Success is a State of Mind: Self-Worth

Valedictorian of NSCC 2013

If a person feels good about her or his-self and their capabilities, then that person has a strong and positive sense of self-worth. If a person has a strong and positive sense of self-worth, then it may directly impact the outcomes of their actions in a positive manner. In contrast, if a person has a low sense of self-worth, then it may negatively impact the outcomes of their actions. Therefore, if the outcomes of actions may be directly impacted in a positive manner by having a strong and positive sense of self-worth, then it reasonably follows that a person who wants to be successful in life should seek to increase their sense self-worth.

By definition; self-esteem is a person’s feeling of self-worth, whether high or low. There are many factors that may contribute to a person’s self-esteem, like attitude, previous accomplishments, present circumstances, or prospective future activities, which all impact the way a person feels about his or her-self. Experience has taught me that what has happened in the past, what is happening in my present, and what I think will occur in the future only have the emotional power that I allow them to have. That is, how I think about these events changes how I feel about them. So, if and when I change how I think about those events, then I also change how I feel about them and thus, their power over me also changes.

For example, when I was a fourteen years old I stole a van and was caught after a high-speed chase through downtown Seattle, and I was sentenced to a year in a juvenile penitentiary. I resented that I had made those decisions for years to come because not only had I hurt people, but I also thought I had destroyed my future. However, when I was locked up, I both went to treatment and started writing poetry. At nineteen, both of those acts saved my life. First, the poetry helped me see through the denial of my drug addiction, which I learned in treatment was the primary cause of my behavior. Second, the drug and alcohol treatment showed me that there was a place that I could go for help. While getting sober I learned how to make reparations for the wrongs I had done and that my experiences could help to save the lives of others. Thus, by changing the way I thought about these situations they have continued to raise not only myself, but also others from the pits of Hell and despair.

Although it is true, that it is not necessary to have a strong and positive sense of self-worth to be successful, it can nonetheless, be highly beneficial to success. This is especially true when it is understood that success is measured on an individual basis; by the individual who measures it. For me, I now understand that contemporary circumstances are just that, and my immediate thoughts neither shade my emotions, nor callous my self-esteem. My self-worth is derived from knowing who I am, not from who I was, or who I could be in the future and that translates into success.

April 2011, I had been broken by life’s circumstances. I had fallen into an industry that I never planned to be part of; construction. I actually excelled in the industry as I had started as a laborer in 2004 and by 2011 I was a partner in the company. However, after the economic turmoil hit the United States and the rest of the world in 2008, maintaining a business became exceedingly difficult because our market, the housing market, collapsed.  and it felt that my life was going nowhere.  Also, in 2008 I snapped my knee working with at-risk youth as a mentor for the program T.S.B. (the Service Board), I tore the ACL, PCL and Meniscus in my right knee. The injury never completely healed and once a week I rolled my knee out of socket on the job and worsened the injury each time. Each time I looked to my mentors, who were all forty-five years old and older I noticed that they had all suffered injuries, yet they could not stop working because that was all they knew how to do. Furthermore, no other companies would hire them at their ages so, they had to work to put food on their tables and to keep a roof over their heads. What was worse, was that none of them were happy. This was the future that I was looking into and for me it was a bleak realization, but I did not know how to escape or to change the direction of my life, I felt trapped. I was broken because I measured success in greater terms than monetary gain, happiness was the largest component of success for me, and at that moment my self-worth was negative because there was no happiness in my life nor did I foresee any.

So, after being broken in April of 2011, I made the unorthodox decision to do something I had been terrified to do for years, I left the industry and enrolled in North Seattle Community College (NSCC) as the beginning to the pursuit of earning a law degree. Instantly, the weight of despair lifted off of my shoulders. I had no idea until that moment that what I was doing was killing my spirit and shattering my self-esteem, thus making me unsuccessful. Now college was by no means easy for me and I neither have doubts, nor reservations of any form that success, may and most often is, a difficult and fearful undertaking, but fear is about the future and as such, bears no relevance to what is possible today. I graduated from NSCC June of 2013, and I was the valedictorian of my graduating class. That very week I was also accepted into the University of Washington as a History and Philosophy undergraduate.

I share all of this with you, not so that I can toot my own horn, but rather so that I can convey to you an example of what is possible when the lenses through which we view the world are reversed. As a teenager, I was a high school drop-out, a thug, and a thief whose only prospects were prison and death. As a young man, and because of the decisions I made as an adolescent, it seemed that my only viable outcome in life was to be an unhappy-manual-laborer. Yet,  when I had the courage—and in my situation, necessity was a great motivator—and I took the time to re-evaluate my perspective a whole new world opened up to me.

Success is a state of mind and it is directly related to self-worth. If you are finding that you are not in a position in life today, which you consider to be successful, then it may be helpful to try looking at your world from an entirely new perspective and doing something that you have always believed was impossible. I have found that nothing reinforces a sense of self-worth like minor successes and those successes come from taking action. These minor successes help you to build momentum, which is vitally important because the road of life has bumps and potholes all over the place, and are set there in an attempt to derail you. But with momentum and a new perspective, these minor diversions, which otherwise would seem catastrophic become still more successes that add to your momentum as you overcome them.

In closing, I will share a metaphor with you that I developed a few years ago and, which has kept me focused in the midst of the turmoil of pursuing success:

When we stop to consider a goal, it is as if we are standing on the peak of one mountain looking at the peak of another mountain. From this vantage point we can see the forests and the jungles, the valleys and the rivers, which must be maneuvered to make it to our desired mountain peak. From there we lay our best plans, drawing maps and establishing contingencies for the unforeseeable and when we are ready, we forge into the great mystery of success by departing from our vantage point.

The key is not to lose focus of our objective mountain peak. Yet, once we enter into the forests and valleys we often lose sight of where it is we have come from and where we intend to go. This is a great place to be because it is neither our past, nor our future which is important, only the moment that we are in right now. Trust your map and the direction you selected while remembering that it is not the goal that is the true reward, but actually the lessons learned, the experiences and the alliances that are gained in the process that are the true rewards. So, when we become lost in the jungle and we encounter divergent paths that would divert us, stay the course, do not become lost in the realm of what-ifs and accomplish nothing; you may always return to these other interests after you reach your mountain peak.

There will come a point when we enter into what I call the “Waterfall Effect,” wherein the terror of what the future will hold paralyzes us. During our journey we have come to a waterfall, and like many waterfalls, what is on the opposite side of the waterfall is difficult to see. The F.E.A.R. (False Existence Appearing Real) terrorizes us because the waterfall is heavy, cold and could possibly kill us. The quintessential fear is that we do not know who we will become once we have crossed through the waterfall. Where we stand and who we are is both familiar and comfortable, and we may not be ready to release them, but on the other side is everything that we have desired.

Regardless of the fear, life has the propensity to propel us onward so, we must enter the waterfall. Once we have entered the waterfall all of our fears are realized as the weight of conviction bears down on us and we are pushed under the surface. We fight with everything that we have and just when we think we are defeated, we emerge from all the pressure on the other side of the waterfall as the weight and the pressure washes away from us. We are cleansed of all our fears and doubts and after having weathered the weight we are able to stand taller and more straight. The “Waterfall Effect” signifies the growth that occurs which many of us fear, but in the end sets us free.

It is this growth, which gives us the strength and the courage to scale the mountain to our desired peak; the goal we initially had our hearts set upon. Several minor successes will have been translated into a major accomplishment, whereupon these major success begin to occupy the same role as the minor successes that provided the impetus to continue forging through both the jungle and the waterfall.

By amending our state of mind, we can re-establish a positive sense of self-worth and that can lead us in the direction to the success we desire.

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