To break free

It would be true to say that for most of my life I have been paralysed by low self-esteem. In particular periods, that may even have manifested as acute self-loathing. I hope those dark days are behind me. But a lack of confidence in myself: no, this remains all too prevalent.

I see it in virtual conversations with friends: I’ll be the one who deletes everything I say moments after tapping it out. The one at work who removes his contributions to a discussion on Teams. The blogger who spends hours writing a post, then deletes it in a fit of regret. The one who writes a novel, then consigns it to the bin.

I admit that I have lost a lot of self-confidence the past few years. At work for a decade I had a very supportive manager who saw potential in me and really sought to encourage and develop me. Our personalities were very different, but he rewarded hard work. He edged me out of my shell and helped me progress my career. Unfortunately, he moved on to better opportunities four years ago and in the period since I see myself slipping away, back into myself.

At work, I feel like I am stuck in a rut. All around me, the personnel has changed and I feel like nobody knows me. The teams I work with are in so much flux that nobody ever seems to stay in post long enough to build positive relationships. I am mostly demotivated and bored.

But the job itself has its perks which make it difficult to envisage a change. I have a salary sufficient to cover our needs, an infrequent commute and a good balance of work and family time. My beloved tries to convince me that I have the perfect job, that I am doing what I always wanted to do. She tries to remind me of the struggle getting here. She points out that what we may lack in wealth and social status, we make up with quality time together. All true.

Months ago I toyed with pursuing new opportunities, but in the end I discounted them. Partly weighing up the prospect of a lengthy commute, but mostly just considering my self-confidence. “Better the devil you know,” the sentiment which sprang to mind whenever I glanced over opportunities. “Beware of jumping from the frying pan into the fire,” another.

Perhaps it is helpful to recall that we work to live, not the reverse; that work is a means to an end, not the end in itself. Perhaps it is necessary to reconfigure my mindset, to find creative outlets outside of work, recognising that a profession is not the be-all and end-all of everything. Let the time not spent commuting be time for a hobby or sport.

I feel like I have a lot of hangups from my youth. Expectations were so high that I always seemed to fall short of them. I imbibed ideas that damaged my sense of self. Perhaps my family took the Protestant work ethic to the extreme, filling every waking moment with activity: the day job at the office, evenings spent undertaking work for the church. My low self-esteem put down deep roots so many years ago that it has been difficult to uproot.

Somehow, I need to find a way to shake free. Somehow I need to find a way to believe in myself again, to develop some kind of self-confidence. Somehow I need to find a way to develop not egomania, but self-worth. To find some way to break out of this straightjacket which constricts me. Voluntary service springs to mind, but even there I stumble, still pessimistic in my self-image, afraid of the judgements of others.

Low self-esteem creates a real pickle, difficult to untangle. I have never learned to stand up straight. I have never allowed myself to be forgiving of myself for all that carried me here. Perhaps I was taught too much Original Sin in childhood, that theology which keeps mankind in a state of perpetual unease. Perhaps the experience of growing up a bit different imprinted too much on my soul.

Still, somehow I need to find a way to break free. It has become an urgent task. I can’t go on like this. Something has to change. Remember me in your prayers.

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