Extreme Esteem: Smashing those big rock issues

“If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.”

— Frank A. Clark, American author and cartoonist

“We call this rock the S.O.B.,” I told my cousin.

“Why do you call it that?” he asked.

“Each time Father cultivates this field he tries to dislodge this big rock, and each time he fails he says, ‘That S.O.B. is not going to beat me! It’s coming out of the ground, I promise you!’”

Sitting at the top of a long hill, the pink and grey stone stuck out of the ground about three feet. The top was flat, which made a perfect spot to perch and view the countryside. I had a fondness for the big rock. I would often cut across the field on my way home from school, climb up on the rock and sit cross-legged on it. I gained perspective while seated atop the S.O.B.

Sometimes, initiating change — especially significant change — can be like dislodging a big rock from your mental and emotional landscape. For me, a “big rock” issue in improving my self-esteem was focusing instead on self-image.

Self-image is formed when we compare ourselves to the people around us. Unfortunately, many of us choose people we deem “better” to draw those comparisons to.

Self-esteem, on the other hand, is the overall appraisal of our worth.

Self-esteem is comprised of our beliefs — how worthy or competent we deem ourselves — and our accompanying emotions such as happiness, joy and self-love.

Self-esteem is essentially our self-concept: what we think of ourselves, the negative and positive evaluations we form and the opinions we hold of ourselves. A negative self-image will have a negative impact on our self-esteem.

Looking back, I think my poor self-esteem prompted me — unconsciously perhaps — to seek out people who excelled in an area where I struggled. In this way, I could legitimately confirm that I was a loser and continue to beat myself down.

It’s a vicious cycle. Unhealthy comparisons result from poor self-esteem but also contribute to it. Low self-image stands like a boulder, an obstruction in our path to personal growth, peace-of-mind and lasting change. It’s easy to acknowledge that we should stop making comparisons but difficult to do, after years of doing it.

I think a better option is to make the comparisons internal, rather than external. Track your progress. Set goals and measure where you are from where you were. I keep a journal where I write down my self-esteem goals and strategies. This way, I can track my progress along with my many setbacks. When I flip through the pages or reach for an old volume (I have dozens), I can see and celebrate my successes and learn from my failures. In this way, every goal set and achieved, every lesson learned and every “rock” that I dislodge from the field of my life is observed and honoured.

The S.O.B. finally came out of the ground, but not through any effort on my Father’s part. Long after his passing, my brother hired a bulldozer operator to remove (with effort) the S.O.B., only to discover that it was a massive boulder — deposited ages ago by a receding glacier.

“That’s a ten-thousand-dollar rock,” declared the dozer operator.

Standing nearly six feet high, we could see that it was the type of stone you might find sitting outside an upscale community — maybe with an elaborate brass plate on it.

“The greater the obstacle,” wrote French playwright and actor, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, “The more glory in overcoming it.”

In my experience, big rock issues hold the most significant opportunity for positive, powerful and permanent change and that’s likely why those S.O.B.s are so challenging to dislodge.

Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert.

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