Self-esteem can be slippery. One minute you have it, the next the bubble bursts and it’s gone.

5 years ago I took up stand up comedy, perhaps because my self-esteem needed a boost.

It’s been a rollercoaster.

A gig goes well, and I’m Leonardo DiCaprio on the front of the Titanic.

A gig goes badly, and I’m Leonardo DiCaprio in all his other films.

Seriously unhelpful if you’re doing two gigs a night, in that order.

Social media dictates that I should be posting pictures of myself doing well, on and off stage.

It’s a lot of energy to spend trying to prove I’m good at what I do. It feels fraudulent. I’m not doing that well all the time.

This isn’t what comedians get into comedy for. Comedians get into comedy for external validation. And if they’re good, they get it.


The self-posting feels narcissistic, and without real ability and achievement, maybe it is.

Narcissism comes not out of self-love but out of self-hatred. – Audre Lorde


Stand up comedy aside, there are better ways to build lasting self-esteem than to post about ourselves on social media.

For example, the right kind of positive affirmations* and developing competencies that prove ability and achievement.

*Positive affirmations can make you feel worse when self-esteem is already a battle. “I will succeed!” doesn’t feel realistic. “I am bloody persistent and I’ll keep going until I succeed,” might just work.

If you run, enter races with beautiful medals, or record your runs online.

If you’re a comedian, write a joke you’re proud of. Practice it in front of audiences ’til it’s 80% perfect, then write some more and build it into a set. Then build the set into a show.

A lot can get in the way of these kinds of goals. Injury, coronavirus, not feeling very funny during a global pandemic…

But working towards goals is better for self-esteem than trying to prove ourselves on social media.

So where are we trying to get to as we build lasting self-esteem?

Confident humility

Aristotle’s golden mean says we want a level of confidence that falls between fearful and arrogant.

And for that we need to temper our confidence with humility.

There’s a lovely post about this here.

The moment you think you’ve got it all figured out, your progress stops. – Ralph Marston 

The first step towards confident humility is to be able to accurately assess our level of competence.

In the West, we tend to assume we’re better than average. This can lead to an over-inflated level of confidence in our abilities.

But really think about it. How good are you at what you do, really.

What more is there to learn?

If we can keep hold of something the Zen Buddhists called ‘beginner’s mind’, no matter how good we get, we can be confident without straying into hubris.

My plan for the rest of this odd year and beyond is to develop competencies. To keep track of my levels of ability and achievement and to keep learning.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less. – C.S. Lewis


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