In the last few months I have done some work with teenagers on self esteem in a local secondary school. It is a topic that is close to my heart, because over the years I have come to recognise positive self esteem as a key to so many doors. And for so many people, whatever their age or ambition, self esteem is the one huge obstacle blocking the way to success. After all, with positive self esteem you are able to think creatively and find a solution to any problem. Even the most talented individual will never see their gifts come to fruition if they permanently question their own ability or hide their light under a bush. Sadly, we live in a world that has a focus on the negative, the thing that needs fixing or doesn’t work very well. From a young age many brains are trained to look for the one thing that isn’t so brilliant instead of celebrating the 100 things that are.
Over the last few weeks I worked with groups of 60 kids at a time, predominantly year 9. There is something very inspiring about working with teenagers, although I understand some might not agree. I love the energy and the unpolished-ness of that age group, which is so evidently busy growing up yet still very much finding their identity. When I look at a group of youngster I can see the possibility and wonder how their lives will evolve over the coming years. Going through the session I found again this time what I have found on so many occasions working with teenagers. Quite aside from the fact that they seem to have spent little time pondering on self reflecting questions about who they are and what they like/dislike, excel at or struggle with, there is a definite swing towards anything negative. Many of the kids I taught found it far easier to point out what they were not good at. When I asked them to draw their hand on a piece of paper and write at each finger a quality/talent they believed they had, or something they liked about themselves, many hands stayed empty for ages. Partially because they said they simply didn’t know or out of fear of sounding arrogant.
This isn’t an especially difficult exercise because they are young people, because I have come across similar results with many adults. It may be extra troubling that young people lack such self confidence because in many ways kids hold the future. And what kind of future do you build for yourself if you think little of what you have to contribute? Thankfully a simple reconditioning of thinking can lead to spectacular results. It doesn’t require becoming big-headed and learning to write a long list of personal attributes. It simply takes a resetting of the mental filter. Instead of focussing on the negative, it’s recognising and celebrating strengths and abilities first. Absolutely everyone has something they are good at, skilled at, natural at. That isn’t something you choose, that is actually quite impersonal because it is chosen for you and set into your DNA and nurtured by the environment you grow up in. It’s worth celebrating those skills by putting them to good use in your world.
Secondly, it’s understanding the areas in life that may need improvement. Instead of saying “I’m rubbish at maths”, you may want your teenager to say “I’m great at art/drama/sport etc and I need to give my maths a little more attention”. These are simple changes but profound shifts in reality, because you start with self confidence and esteem which can overcome any problem. Additionally, I tell youngsters that it is impossible to be good at everything, because that is unrealistic and why would you want to? Lastly, and most importantly, I try and teach kids that the one person that can actively do something about their self esteem is you, yourself. If you learn nothing else than the fact that you can affect your own self esteem, then you have fought half the battle right there.
As aforementioned, all of this often applies to many adults I work with. We have in many ways the same issues and hang-ups as youngsters. Often those issues stem from the past and just get more complicated over time if left unaddressed. So maybe today, going into the weekend, call over to yourself all the things you are good at and all the things you like about yourself. If you are over 25 you should be able to write a list of at least 25 things! Do this on a regular basis and you will find that your perspective will shift; looking out for the positive, the strengths and the abilities will automatically put you in a position of strength to solve anything that comes your way.