Last week, I shared a letter to my 13-year-old self, reflecting on the lessons I had learned to help me build resiliency and co-create a life I love and am proud of. My pitch used to include “I have low self-esteem, and I am proud of it because I used to have no self-esteem.” Today my self-esteem is reasonably healthy. I am mindful of the lessons I shared with my 13-year-old self: I don’t compare myself to others. I am gentle with myself. I focus on my passions and strengths and use these to become healthier. I have tried to carry these messages not only in my life, but also to others, especially my children.
Let me share a proud parenting moment here. Years ago, I was worried about my youngest daughter. At 14, going into tenth grade, she seemed unmotivated and angry. She struggled in school and, although I required that she do an extracurricular activity, she was not experiencing success in her school’s drama program. I took a deep breath and thought, Either we build her self-esteem now or she could end up in residential treatment later.
I did not let her take the summer off with her friends to do nothing—though it would have been easier. We invested in a summer of self-esteem. She got to choose the activities she participated in, but she had to choose something. (She could have done a service project in Bali as far as I was concerned, as long as she was trying something new.) I looked for options, made suggestions, offered choices. Doing nothing was not an option. We did find two activities she agreed to, and here are the ones we invested in:
- She went to a one-week digital arts program. She was angry at me that she couldn’t just stay with friends, but she went.
- Since she said she wanted to move to New York, I said yes to a much-too-expensive three-week camp in New York. Instead of drama camp, she went to fashion camp. She lived with other girls her age, dorm style.
That last one was important. When she came home from the fashion camp, my daughter had decided she wanted to be a fashion designer. With renewed energy and determination, she set out on this path. I share this because the shift in her was profound. She found something she loved and, from there, was willing to work hard—very hard—so that she could pursue it. Nearly 10 years later, she has made a life and a career out of her passion for fashion design.
This was her success and story, but as a parent, it is also mine. I was determined to see her gifts and strengths and focus on them, even when she did not. I didn’t ignore the problems, but I continuously focused on her gifts. Without uncovering her love of fashion, I suspect she would have chosen another less-healthy path—one that helped her escape from her dissatisfaction and feelings of inadequacy but did nothing to heal the hurt beneath the surface.
As a parent, friend, and community member, I try very hard to walk in my own truth and to operate with integrity. I was not a perfect mom—I’m not sure anyone is. It would be easy to compare my insides to others’ outsides, focus on my inadequacies, and beat myself up for what didn’t happen. Instead though, as I honor both my daughters’ strengths, I honor what I have done right. The reality is that both my daughters are kind, value-driven, creative, incredible people. This is in part due to my paying forward these life lessons.
How do you support others to develop greater self-esteem? What are the wellness tools you use? What strategies help you stay well and keep moving forward? Please leave a comment on the WRAP Facebook page. We may share your comment in a future article.
Deb Werner, MA, PMP, is a Senior Program Manager at Advocates for Human Potential, Inc.