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It has been brought to my attention that I am sometimes too full of myself. I will stipulate that this is true. And it made me curious: Is the opposite approach to life - cultivating low self-esteem - working out well for its many practitioners?

A lot of people tell me I need to lower my self-esteem in the service of modesty, credibility, and protecting the sensibilities of those around me. I would like to heed that advice and be a team player, but I'm also plagued with bouts of rationality that are keeping me from making this improvement to my character.

Before I do anything drastic in life, such as evolving into a person who thinks less of himself for the well-being of others, I like to do a pros and cons list. I'll start with the advantages of thinking too much of myself.
  1. It feels great! All the time!
  2. It boosts my testosterone.
  3. It improves my performance at most things. Science agrees.
  4. Higher testosterone makes muscle growth easier.
  5. I take more risks. (This is admittedly a mixed bag.)
  6. I rarely feel embarrassment even when I should. (Such as now, for example.)
  7. I am emotionally immune from criticism.
  8. Cockiness has an aphrodisiac effect on some. (You know who you are.)
Now for the downside of thinking too much of myself...
  1. I take more risks than I probably should.
  2. People call me a dick in every online comments board on the Internet.
  3. Higher testosterone increases cancer risks.
 Advantage: cockiness (until I get cancer anyway)

I see my inflated sense of self-worth as more of a strategy for happiness than a flaw. And by that I mean I know how to dial-back my self-esteem but I choose not to. Just moments ago I was reading the five-star reviews for my new book (How to Fail...) for no other reason than boosting my morning energy. I manipulate my self-esteem the same way I manage my intake of coffee. When I need a jolt of feel-good, I spend some time dwelling on whatever has gone well recently. And when my mind wanders to the graveyard of my many failures, I change the mental channel as quickly as I can.

There's no such thing as the right level of self-esteem. Everyone who interacts with you will have a different idea of how much is too much for you. So I intentionally err on the side of too much. The benefits simply outweigh the costs.

Keep in mind that I have succeeded in several fields in which I had no identifiable talent before starting, including cartooning, the speaking circuit, and writing books. Had I cultivated a more socially acceptable level of self-esteem I wouldn't have tried any of those challenges.

I have failed in my personal life and in my career about ten times more often than I have succeeded, but my artificially high sense of self-esteem allows me to quickly bounce back and keep punching until something lucky happens.

Some of you will be quick to point out the difference between quiet inner-confidence and being an arrogant dick all over the Internet. But if you think high self-esteem can be masked, you probably don't understand what it is. The moment you feel high self-esteem, you lose the filter. In other words, if you feel you need to hide your high self-esteem, you don't have high self-esteem. That's how self-esteem works.

So I ask the following question in all seriousness: If you think I'm too full of myself (which I am), how is the alternative strategy working out for you? Are there some additional benefits of low-to-moderate self-esteem that are not obvious to me?

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How to Fail at almost Everything and Still Win Big

 
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Jan 6, 2014
I'd say that if you're "cheering for yourself" that's one more person than most have. Of course... in your case, you have millions of us, which just doesn't seem quite fair.
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 6, 2014
Actual self-esteem is a very good thing. If you're using it as a euphemism for arrogance, then I'd say that it's difficult to overstate the benefits of being liked (as Dale Carnegie recognized).

But if you recognize your shortcomings, it's probably not a problem.
 
 
Jan 6, 2014
You may have overlooked a 3rd option: I have found that if you maintain a high level of self esteem, but pretend that you don't, nobody will call you an arrogant a-hole to your face. They'll just call you a condescending a-hole behind your back.
 
 
Jan 6, 2014
"True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less." ― C.S. Lewis
 
 
Jan 6, 2014
It's not working out for me.
I wonder how much of it is a choice?
How would you test that?
 
 
Jan 6, 2014
Thank you for stating the obvious!

The only reason to cultivate a socially acceptable level of self-esteem is to make other people feel better about themselves. Then they climb over you. They sell you books on how to improve your confidence and self-esteem, or pills to make you feel better. Society pushes programs to make kids feel better about themselves, then complains about the me generation. Society is a bunch of hypocrites.

Screw that. I'd rather be around someone who's honestly displaying high self-esteem, not someone lying to me via their false modesty. (What's your agenda if you're being falsely modest?)

Also, being around people with low self-esteem is a downer, except for the other downers, in which case, misery loves company. I don't want to be in that group, of the mediocre and below average. I want to be a winner, surrounded by the winners and their positive vibes.

I did get discouraged by various people and events, throughout the years, and let me tell you, low self-esteem is not a recipe for success. You'd be surprised, that your closest and trusted family and friends, can be among those who will try to sabotage your self-esteem, to put you in your place. Keep your eyes open, don't let others discourage you, and distance yourself from the people who would.

 
 
-3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 6, 2014
To actually answer your question: the reason to tone down your super-high confidence is that it puts you out of touch with most of the world. As a smart person, I know is frustrating to live and work with folks who are dumber, slower, and less capable. Relying on them is even more frustrating. But when someone has achieved what you have achieved, Scott, that's a rare thing, and it's hard for the ordinary person to relate to and live with. Particularly if the high achiever has just written a book implying that anyone can do what he has done if they just adopt the right system.

[Who among us is not out of touch with most of the world? If you think you're more in touch with the world than I am, you certainly have high self-esteem :-) -- Scott]
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 6, 2014
I don't know what good low self esteem would do for someone, unless they're seeking pity, but there is a flaw in having overly high self esteem: people of that sort tend to discount the motivations, opinions, desires, etc. of the people around you, which can make them come off as smug, pretentious, condescending, out-of-touch, insensitive, and/or a pejorative expletive for "warm fuzzy anal hole."

This seems evident to me in your writing about various communities/governments you'd like to see designed from the ground up -- sometimes there are some good ideas, but there are also some pretty terrible ones to which I think most normal people who aren't a somewhat reclusive cartoonist would have strong objections.

I noticed it in your post about things going viral, you said "For example, losing ten pounds is a goal, whereas learning about nutrition and diet so you can gradually replace willpower with knowledge is a system." Well, that's fine, but until they make broccoli that tastes like chocolate cake, you'll have to get someone past the hurdle of healthy eating being a bitter and unpleasant experience for many people (especially hyper-tasters like myself; I do my best by sticking to an American-style meat/potatoes/veggie dinner rotation, but a lot of healthy foods look, smell, and taste awful in every way... and a mild soy allergy doesn't help, either). Sure, they can read a book about what's good for them, but they can still taste things. Also, a lot of health nuts are really pushy about it, which is going to be a complete turn-off for some people (because why would you want to be like a person who is a pushy jerk?). You'd have to do a lot better than a reward of "longer life with lots of unpleasant broccoli" for someone to change. Especially since health care is "freely" accessible to everyone now.

So: if you think your system so great, because of your overly inflated self-esteem, how is it going to overcome that sort of perspective, or similar?
 
 
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 6, 2014
Here's what works for me...

I genuinely believe I am above average at nearly everything and exceptional at almost nothing. This gives me the self esteem and confidence to try new things and take risks without being overly concerned with failure or embarrassment. It also enables me to recognize, acknowledge and even admire excellence in others without envy or competitive resentment. I hope--and believe--this keeps me from coming across as an obnoxious tool.
 
 
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 6, 2014
I probably trend towards the "too much self-esteem" end of the spectrum myself, though I spent much of my life surrounded by people who've similarly urged me to tone it down (to put it nicely). I actually found this blog entry quite encouraging.

I've met a lot of people who revel in their low self-esteem and they are often the most arrogant and prideful folks I know. The reason I say that is that pride and arrogance are states of mind that reflect a feeling that one is the only viable center of the universe. When that perspective meets high self-esteem, the result is overbearing !$%*!$%*! or domination and tyranny. For people with low self-esteem, this perspective is expressed through passive-aggressive guilt infliction, hypochondria, and other social strategies designed to elicit pity and gain attention.

In either case, the extreme example is a sociopath. Having low self-esteem is no indicator of humility, compassion, empathy, or generosity. Having low self-esteem doesn't make one instantly unselfish any more than having high self-esteem automatically makes someone a dick. The real source of humility is an outward-facing view of the world and honest assessment of one's abilities.
 
 
Jan 6, 2014
Scott wrote....
=================
[Your comment indicates that you skimmed the book. Based on reviews I am seeing online, all the confessed skimmers get the impression that you got. The cover-to-cover readers get an entirely different impression and this is because of the "engineering" of the content, in which I build the main points slowly from the start. The skimmers reveal themselves in reviews by saying the last part of the book is filler. But the last part is actually the meat. The first part of the book is prepping you to understand the second part as important. -- Scott]
==================
Hi Scott - Your comments about others' opinions may be correct, but be assured (I'll sign something if you like, or quote you details that I remember) that I read every page (took almost a week, just finished this morning). If I hadn't, I wouldn't have suggested that I did. I respect you and wouldn't be trying to troll. I may be an outlier (I often am), but FWIW those were my real impressions after I really read the entire book.

I think you made the system vs. goal point quite well about 1/2 way through. Yes, being healthy and fit are prerequisites for achieving success (as well as hundreds of other things in life), but the points could be made without so much "how to". If challenged to, I bet you could do 1-2 page "how-tos" that would be as effective as your one on financial advice. I'm not saying there was anything bad about putting these sections into the book, and the information was benign and probably helpful to many. My only point was that the level of detail wasn't needed to support the main point.

Still - don't let one blogger comment pierce your self-esteem! :-) :-) I'm flattered that I had a comment replied to by you, but I'm hoping next time it's a more agreeable exchange :-).

best!
/j

PS - w.r.t. the health-stuff- check out this link I just came across today - very thought provoking if all true (I haven't had a chance to fact-check it yet)

http://www.businessinsider.com/9-lies-about-fat-that-destroyed-the-worlds-health-2013-11
 
 
Jan 6, 2014
[I understand the point of the question but the answer can't be cleanly separated from the Dilbert shadow.

My restaurant investments, for example, were motivated mostly by a lifestyle choice (getting out of my home office). The Dilberito was more of an attempt to improve society's options for healthy and convenient food than a purely financial investment. And investing in Webvan was more like gambling than investing. Does that count? And I wouldn't have done any of those things if I couldn't afford the losses.

Dilbert allowed me to succeed at public speaking (hugely profitable), writing non-Dilbert books (8 so far), and other non-
Dilbert stuff. So you can't really "leave Dilbert aside" in any of the comparisons.

That said, CalendarTree.com has a good chance of erasing any losses of the past. -- Scott]

What Im trying to figure out here is how much of an investment/entrepreneurial success, as opposed to a career success, I should consider you to be. Sounds to me like your speaking career falls under career success as well, but based on this answer some of the 'investments' you made should not be considered investments either for this purpose. So...from a purely investment standpoint, leaving out investments you made without expecting to get any money from but including gambles you made that you considered to be worth the odds (ie, you didnt place the bet for fun) would you say you came out ahead?
 
 
Jan 6, 2014
(LOL) Scott, you are slowly changing from a Collectivist to an Objectivist! Welcome.
 
 
Jan 6, 2014
I've always understood good self-esteem as a purely good thing - it's a view of yourself that you're fine the way you are, no matter your gifts or warts. A person with a high self-esteem still is perfectly aware of his/her shortcomings. Contrast that with arrogance, which I think is what you're describing - an arrogant jerk is an arrogant jerk because they do not recognize their shortcomings and because (typically) they preach their lack of shortcomings to everybody they know.

You have a high self-esteem, Scott, but you are not truly arrogant. You acknowledge the success in your life and are proud of it and happy about it, but you understand your weaknesses, share those weaknesses, and share ways you've tried to rise above those weaknesses. That's ALL healthy self-esteem and has nothing to do with arrogance. I don't think you've ever said or implied "I'm fundamentally better than you because of what I've done." That would make you an arrogant jerk.

Those with truly low self-esteem do not see themselves realistically; they feel that their shortcomings make them fundamentally less valuable than others. Low self-esteem is very unhealthy (talk to any therapist in the country) and, to answer your question, is good for no one.
 
 
Jan 6, 2014
[Before Dilbert I only tried low-cost get-rich schemes, including my scheme to become a cartoonist. After Dilbert I could afford some pricey failures without altering my lifestyle. So there was never a bankruptcy risk, or anything near it, in my system. -- Scott]

Thanks for your prompt answer but it doesn't really get at what I was trying to find out so let me try again more clearly: leaving Dilbert aside have your successes indeed more than paid for your failures?

[I understand the point of the question but the answer can't be cleanly separated from the Dilbert shadow.

My restaurant investments, for example, were motivated mostly by a lifestyle choice (getting out of my home office). The Dilberito was more of an attempt to improve society's options for healthy and convenient food than a purely financial investment. And investing in Webvan was more like gambling than investing. Does that count? And I wouldn't have done any of those things if I couldn't afford the losses.

Dilbert allowed me to succeed at public speaking (hugely profitable), writing non-Dilbert books (8 so far), and other non-
Dilbert stuff. So you can't really "leave Dilbert aside" in any of the comparisons.

That said, CalendarTree.com has a good chance of erasing any losses of the past. -- Scott]

 
 
Jan 6, 2014
Also, theres another important drawback to !$%*!$%*!$ loss of quality. In the 50s America made the best cars in the world (or thought we did). By the 70s and 80s the American auto industry was in serious trouble due to foreign cars being better and cheaper. And that was due to the American auto industry being !$%*! and not really trying to improve for decades.
 
 
Jan 6, 2014
You can try to think less of yourself, but we are evolutionarily programmed for self-confidence. Those with an overabundance of self-confidence either succeed or they don't. The ones who don't are lost to history (or tigers), but the ones that do become the leaders, the fathers of society in both a metaphorical and literal sense. There's a reason that Genghis Khan supposedly has 16 million descendants.
 
 
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 6, 2014
I don't know if you are too full of yourself because I don't know you personally.

But the problem with disadvantage #2 is your phrasing. People don't just *call* you a dick. Maybe, just maybe, you *are* a dick.

People too full of self esteem often hurt other people, quite deeply, without even knowing it. Without even the idea that they could hurt someone. No problem if you are just for you alone. Be a dick as much as you want. It doesn't matter. People will avoid you (or more probably like you because they can pick the parts of your personality that they like at the times they want).

But if you have a family or children that are dependant on you then it is not your thing alone. Then a single disadvantage, even badly phrased, could outweigh every advantage possible.

And I have never met a single person that can change personalities completely, depending on context.

[People with high self-esteem probably do hurt people unintentionally. (Who doesn't?) But they also pay most of the taxes. How do you measure the net? -- Scott]
 
 
Jan 6, 2014
Hi Scott - Happy New Year!. I just finished your book. It did contain some good ideas, but, like every other self-help book I've read, I couldn't shake the feeling that the main points of the book were made in the first 30-40%, and the rest was filler.

One thing that nagged me many times in the book was the "here's some advice, it worked for me, I can't say if it will work for you, but, you know, it probably will work for you. I mean, it worked for me, so that should give it some real weight". (and this is where I felt your ego a bit full of itself). I used to give advice the same way, but the problem is that many (most?) people are more different than you (or me) than you think. A lot of your environment, upbringing, physical makeup, etc. (i.e., the water that you (the fish) live in) that you sound like you implicitly assume is much the same for others, is often really -quite- different. So what's worked for me is backing off the "it should work for you" part, and sometimes not giving advice where I can see the person lives in a different space than me. I'm still high-esteem, but fewer people (I think) call me an AH.

Just my $.02.
/j

PS - The Systems vs. Goals idea was a good one. The diet/exercise stuff was probably right on for people like you, but maybe not so much for people more different.

[Your comment indicates that you skimmed the book. Based on reviews I am seeing online, all the confessed skimmers get the impression that you got. The cover-to-cover readers get an entirely different impression and this is because of the "engineering" of the content, in which I build the main points slowly from the start. The skimmers reveal themselves in reviews by saying the last part of the book is filler. But the last part is actually the meat. The first part of the book is prepping you to understand the second part as important. -- Scott]
 
 
Jan 6, 2014
This question belongs more in the 'Bad Investment Advice' than here, but I only thought of it now, would like an answer (the Bad Investment Advice topic is probably dead) and is not wholly inappropriate here, so here goes:

Leaving aside your success with Dilbert what would you estimate your return on investment to be? You have said that your plan was always to try all sorts of things, fail at most of them and let the successes more than pay for the failures. You have also publicized some pretty expensive failures on your part. So I wonder if that strategy has actually worked for you or if you'd be bankrupt if not for your Dilbert income.

[Before Dilbert I only tried low-cost get-rich schemes, including my scheme to become a cartoonist. After Dilbert I could afford some pricey failures without altering my lifestyle. So there was never a bankruptcy risk, or anything near it, in my system. -- Scott]
 
 
 
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