Here’s a complaint I’ve heard frequently: the latest generation has grown up being told they are special and talented. Consequently, they feel entitled; they are not willing to earn anything or work their way up.
I guess this shouldn’t come as a surprise – isn’t every generation criticized by their predecessors for having it too easy and taking things for granted? I imagine if we looked into it we’d find that Tom Brokaw’s “greatest generation” was dumped on by their predecessors, the “even greater generation.”
When I think back to my own childhood I see the seeds of the “you’re unique and wonderful (just like everybody else)” message. However, it feels to me like it was still something that had to be uncovered. There was work involved in discovering that you had ability that distinguished you as an individual; that you had worth, because there’s no one else like you.
Our job was to figure out how to feel good about ourselves. The idea that it was important to feel good about yourself seemed relatively new as well. The complaint accompanying this was that it created the ME generation – self-centered and cynical.
What stands out from all this for me is the direction of the growth of our collective consciousness. We are progressing from our value being determined by:
- Our families and communities, based on the demonstration of our ability and willingness to contribute to the whole.
- Ourselves, based on our ability to know and appreciate ourselves for who we are, and our ability to contribute what we value.
- Transcending the self: we are all born worthy and valuable by virtue of our existence. Nothing need be proved to anyone.
Since we each contain all three of these perspectives simultaneously, what I see my clients contending with is, “Which of these levels has most authority in your life?”
If it’s the first, then your fundamental sense of self-worth comes from others. How your family, your employer, your peers and your neighbors see you is who you are. If you fail, get lost or struggle, you don’t get to feel good about yourself until they say you can.
If it’s the second, then you are your own worst critic. Your job is to create love and respect for yourself. Others can think you’re wonderful, but what do they know? It still comes down to what you see when you look in the mirror.
The last category is where it really gets interesting. This is where you get bogged down with the distractions and preoccupations of the previous levels: not being liked or approved of by yourself or others. You spin your wheels by beating yourself up, insisting your spouse understand you before you can move forward and punishing yourself with self-pity and doubt. The old solutions do not work at this level.
That’s because you are being asked to reach past your ego to a higher level of consciousness. This is where you are capable of recognizing what would be in your highest interest and acting on it.
Regardless of whether you feel good.
Or like yourself.
Or others “get” you.
At this level self-esteem means you don’t have to feel good or think you deserve it or need agreement to do the best thing. It means coming from love, whether you or anyone else likes you or not. It means making a place for the part of you that “just knows” and honoring it above everything else.
When have you experienced “knowing” and acted on it even when it didn’t make sense? What did it take to get there? What was the outcome?