Extreme Esteem: Keeping up appearances

“Trust not too much in appearances.”

— Publius Vergilius Maro, ancient Roman poet

“You’ve done well for yourself,” I said. “Much better than I have.”

“Really,” he replied. “What gives you that impression?”

I was speaking with an outwardly well-to-do friend about his many successes.

He lived in a big home in a nice area, drove a new vehicle and had recently returned from a trip overseas. I was willing to admit a little envy as much of my working career had been spent in an enjoyable but low paying job. I lived in a modest house, drove a beater and spent vacations at the lake.

I was shocked when he admitted he was broke, had a second mortgage on his house, a stack of maxed-out credit cards and that he’d missed the last two payments on his SUV.

He had been trying to create an impression, and now the illusion of success was about to collapse.

How many people do you know who want to be perceived in a particular way, who struggle to keep up appearances, when in fact they’re struggling to survive?

If the veil were lifted, the number of people might surprise you.

As a friend put it the other day, people are spending money they don’t have to impress people who couldn’t care less about them.

I gave up trying to impress people years ago. I was fortunate to be offered many of the jobs I’ve held down over the years — perhaps owing to my reputation as a hard worker.

On those rare occasions when I had to apply and be interviewed, I was never comfortable “selling” my skills or abilities.

Looking back, this discomfort was likely owing to my poor self-esteem. I didn’t want to oversell my capabilities and then not be able to deliver the goods.

The desire to keep up with the Joneses or exaggerate our background, income or outcome is likely owing to a low sense of personal worth.

We want to appear more than we are, and this can place us in a tremendously untenable situation.

Society as a whole seems to have bought into the notion that our value as human beings is determined by our outward display of wealth or fame.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

Without a solid sense of personal value, we will always be locked in competition and never satisfied with our current status.

Singer, Bob Marley once said that some people are so poor, all they have is money. Having money is great. Owning a big house and a new car is great too. But consider your motivation and have the courage to ask yourself a simple, yet revealing question: “Am I happy?”

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting you stop striving for success or enjoying the fruits of your labour, but rather that you take a careful look at how you define success.

Some of the loneliest, most depressed people I know have the most enviable jobs and “happiest” social media pages.

They’re going places, doing things and every selfie looks like a beer commercial where everyone is laughing and dancing. Like the commercial, it’s often make-believe.

I know people with “everything” who are happy and people with nothing who are happy, and I’ve also witnessed the opposite.

If you feel the need to impress others, it might be because you don’t think people will accept you as you are, or that you’re not good enough.

The late Corazon Aquino, 11th President of the Philippines once said, “I’ve reached a point in life where it’s no longer necessary to try to impress. If they like me the way I am, that’s good. If they don’t, that’s too bad.”

Maybe that’s the point: to be comfortable enough in our skin that we can be honest, open and transparent – fully and completely authentic.

Ask yourself who’s judging you and why you care. If your value is based on others’ impression of you, why have you given them that power?

Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert.

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