Friday, May 14, 2010

My name is Clive and I am a self esteem addict.

I was reading John Humphrys book Lost for Words while returning on the train from London last night and this bit from page 268 struck a chord.

Some days I'll spend three hours in the Today studio and go home thinking I did a reasonably good job. Other days - too many of them - I leave wondering why I ever became a journalist in the 1st place. If I am incapable, after forty five years in the business, of doing a half-way decent interview with a not-very-bright politician I really should pack it in and grow carrots.

He then goes on to talk about self-esteem and that anyone who does not experience a lack of it at some point is a smug, self satisfied moon or on some pretty powerful drugs.

I got off the train at Cosford, drove down to Church Stretton and went for a run on the Long Mynd following the course of the rather brutal Long Mynd Valleys race which is 12 miles and 4500ft of up and down as part of my Bob Graham Round training. I got round in a rather pleasing 2 hour 40 without really pushing myself hard, the last hour was in the dark. Mulling over what Mr. H has written it occurred to me that I achieve something, think well done Clive, good lad, then over the next few months my eyes get opened to what possible is beyond that and I start to look down on what I achieved previously. Some examples
  • Rock Climbing : in my 20's I ended up doing a few routes of E4 (which is quite hard). Moving up through the grades, each level would feel good for a while and then I felt the need to push myself to the next level. Harder, more sustained and technical, exposed, more necky.
  • Diving : we ended up as BSAC advanced divers and advanced instructors in pre-children days which was fun in itself. Small steps in getting more experienced, diving deeper and more adventurer and even to the point of just gaining diving knowledge as an end in itself.
  • Running : From not having run for over 10 years, can I run 10 miles, can I run 16, can I run 22, can I do the Peris Horseshoe (oops extended myself a bit far on this one at the time), 30 miles Wye Valley Ultra and the most daft to date, the 53 miles Highland Fling and now can I do the Bob Graham Round. Along the way you meet people who open your mind to what can be done and you set about closing the gap.
  • Work : 13 years at Sun as been characterized by more technical and complex customer problems and more volatile customer situations. The satisfaction of fixing a customer issue is short lived as the next one arrives and indeed it becomes a perpetual cycle of fighting cognitive bias as you jump from one issue to the next. I am not power or money motivated, but I do love the challenge of solving hard, complex technical problems
  • PhD : As one of life's late developers in school with writing and speeling problems which remain to this day finishing a PhD while working was a bit of a prize. It was a war of attrition at the time which dampened much of the satisfaction from being awarded it, but always feel you could have done better, not had re-writes, etc. Started as being a MPhil and as you see others doing a PhD, you start to aspire not believing that you can actually achieve that goal, but pushing on at your own pace.
Now don't get me wrong. I am quite content with this aspect of my character, for all the down sides and introspection it prompts, it does drive me to get things done, stretch myself and learn new things. If you are the type of person who tells me I should chill out and be content where I am, I will suggest you are lazy. While that "chill out and be content" view has a point, I get board easily so it is not for me.

Having low self esteem is clearly a problem, very much so for young people. Equally could having a high level of self-esteem, all the time, actually be a limiting factor in achieving your potential as you have nothing to prove to yourself. Without the ebbs and flows of self belief, the motivation to push yourself further and achieve something you previously though was out of your league, will remain distant and weak. You can't be serious about a long term challenge like the Bob Graham Round or a PhD to please or impress anyone else, such motivations are very internal.

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