unable to improve.”

And according to Barker, the difference is huge. Huge enough to choose it over self-esteem.

“Unlike self-confidence, self-compassion doesn’t lead to delusion,” says Barker.

In fact, one study, “Self-Compassion and Reactions to Unpleasant Self-Relevant Events: The Implications of Treating Oneself Kindly,” showed that people high in the trait had increased clarity. They saw themselves and the world more accurately but didn’t judge themselves as harshly when they failed.”

However, before you decide to jump ship to the self-compassion bandwagon, there are findings that the self-confident might not be entirely on the wrong track. According to Angela Oswalt, there can be many benefits gained from self-esteem.

“The benefits of a healthy self-esteem are many,” says Oswalt. “Children who have high self-esteem come to value themselves and think of themselves as worthy partners and capable problem solvers. They develop a healthy balance of liking who they are, but also recognizing that there are ways they can continue to grow and to develop.”

To play the devil’s advocate even more, Oswalt stresses that self-esteem might be crucial to building connections in youth.

“With a healthy self-esteem, children feel that they have positive characteristics and skills they can offer to other people, and they also feel they are worthy of being loved and accepted by others including family and friends,” says Oswalt. “They feel fundamentally deserving of their fair share of resources like food, shelter, love, time, respect, and dignity.”

As there are convincing arguments to be made for both sides of the self-esteem issue, it remains unclear if self-esteem truly can make a difference in one’s life, or remains a punch-line to the participation trophy meme. “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind,” as Bob Dylan says.