Self-Respect & Self-Improvement

When presented with a frustrating failure or setback, often your well-meaning loved ones will tell you that no one else’s opinion matters, and the only one who needs to be satisfied is you.

This isn’t wrong, on the face of it. But oh, the excuses it makes!

First, it’s simply not true that no one else’s opinion matters. Your self-respect is paramount, and only your own self-respect is an end in itself. But other people’s opinion does matter, insofar as other people choosing to interact with you is how you live your life.

But even more importantly – people often use the phrase “the only person whose opinion matters is yours” to mean something akin to “everything is fine as it is.”

If self-respect is the default, then it’s meaningless.

Just like the respect of others, you need to earn your own respect. You need to work for it. Now, you should of course treat everyone – including yourself – with respect. An unfortunate thing about that word is it sort of has two meanings in our modern society. It can mean “basic dignity” and it can also mean “elevated esteem.” Everyone deserves basic dignity, but of course tautologically everyone can’t deserve elevated esteem. In this post, I’m referring to the second definition – as far as the first goes, be nice to everyone, including yourself.

But if you want to truly esteem yourself, you have to do things worth esteeming. You get to decide what those things are, but it’s a cop-out to just declare that they’re just all the things you’re already doing. If I stopped writing, stopped working, stopped taking care of my children, stopped exercising – I might still be worthy of basic humanity, but I certainly couldn’t say I respected myself. And if I did, then the respect I have for myself now is meaningless.

Self-respect is inexorably tied to self-improvement. You are the only person you truly need to impress – but you should also be the hardest. Loving someone does not mean accepting every one of their flaws without reaction. I love my children, but I would be expressing that love poorly if I didn’t work hard to give them the tools to improve themselves. You should love yourself – but you should express that love by motivating yourself to be the best expression of “you” that you can be.

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