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Posts Tagged ‘self confidence’

Self-Image

Sometimes I wonder if there is a connection between self-image and reality. When I reflect back to my childhood, there was a very strong connection between my self-image and the child that I was in reality. I thought I was not like other children and I wasn’t. I was this scared, funny-looking European kid going to school with a lot of happy American kids. I wrote about that in my memoir, Becoming Alice. Imagine how aweful these poor kids have it who suffer from anorexia when what they see in the mirror, a perfectly normal child, is percieved as a fat kid.

As time went on, my self-image and the person I was in real life became closer. I became an American adult. And the feelings of inferiority and lack of self-confidence went away. I was pretty much the person that I thought I was. It would be up to somebody else to tell me otherwise.

But now a chunk of years have gone by and I think that misconnect between self-image and reality is creeping up again. I still think of myself as a pretty average, normal, American adult. But now I often am reminded that I fall into another category. This incident made me become aware of that fact: I am sitting around at my athletic club having coffee with a group of girls/women (why is it that the older you get, the more likely it is that older women are called girls?) talking about this and that, nothing of great significance. I did notice, however, that most of these ladies with whom I play tennis are much younger than I am. I looked at one of them and was reminded that she wrote me a very nice note telling me how much she enjoyed reading Becoming Alice and that she figured I must be her mother’s age. Okay. And then the cute young thing sitting next to me remarked that she thinks it wonderful that I still play tennis … and she hopes she will be able to do the same thing when she is older.

There it is. There is that word older that doesn’t fit with my self-image. I don’t know what to do. What behaviors should I undertake to fit into that category of old. There is a glitch between my self-image and what other people think of me. I know what I must do. I think I shall just ignore them and keep my self-image as an average American adult.

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I’ve often wondered why so many of the public figures in our society say “I take full responsibility for this problem.” These public figures may be congressmen, evangelests, actors, businessmen, and the list goes on. Their actions may be to abuse power, steal funds, or take part in unacceptable, and sometimes perverse, sexual behavior. Currently the inspectors of the nuclear plants in Japan admitted they haven’t done it right for years. The air traffic controller at the Reagan National Airport fell asleep, leaving two incoming planes to fend for themselves. Luckily no one was hurt. Where was the FAA in all of this? They haven’t taken “full responsibility” for the incident either, except to say there will be a “full investigation.” The controller has been fired, but we haven’t heard a word out of him.

I wonder why no one has ever come out and said, “I’m sorry.” It must be that saying I’m sorry means that you admit you have done something wrong. It implies that you must feel some guilt about what you have done. It makes you look bad. In Japan you will “lose face.” But if you say, “I take full responsibility for this catastrophe or problem,” it implies that the problem may have been caused by some other person, perhaps an employee, a spouse (for a failed marriage), an adolescent (whom you haven’t monitered closely,) a neighbor, a colleague, anyone else other than yourself.

I have always thought saying I’m sorry showed strength of character. It shows a person is confident enough in himself to admit to others his mistakes and feels he can overcome the problem and still be accepted. Perhaps I feel so strongly about the importance of saying, “I’m sorry” because my father never, ever in his whole life admitted he was wrong or had made a mistake about anything. That is, not until he was ninety-seven years old and was caught red handed in a mistake he’d made. I am so glad that happened. I can now remember him better for all the positive characteristics he had, and they were many.

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I’ve been a tennis player for more than half of my life, which has been quite a number of decades now. I got to the point of thinking myself as being pretty good at it. Well, not as good as Serena Williams or some also-ran like Ana Ivanovic, but pretty good for city tournaments at maybe not the A level but in the B level. I even have some trophies for show for it. Sometimes I won some tournaments which didn’t test my abilities and when I looked at the trophies, I got to resenting them. You see, they didn’t affirm my abilities on the court and I had to dust them regularly, a chore I didn’t like. That dimishied their value altogether. After some years, I got rid of most of them and only kept those that represented a win over someone I thought to be “better” than me.

Those days have come and gone. I still do play tennis, but I’ve stopped climbing mountains. I decided I got as “good” as I was going to get. I didn’t need to prove anything anymore.

I’ve moved to a small town recently and joined a tennis club. The tennis pro hit a few balls with me and put me onto a “team” which he thought I’d fit into. Most of the players on this team are much younger than I and they are still climbing that mountain. I can say that I hold my own with all of them and surpass most of them in ability at this point. Luckily there are one or two members that seem to be my equals, but most are not. There is a higher team at the club and I sometimes wonder if I’d fit into it.

It makes me wonder if I’d be happier being one of the strongest members of the team I’m in, or one of the weakest members of the higher team. I think I’d rather enjoy the challenge of a stronger team. Perhaps I’m not as good as I think I am, but doesn’t one have to believe that in order to accomplish anything in life. If you think you’re not worth anything, I bet you won’t perform even close to the level you could … because you didn’t believe in yourself. So I have decided to move away from thinking that “maybe I’m not as good as I think I am” to embracing the thought that, “hey, I’m just as good as they are … maybe better.”

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When I was growing up and playing games with other kids, especially my older brother, my dad would always ask, “Who won?” Since my brother is almost nine years older, the answer was always the same, “He did.” But then I got older and once in a while, probably because my brother was bored with me, I did win a game here and there. It felt great.

Dad’s questions changed over the years. He’d ask what we got on our report cards, comparing my brother’s to mine. Since he was in full-blown adolescence and not interested in performing, I won by default.

Being “better” than the competition, in all my undertakings, definitely was what I strived for. Did that make me a competitive person? You bet! But when I think about it, I believe most people have to be competitive in order to make it in our culture. Is it not important to get better grades than the rest of your classmates? Is it not better to have a better job than the next guy? Does a woman not want to look the best she can, that is, better than those with whom she competes for a man? Does one not want to live in a nicer house than another, drive a better car, be a better cook, tennis player, gardner, etc. etc.? You bet!

Is being competitive a “bad” thing? I think not. Remember when the Russians put a man into space? We Americans couldn’t wait to catch and, guess what?, surpass them. Perhaps that drive led to the discovery of gravity, television, computers, etc. etc.

Not that everything you do should be competitive. How nice it is to just sit down and read a book, take a swim in the ocean, savor the beaty of nature. I must take time to do more or that … and give up trying to improve my backhand.

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My little granddaughter is twelve years old right now and entering her teenage years. She already has a group of girl friends that mean the world to her. I remember raising my own girls and learning that when in the full bloom of adolescence, their friends meant more to them than their parents.

I got to thinking about the fact that most people want to be liked … throughout their lifetime. But the intensity of that desire seems to change in a bell-shaped curve during a person’s life span.

Think about kids in nursery school who relate to one another in terms of playing with a toy or fighting over the possession of a toy. They ususally want to have things going their way … at all costs without worrying about how the other might feel about them. Forget about being liked.

As the years pass, they begin to start wanting to be both liked and respected. They want their classmates to think of them as “nice” or “smart” or “good athletes” or “good at the trombone,” etc. etc. In adolescence being liked is linked to being “cute,” “beautiful,” “a hunk,” “popular,” and “part of the in-group.” Being respected has not yet become a big deal. The most brilliant kid in the class could be a “nerd.”

Then in adulthood, being respected is as important as being liked. It involves ones success in whatever career they may have, as a breadwinner or homemaker/stay-at-home-mom. One alone is not enough to achieve happiness. The most brilliant, respected doctor who is disliked by his patients isn’t going to get very far. And the “nicest” guy in the neighborhood who can’t keep a job to support his family also has a problem.

Then there is old age. Of course, if you haven’t enough money to retire and take care of yourself, you aren’t in very good shape, no matter how “nice” you are. But if you are are okay financially, you probably don’t give a hoot if people like you or not. Take a look at all the “grumpy old men” out there who are forgiven their behavior because of their age. Or, the “old biddies” who are accepted as they are.

I guess the lesson learned is that if you are lucky enough to make it into old age, it doesn’t really matter if others like you or not. Hope I get there someday!

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My neighbor’s son was a nerd. I watched him grow up and could almost feel his pain. He had no idea that he was good-looking. He was a bright boy who got almost all A’s in his classes, yet he didn’t think that was much of anything to be proud of. Being tall, he played basketball and, maybe he wasn’t the star on the team, but he was a darn good player.

When he got into high school, the girls used to buzz around him, coquetish, flirting, giving him every clue possible that they woukd love to jump into a relationship. He had no clue. No response. Watching all of this as the years went by, I wondered if perhaps he was gay. But there was no indication of any of that either. He was simply a nerd … a social misfit.

I identified with him. I empathized with him. I knew exactly how he must have felt. You see, if you had read Becoming Alice, you would have known that I was that kind of a kid. I was not bad looking. I got good grades. I had no friends. I never went with boys in high school like other girls did. I was a social misfit.

Let’s fast forward a bit. My neighbor’s son is now about to graduate from college … with an A+ grade point average, of course. And, believe it or not, he is in a serious relationship with the cutest, most bubbly and fun girl one could imagine.

Recently I read that there have been studies done that showed the most poplular kids in high school didn’t end up being very successful adults in their professions, or in their inter-personal relationships. Imagine that! It seems that there is some sort of reversal of roles once someone passes from adolescence to adulthood.

Let’s look at the case of Bill Gates, who is now one of the wealthiest men in the world. It has been documented that he was a master nerd as a kid. And then there is the case of me. I am happy to tell you, I’m very much okay with myself now.

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Last week I  sat on the porch of a two story farm house with an enormous balcony that has been turned into a B & B. I was in Stonewall, Texas … I wonder where the word stonewalling came from. There was nothing to see except miles and miles of grazing land, flat-as-a-pancake grazing land. And there were striped cows. Yes! They were black with a white stripe around their middle. Never saw anything like it. They’re called Belted Gallaways and they come from Scotland. Learn something every day.

And there’s lots of time to sit in an old rattan rocking chair on the porch and think. This time I went to thinking about “self esteem” because I’d been speaking so much about that during my book signing at the L.A. Times Festival of Books. One young girl asked me how I changed from being the shy, introverted insecure girl without any self-esteem to being the woman I am today, seemingly quite different now.  I certainly hope so. So I got to thinking, how does it work?

I guess your mom is the first person to look at you, touch you, hold you, and tell you that you’re the most wonderful thing in the whole wide world. If you’re lucky, that is. But that doesn’t last long. Pretty soon you’re in nursery school and you begin to be tested. Some other kid is sure to take your toy away from you, or push you down, or call you a hurtful name. What do you do? Grab the toy back, push him down, call him bad, ugly, stupid? Do you sit down and cry? Do you shrug and walk away? Whatever you do then will begin to process whereby you build up your self-esteem.

That never stops. In high school you worry about how you look, if you can get good grades, if you can get a girl/boy friend, if anybody/everbody likes you. If you answer yes to any one of those attribures, you build self-esteem and if you say yes to them all, you’re way ahead of the game.

Later on in life you have to add on the caliber of your spouse, the amount of money you make, the achievements in your career, etc., etc. By then it gets more complicated because you begin to question your ability to fulfill these expectation, namely self-confidence.

Self-confidence is entirely different from self-esteem, yet so intertwined. I had to think about that later … dinner was being served at the B & B.

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