Bruce Lee had many thoughts around the notion of self-worth and self-esteem detailed in The Tao of Jeet Kune Do. (Many of these quotes and thoughts are from or inspired by The Passionate State of Mind by Eric Hoffer.)
“The autonomous individual is only stable so long as he possessed of self-esteem. The maintenance of self-esteem is a continuous task which taxes all of the individual’s power and inner resources. We have to prove our worth and justify our existence anew each day. When, for whatever reason, self-esteem is unattainable, the autonomous individual becomes a highly explosive entity. He turns away from an unpromising self and plunges into the pursuit of pride, the explosive substitute for self-esteem. All social disturbances and upheavals have their roots in crises of self-esteem, and the great endeavor in which the masses most readily unite is basically a search for pride.”
Bruce Lee is talking about people who have not done the work to figure out how to have a sustained sense of self. They are the ones who are trying to justify their existence and prove their worth each day, having this continuous taxing task of maintaining their self-esteem. When you feel that you are not worthy or deserving it is destabilizing.
There is nothing that you have to do to have self-esteem except agree and accept that you are worthy of your existence. This is not always easy.
If you are only seeking approval from outside yourself, it can be hard to develop your sense of self-esteem and it can be exhausting.
“Pride is a sense of worth derived from something that is not organically part of us, while self-esteem is derived from the potentialities and achievements of self. We are proud when we identify ourselves with an imaginary self, a leader, a holy cause, a collective body or possessions. There is fear and intolerance in pride; it is sensitive and uncompromising. The less promise and potentiality in the self, the more imperative is the need for pride. The core of pride is self-rejection.”
In our current culture, with television, social media, and our access to technology, our desire for fame and approval from others has reached an all-time high. This coincides with a high level of insecurity. Seeking approval and fame from people we do not know in our real lives can be intoxicating.
“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectation and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.”
When you are chasing things outside of yourself then you are always chasing.
This approval and praise we seek from others feels wonderful when we receive it, and that feeling is addictive because it feels good and we want more, but it is fleeting. This can foster “people pleasing” behavior because we will do anything to receive those accolades from others.
We often talk to ourselves in a harsher way than we would ever talk to someone else. These harsh words we speak to ourselves hold us back and dampen our self-esteem. The first step to having better self-esteem is talking to ourselves in a kinder, more uplifting way. Start small by putting away that harsh voice away for an hour. With practice it will be easier to speak to yourself in a kinder way.
“Secretiveness can be a source of pride. It is a paradox that secretiveness plays the same role as boasting – both are engaged in the creation of a disguise. Boasting tries to create an imaginary self, while secretiveness gives us the exhilarating feeling of being princes disguised in meekness. Of the two, secretiveness is the more difficult and effective. For the self-observant, boasting breeds self-contempt. Humility is…the substitution of pride for self-awareness and objectivity. But forced humility is false pride.”
“People are always asking me, “Bruce, are you really that good?” And what I say to them is, “Well, if I tell you I’m that good, you’ll think I’m boasting. But if I tell you I’m no good, you know I’m lying.””
False humility is prideful because it is inviting more praise through falsehoods. It can be hard to accept a compliment and false humility can deflect the attention away from yourself. In any exchange, people respond best to authenticity. We need to practice being comfortable receiving praise and giving genuine responses.
“We acquire a sense of worth either by realizing our talents, or by keeping busy or by identifying ourselves with something apart from us.…The path of self-realization is the most difficult. It is taken only when other avenues to a sense of worth are more or less blocked.”
“To become different from what we are, we must have some awareness of what we are. Whether this being different results in dissimulation (concealment of one’s thoughts, feelings, and character) or a real change of heart, it cannot be realized without self-awareness. They have turned away from an unwanted self and, hence, never had a good look at it.”
In order to change you have to look at yourself and how you are. If you want to heal the wound, you have to start by examining the wound.
“Action is a high road to self-confidence and esteem.”
Action requires you being in the world and instead of just thinking about things in secrecy. The only way to develop that self-esteem is to act on the steps to attain it through creating the life you actually want to live and the core sense of self that comes with taking action and growing.
“A fateful process is set in motion when the individual is…left to justify his existence by his own efforts. The individual on his own, striving to realize himself and prove his worth, has created all that is great in literature, art, music, science and technology.”
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