Bring Back Low Self-Esteem

From what I hear, I was raised all wrong. OK, I can agree with some of that. My mother did not know the words, “Good job.” I hear them all the time now. Today alone, I heard a father using the words when his son pushed the elevator button for three floors, and again when he pushed the alarm button. I didn’t hear what else was said, my ears are still ringing from that alarm.

I heard a mother use it when her daughter pulled open a candy bar and ate it in the grocery store. Really? Ripping open a candy bar is worth a “Good Job!”

My mother was not a big believer in lavish praise. We did what we were told. If we didn’t, there was punishment. My parents seldom spanked us, but they had endless inventive punishments for which, were they used today, would assure that we  would grow up in foster homes.

I’m not encouraging spanking or cruel behavior toward children. But I am against senseless praise. If every action is rewarded, if every notion is praised, the child is going to have a harder time when others aren’t as appreciative. And most of life is not about being appreciated.

True, we were people pleasers. But adults also were pleased at the right things. There were spelling bees in which only the top three participants won a prize. The rest of us were not winners, we had tried our best, but not won.

Most kids started with low self-esteem and worked hard to build it up with good grades, homework they did themselves, and written work they researched and wrote without parental editing.  No parent I knew went to school to tell the teacher they were wrong or get a punishment changed. If we got punished at school, we got punished again at home.

Yes, we had low self-esteem. And we didn’t think we were entitled to allowances, good jobs, or new clothes every season. We had to earn treats, and it often took a long time to earn a small treat. Delayed satisfaction was a way of life.

I call my low self-esteem “creative insecurity.” It makes me try more solutions and experiment with my work until I’m proud of it. And when I’m proud of it, I still don’t think it’s the the best in the world, just my personal best, which will do  until I can create something better. I honestly think if I had been told “Good Job!” often as a child, I’d have no desire to try so hard. I’d think I’d already done that good job.

My seventh grade teacher wrote this in my autograph album (we didn’t have annuals): “Good, better, best, never let it rest, till the good is better, and the better, best.”

–Quinn McDonald is a writer, life- and certified creativity coach. She teaches others to write.