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Self-esteem: Praise or Self Achievement?
My irregular heart beat grew louder and louder, pounding away at my chest. The coldest chill ran down my spine as my mother tore open the envelope from Advanced STEM High School. Never before had I been so scared. My mother’s eyes darted across the page as if in disbelief. The reflection on her glasses shimmered a column of C’s and D’s sprinkled with a few pluses and minuses.
“ALBERT!” she blasted. “What’s wrong with you! How could your grades be so...horrible? What about all the money we spent your classes and tutors, did you just put all that to waste!” Realizing that it was potent to put my under stress due to my heart arrhythmia disorder, she toned her volume down. “Albert...can you explain how you got a D- in Quantum Theoretical Physics, but an A in Advanced Humanities? If you keep this up, Princeton won’t accept you into their Particle Physics Program,” said my mother brashly. “Why can’t you just be more like your brother,” she said, looking away in disappointment. “If you have any shame, start focusing on STEM and forget about being a writer. What are you going to do with a career in humanities anyways?”
In a fit of rage, I stomped up the stairs to my bedroom and shut the door. I hated when Mom and Dad compared me with my brother, Derrick. He was their perfect child, got all A’s got a 1600 on the SAT, and unsurprisingly got into MIT. My eyes welled up and a tear erupted across my face. In my parents eyes i knew I was no match for Derrick. In lieu of cheering myself up, I decided to do what I love most: writing. I quickly logged onto Blogger and began typing up how I felt:
What is achievement? Why do we only view things as an achievement if there is some award or successful result? Rather shouldn’t achievement be a personal battle? Achievement should be based on how you define your abilities and skills.
Derrick, my brother, gets so much praise for being an excellent student and child. But do I not deserve the same praise for pursuing my passions and trying my best?
After having thought about it hours on end, I have realized that this praise and achievement is an illusion. Take for instance, student learning in the classroom. Although praise initiates student interest and involvement, if a student does not have a true motivation to learn, he/she wouldn’t be driven to retain the new information. In this case the student wouldn’t benefit. As a disgraceful son, I have never had any praise from my parents. They continuously compare me with Derrick, making me feel as if I’m Derrick’s shadow. Even though this disdain initially damaged my self-esteem my true love for writing was able to counteract it. I look at every piece I write as an achievement because of the tremendous effort I put into each and every one. These achievements come to define my personal self-esteem and play a large role in how I look at myself.
However, if I had the encouragement of my parents, I feel that I would’ve been able to accomplish so much more. I cannot ignore the impact that praise has on boosting self-esteem, especially since it has become commonplace to view yourself as others view you. Being surrounded by your friends and family, their views will come to have an impact on you as well. Societal praise is inherently based on comparing individuals’ accomplishments. For instance, if a student won an athletic award, they would’ve been given praise by parents or faculty that thought his/her effort was commendable. On the other hand, if a student worked extremely hard on an English paper, yet the teacher thought his paper was mediocre and didn’t deserve praise, the student shouldn’t take the lack of praise personally. These situations bring light to the hypocrisy associated with praise. Individuals who don’t know you as much as you know yourself shouldn’t be able to define who you are. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide to what extent the facade of societal praise affects your self-esteem. Rather, true self-esteem is defined by individual achievement.
I gazed at the screen, amazed at what I had just wrote. I poured my heart, soul, and feelings into the blog. All that was left was to upload it, but first I savored the moment. I felt proud of the work that I had done, and most importantly there wasn’t anything my parents could do to ruin it. I then clicked the submit button and fell asleep in tranquility: I was anxiously awaiting the responses in the morning.
RING...RING...RING. Reaching for the alarm across my bed stand, I tapped the snooze button. The ringing didn’t stop. I cleared my eyes and grabbed my iPhone, which appeared to be making the noise. On the screen appeared a missed call from Derrick. Curious as to why he called, I rang his number back and soon heard his familiar voice say, “Hey, Albert!”
“What’s up Derrick. What brings you to call so early in the morning?” I said.
“I just read your latest blog that you posted last night. Do you really feel that way? I have to be honest, it definitely got my emotions churning and I was interested in sharing a few things, if you’re free of course,” stated Derrick.
“Yeah sure...sorry for calling you out on the blog. I was just really angered in the moment, please don’t take it personally. We can talk for a bit though.” I said hesitantly.
Derrick said, “I wanted to say that I’ve been truly undeserving of the praise that I’ve gotten over the years. All those perfect grades and getting into MIT was a real struggle, but I felt like a robot the entire time. I worked endlessly on subjects that I didn’t even truly appreciate. And coupled with Mom’s and Dad’s wishes, I was left with no choice but to live with it. Even though memorizing textbooks isn’t easy, I’ve never really been challenged or faced any struggle. Because of that I had stunted my growth in high school, never being able to apply the skills taught in the classroom to real-life scenarios or problems. That’s what is different here at MIT. The professors focus on challenging applications or problem-solving, and of course highly emphasize creativity. To truly expand your creativity, you need to reach outside of your comfort zone and try new things. After reading your blog, I decided to dabble in the humanities courses offered at MIT. I really need to get my writing and artistic skills on par with yours!”
In shock with what I had just heard, I asked, “Are you serious Derrick? How about Mom and Dad? What will they think?”
“Don’t fret Albert, I can convince them. But, I also want you to keep on doing what you love even if its writing. I’ll try to change Mom’s and Dad’s perspective. Remember though, try to expand your comfort zone, give yourself a challenge! For example, write a play or research paper, something that you haven’t ever done before. Focus on your wholistic growth and stop comparing yourself to others,” noted Derrick, “And know that I’m always here to help!”
*** Passage of 20 years ***
After following his passions, Albert was able to come to terms with his self-esteem. Albert grew up to be a successful NY Times writer and won several Pulitzer Prizes for his excellency in writing. Derrick provided a fundamental foundation for Albert to do what he loved most. This story comes to show that self-esteem is both altered by personal achievement and praise. Derrick’s praise of Albert’s work gave him a vital jumpstart on his true aspirations. However, because of Albert’s initial motivation and self achievements, his self-esteem propelled his growth as an individual. In turn, because Albert was able to focus on his passions to bolster his self-esteem, he was able to learn so much more.
The next time you compare two people, remember that Albert may have been among them. Consider the consequences of your actions.