Self-Esteem: A Fast Track to Success – Or Not?

     cat-and-lion     Without self-esteem, we cannot have the kind of authentic self-confidence needed to drive our dreams and visions. But for all the talk about it, what really is “self-esteem” anyway? The dictionary defines it as “a liking and respect for oneself”. The problem is that achieving self-esteem seems to have been so over-emphasized in recent decades that, for many, it now qualifies as an end in itself. However, the fact is that self-esteem is a consequence of other actions, not a goal which can be realized independently.

     Self-esteem is not something that anyone can provide for another person. And yet that’s what our society has been trying to do for a long time. Trophies for participation, grades no lower than a B, promotions based on criteria other than performance, and “freebies” doled out right and left are all giving many people a sense of superiority for accomplishing very little, if anything. Unfortunately, the consequence of this mentality has not fostered success for people, but rather a sense of being entitled to success simply because one exists.

     The tragedy is that when people take no opportunity to earn success, then they likewise have no opportunity to respect or esteem themselves.

     While it’s true that self-esteem is necessary to possess the self-confidence we need to pursue our goals and visions, that only happens when a person has three things which, together, are the true recipe for self-esteem.

     First Thing: Accountability. First of all, before anything else, people need to learn that they are accountable for their own actions, and furthermore, that if they are not, then consequences will follow. Unfortunately, many in our society seem to feel that it’s “mean” to hold folks accountable for their behavior.

     I remember years ago when I was a know-nothing student teacher covering a study hall one day with a very large group of students who set out to take advantage of the know-nothing student teacher. (Talk about being thrown to the lions.) Two girls in particular went out of their way to be disruptive and rude and the more they were asked to stop, the more they laughed and cranked up the behavior. They didn’t think I could or would do anything about it. Unfortunately for them, I had been told by another teacher that if I had any problems with students, I could assign them a Saturday detention. Knowing this, I was nice enough even to warn the girls what their next Saturday might look like. Evidently, they didn’t believe me and pretty much dared me to go there. So I went there.

     It turns out that these two particular young ladies were members of the school’s ski club. And on Saturday that particular ski club was going skiing. None of my business. Until the school principal came to me with the girls in tow, explaining how sorry they were and that they would like very much to go on the ski trip. They even cried to prove the point.

     Now if their behavior hadn’t been so deliberately in-your-face, I’m sure I would’ve said some version of no harm, no foul; have a good time. However, that not being the case – at all – I said no, that they needed to serve their time. I was looking down the road at what they would learn if they were sent merrily up the ski slope: that their atrocious behavior held no consequence and that they would never be held accountable for it. Future consequences for bad behavior could, after all, be far more serious. Unfortunately for me, the principal did not see it my way. To the best of my recollection, he was not happy with me. He believed that it was more important that these girls have fun than that they learn accountability. The girls did serve their time and I’m pretty certain that, to this day, they have not forgotten the experience. I like to think that once they had children of their own (it happened that long ago), they would’ve seen the situation in a different light. At least I hope.

     Second Thing: Responsibility. In order to foster a sense of self-esteem, a person needs sole responsibility for a job, a chore or an assignment of some kind. It is this kind of responsibility which gives a person a chance to earn success through hard work, problem-solving, right choices, overcoming challenges to motivation, and perseverance.

     It is that success in the midst of challenges that fosters self-esteem.  

   But what if a person is not able to achieve success? What if she fails? The fact is that sometimes – especially if a person is not particularly trying to succeed – she needs to be allowed to fail. Sometimes the success lies in the dusting off and beginning again. It’s these situations which teach us that we have what it takes to persevere, and it’s that discovery which breeds self-esteem. However, if a person has someone continually rescuing them from failure or even from having to work hard, that discovery is never made.  A person who has no responsibility for anything cannot truly earn success, and it is that earned success which actually gives a person a sense of self-esteem.

     Third Thing: Acceptance. A person certainly needs the acceptance of others in order to have self-esteem; making him responsible for his own actions or for a job of some kind does not mean that he doesn’t need support. The challenge to others is for that support not to become enabling. But for a person to know that he is accepted for who he is and supported as he “tries his wings” is essential to a sense of self-esteem. If a person works his tail off and yet cannot find acceptance and support, he may come to believe that working longer and harder is the only path to acceptance. In the meantime, his developing sense of self-esteem becomes based on performance: he is only valuable for what he does and not for who he is. The good news to anyone suffering from a lack of acceptance and support is that we have a Father in heaven who is happy to provide those for us.

     If a person is continually rescued from disappointment and failure or simply allowed to quit when things get tough, he will develop a belief that that rescue or that “freebie” is owed to him. Furthermore, if he is not given a responsibility to hone his character, he will never experience success and so, deep down, will not esteem himself. Finally, if he does not have the healthy support of those he respects, he will conclude that his worth is only based on what he can produce.

     Sometimes we need to take an inventory of our own sense of self-esteem and ask ourselves one question: Is it helping us or hurting us?


Those Mysterious Open Doors . . .


     Nothing is more chilling than a door that opens by itself. Whether it creaks slowly open or abruptly slams open, it’s unexpected and unnerving. Especially if you never saw the door in the first place.

     Doors, in the spirit realm, are like that; one moment there’s nothing there and then suddenly, there’s a portal right in front of you – and what can you do but walk through it?

     Since the new year, I’ve heard several times and from different sources that God is opening new doors – both natural doors and doors in the spiritual realm. Now at first, I have to confess, I thought the “open door” theme was simply the usual new year’s chatter: every year someone promises that the Lord is going to open new doors for someone, somewhere. And no doubt sometimes He has. But often a word that was meant for one person or small group we take to be a general word for everyone. But this year is different. When we begin to hear the same message from several sources, over and over, it’s time to sit up and pay attention. So, what does it mean for God to “open a door” anyway?

     Rescue. There are times in our lives when we may need to be rescued, to be saved from some circumstance that may or may not be of our own doing. Take Peter the Apostle; in his case, the “door” that opened for him was literally a door – a prison door. Peter had been cast into jail for the heinous crime of preaching the Gospel. We don’t know how long he was there but he’d probably been in prison long enough that he’d given up hanging onto the cell bars, peering hopefully out, waiting for his angel in shining armor to fly in and rescue him. And yet, in the middle of the night, after perhaps many nights, after Peter had given up, left his watch, and fallen finally asleep, an angel did appear and that heavy iron door swung wide open. The point is that once God opened that door to rescue Peter, no one, not even the entire Roman Empire, could stop Peter from walking through it.

     Opportunity. Sometimes the “door” God has for us is an opportunity; it may be to get a job, start a ministry, open or expand a business, pursue an education, widen our network or influence – it could be a million things.

     Joseph of the OT was a person faced with such a door – although perhaps it didn’t appear to be a really great opportunity when he was suddenly hauled out of prison and commanded by Pharaoh to interpret his dream. But Joseph seized the day and warned Pharaoh about the seven years of plenty to come, followed by seven years of famine. However, he didn’t stop there. Joseph took the opportunity to advise Pharaoh as to how to solve the impending famine crisis and so was promoted to second in command in all of Egypt. Who saw that coming?


     “’What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open . . .’” (Rev. 3:7).

     Promotion. There are times when the Lord presents a “door” in the form of a promotion. But is a “promotion” really that different from an “opportunity? Yes. An opportunity is usually a “new” thing; generally, a person has already walked through a door of opportunity – as with a career – and gone in a new direction. However, a promotion is a second door, an advancement within that career (or business or ministry or school, etc.).

     The OT story of Esther is a good example. Esther was caught in a dragnet and cast into the middle of a rather unconventional beauty pageant, the “prize” being that the winner would become the new queen of Persia. Not too shabby. But how is that an “opportunity”? Esther, a virtuous Jewish virgin, was essentially kidnapped and thrown into the King’s harem and would be required, without the benefit of marriage, to sleep with a man who, king or no king, was a stranger. And then, if the king didn’t like her, Esther would spend the rest of her life in the harem; there’d be no husband, no children, and her reputation among her people would be, well, rather tarnished. Nevertheless, “when the turn came for Esther . . . to go to the king, she asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested. And Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her” (Esther 2:15). Point? Esther could have mourned and grieved and rebelled against the circumstances but she didn’t. Many of the other girls might have done that but Esther chose to make the most of the opportunity to learn the language, the politics, and the workings of the palace. It was in making that deliberate choice that gave Esther the favor of God and also the favor of the king. In the end, Esther was promoted to the position of Queen of the Persian Empire.

     What’s the lesson? “Doors,” whether they present as rescues, opportunities or promotions, often have two things in common: the “doors” are often sudden and unexpected, and they always require a response from us. We don’t have to cooperate with the rescue as Peter did when he chose to walk through the open prison door (note that the angel didn’t drag him through it). We don’t have to take the opportunities to serve with good attitudes the way Joseph and Esther did – despite their captivities. And we don’t have to accept the promotion when it’s offered as Joseph and Esther did – even though promotions often require added responsibilities and work. This year God has revealed that He will be opening doors of rescue, opportunity, and promotion.

     The question is – will you walk through them?

The Psyche Advantage

James Bond (Daniel Craig)

If I had to choose which among the principles of success is the most crucial, I would say that having – or not – the psychological advantage in any given situation is the key to determining success or failure.


     But what’s a “psychological advantage”? It’s that feeling you get when you know you’re winning and you feel better, smarter, more capable than any obstacle you may face. It is, in short, when you simply have no doubt that you’re going to accomplish or win at anything you might attempt.

     We all know the principle of psych advantage. In sports it’s often known as “momentum”. The moment the “momentum” shifts in a game, you know it, the team gaining it knows it, and the team that’s losing it certainly knows it. For example, the other night I was watching a college basketball game and one team was significantly ahead; they had the momentum. However, at one point the other team began to go on a scoring run. After about three unimpeded field goals – during which the winning team scored nothing – everyone could feel the momentum shift. Granted, the winning team was still ahead, but the losing team was gaining. And here’s the key: the winning team was no longer certain they were going to win the game and, at that point, the losing team suddenly felt that they could win it.

     That’s the psych advantage.

     You may have heard it expressed this way:

“You can if you think you can, and you can’t if you think you can’t.”   (Dr. Norman Vincent Peale)

     “’As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.’” (Prov. 23:7)

     “Success is a state of mind. If you want success, start thinking of yourself as a success.” (Dr. Joyce Brothers)

     “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.” (Winston Churchill)

     “As long as you’re going to be thinking anyway, think big.” (Donald Trump)

     I’ve even heard this one:

     “In every relationship, there is the alpha dog and the beta dog. I’m the alpha dog.”      (comedy What To Expect When You’re Expecting)

     There are many other adages which express the need for the psychological advantage in order to win. The point is that that advantage is the one thing, without which, we won’t succeed. We may not initially have the opportunity or money or education or support of others or any other thing that we might need to succeed, but if we believe that we will have them, then we have the psychological advantage.

     So – how do we get that psych advantage?

Identity. Knowing our identity might be, by far, the most essential thing needed to attain the advantage because this is the one thing that no one can take away from you. In other words, know who you are. You have to believe in your own identity which includes your capability to achieve your goal – no matter how impossible that goal may look or how many times you might have failed. You have to believe that, because of what’s in you, you have the talent or the resources to succeed. But here’s the challenge: you may not feel like you have what it takes and if you let those feelings dictate who you are and therefore what you do, then you’ve lost the psychological advantage.

     For example, as American citizens, we have an identity backed by the irrefutable authority of the United States Constitution. This means that because of our citizenship – our identity – we have certain “inalienable rights” that no one can take away from us. The right to life (we can’t be executed on someone’s whim), the right to free speech, and the right to “due process” are a few. And, as American citizens, we can never lose these rights – regardless of what anyone says to the contrary.

     In the Christian context, the Word of God says that “God seated Jesus in the highest position in the universe, at His Own right hand, and made Him head over all things” (Eph. 1:22) and that God “raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. . . .” (Eph. 2:6). Interpretation: Christ defeated death and the powers of darkness and then sat down, meaning, as He said, “’It is finished’”. Moreover, He’s chosen to seat us with him – above the enemy and all of his minions.

     Bottom line: As Christians, we’ve already won.

     The problem is that the number of Christians who really believe this are in the minority. But if we were to focus on our identity rather than our feelings, we would have that psychological advantage – and it would never leave us.

Persistence. Another critical thing that we need to give us the psych advantage is the mindset that we won’t ever quit. You know the drill: “Winners never quit, and quitters never win.” It’s all true. But why would we quit? Lack of preparation, lack of resources, lack of personal support as well as a myriad of emotional cement shoes: discouragement, fear, insecurity, fatigue, boredom. Any of these can shipwreck our psychological advantage – if we let them.

     So how do we fight those? First, if we’re lacking resources, we continue working on getting that prep or money or support until we have them and if we can’t bring ourselves to do that, it’s because we’re being tripped up by our emotions. If so, we need to deal with those first. And that goes back to identity: Who do you believe you are? If you’re talented and passionate about doing “that thing,” then just keep doing it. Period.

     Think about it. What would you do if you quit? I’ll tell you: you’d be miserable.

Success. Odd as it might sound, the only other thing that can nuke our psych advantage is achieving success – and then thinking we can never lose it. If we quit being hard-working and diligent and giving it our best, then our momentum might just shift to the person who is giving it all they have. We’ve all seen sports teams who get sloppy, believing they can’t be beat – and then they are. Avoid that.

     The bottom line is that if you don’t have the psych advantage going into your challenge, then stop what you’re doing and think about where you lost it. Thing number one: Make your momentum shift happen.

     No one’s ever succeeded without the psych advantage.






Is It Time for A Revision of Your Vision?

Mel Gibson as Prince Hamlet

     As many of us have realized as we travel the road through life – especially if we’ve been on that road for any length of time – sometimes the road deviates and we find ourselves on a different path than we expected to be on. Sometimes we find ourselves on little bunny trails which end up leading right back to where we wandered off in the first place, and sometimes the road takes us someplace entirely new. The thing about that is we never know how it’s going to turn out. But you know what they say about the “road less taken”? Take it.

     Having said all that, some of you noticed that I didn’t post on Monday – which I normally do. And I was going to – I had no plans not to – until Sunday evening when I sat just listening for what the Lord might say to me for the new year and suddenly, there it was: “Cut the posts back to once a week.”

     “Really?” I wasn’t certain I’d heard right. “Is that really You, Lord?”

     “Yep. It’s really me.”

     I won’t verbatim the whole conversion but the gist is that God wants me working on a revision of a book I’ve written and, in the interest of complete honesty, I was trying to avoid that. Really trying. Hard. It’s going to be an epic task requiring lots of changes and rewriting and frankly, I just wanted to do something new.

     Have you ever gotten to the place where you’re just tired of working on something you’ve been working on for a long time and you just want to move on? Probably. We all have. But we learn endurance and all that – you know the drill.    

     However, I think (scratch that – I know) that the real reason I didn’t want to do any revision on the book was because I simply didn’t know what to do. I knew it needed some changes but, as I said to the Lord, “I got nothing.” And then He showed me something that changed everything.

     He said, “Look at the word.”

     Me: “What word? Your word?”

     “No, the word ‘revision’. You like taking words apart. Take it apart.”

     “Okay. Hmmm…root word: ‘vision’. ‘Re’ is a prefix meaning ‘do over’ – as in “review,” “restart,” “renew”. So… ‘revision’ means ‘do the vision over’?”

     “I’m going to give you a new vision for this book.” 

     And so it’s begun. I sat down on Monday, January 2nd, and worked on the book until after dark, trusting God for the new direction He wants to take it. The funny thing is, as I was listening and writing and listening, I realized that it was on January 2nd several years ago that I first received the idea for this book.

     What are the odds?

     However, even though I’m working on a book that I thought was finished, I might still have had time to post twice a week – except that, in addition to the book, I’ll be working on another assignment. I have a friend to whom, many years ago, God had given a vision for a type of ministry but, in the years since, she’s  not had time to implement it. As a result, her vision ended up “on the shelf” as so many of our visions often do. Yet it was just this past weekend when she had a sudden revelation that, after all these years, it’s now “go” time for that vision to come to life. The fun thing is that I get to be a part of it – but it will take time.

     Sometimes, a new year brings a new season. And, as with all new seasons, things change. For me, because posting on both Mondays and Thursdays takes several hours a week which I won’t have anymore, I’ll now be posting on Thursdays exclusively until – well, until I’m told otherwise. And in the meantime, I’ll be listening for any shift in the wind.

     I’m reminded of a scene from one of my favorite plays, Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In it, Hamlet’s best friend, Horatio, tells Hamlet that if he feels he should not do something, then he should follow his instincts. But Hamlet admonishes Horatio that he’ll do no such thing because God controls everything, even “’the fall of a sparrow’”. If something is supposed to happen now, Hamlet says, it will and if it’s supposed to happen later, then it won’t happen now. (Act V, scene ii)

     What about your vision? Is the Lord saying something to you for this year about reviving it, revising it or even about moving on to a whole new vision?

     As Prince Hamlet once said, “’The readiness is all.’”