Reading a few weeks ago in the Daily Stoic, I came across the thought: “An iron law of history is that greatness and goodness are rarely appreciated in their own time.”
Winston Churchill was more or less tossed out of office twice— in 1945 and again in 1955.
Amelia Earhart had to get a job as a social worker because no one would give her a flight. (And when she finally did get one, they wouldn’t even let her in the cockpit.)
It’s taken more than a century for people to understand the talents and the subtle genius of Ulysses S. Grant, and very few presidential reputations have shifted as dramatically as Grant’s. After leaving office, Grant’s reputation soared during his well-publicized diplomatic world tour. Accusations of Grant’s alleged excessive drinking hounded him for most of his military and political career, and are still widely believed by the general public. Historians generally agree he drank occasionally but not often. At his death, he was seen as “a symbol of the American national identity and memory“, when millions turned out for his funeral procession in 1885.
Throughout the 20th century, historians ranked Grant’s generalship near the top and his presidency near the bottom. In the 21st century, his military reputation is strong and above average. The rankings on his presidency have improved markedly in the 21st century from a place in the lowest quartile to a position in the middle.
Dwight D Eisenhower was considered a “do-nothing” president. Ike’s reputation among historians has changed dramatically in the last five decades. A poll of prominent historians in 1962 placed Eisenhower 22nd among presidents, a barely average chief executive who was as successful as Chester A. Arthur and a notch better than Andrew Johnson. Two decades later, his ranking had moved up to 11th, and by 1994, he placed 8th, the same position he held in a C-SPAN poll of presidential historians in 2009. Among presidents who held office in the last 75 years, he ranked behind only Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman
The Stoics were no different. Seneca was exiled to Corsica in 41AD. Emperor Domitian banished all philosophers from Rome, and Epictetus went to Nicopolis in Epirus, Greece. Marcus Aurelius was dogged by various rumors of one kind or another. None of these people were fully appreciated in their own time. Even now they are given short shrift by many historians and academics.
So the question is this: Why do we think it’s going to be any different for us?
The truth is, we will never be fully appreciated; not by our parents, our bosses, our country, or by our children. But then again, why should we? Appreciating us is not their job.
It’s our job.
That’s why it’s called self-esteem.
Self-esteem reflects an individual’s overall subjective emotional evaluation of his or her own worth. It is the decision made by an individual as an attitude towards the self. Self-esteem encompasses beliefs about oneself; (for example, “I am competent”, “I am worthy”), as well as emotional states, such as triumph, despair, pride, and shame. Smith and Mackie (2007) defined it by saying “The self-concept is what we think about the self; self-esteem, is the positive or negative evaluations of the self, as in how we feel about it.”
Self-esteem is attractive as a social psychological construct because researchers have conceptualized it as an influential predictor of certain outcomes such as academic achievement, happiness, satisfaction in marriage and relationships, and criminal behavior. Synonyms or near-synonyms of self-esteem include many things: self-worth, self-regard, self-respect, and self-integrity.
Simply put self-esteem is confidence in one’s own worth or abilities; self-respect.
People with a healthy level of self-esteem possess these traits:
- They firmly believe in certain values and principles and are ready to defend them even when finding opposition, and they feel secure enough to modify them in light of experience.
- They are able to act according to what they think to be the best choice; trusting their own judgment, and not feeling guilty when others do not like their choice.
- They do not lose time worrying excessively about what happened in the past, nor about what could happen in the future. They learn from the past and plan for the future, but live in the present intensely.
- They fully trust in their capacity to solve problems, not hesitating after failures and difficulties; they ask others for help when they need it.
- They consider themselves equal in dignity to others rather than inferior or superior, while accepting differences in certain talents, personal prestige, or financial standing.
- They understand how they are can be interesting and valuable for others, at least for those with whom they have a friendship.
- They resist manipulation and collaborate with others only if it seems appropriate and convenient.
- They admit and accept different internal feelings and drives, either positive or negative, revealing those drives to others only when they choose.
- They are able to enjoy a great variety of activities.
- They are sensitive to feelings and needs of others, respect generally accepted social rules, and claim no right or desire to prosper at others’ expense.
- They can work toward finding solutions and voice discontent without belittling themselves or others when challenges arise.
Expecting, or worse, demanding approval or recognition from other people is a dead end. It’s outside our circle of control. Are we going to anchor our happiness and self-worth on something as precarious as that? No, we have to base our own appreciation on the actions we take in service of what we know is right, and being the person we know it’s right to be.
And then, we leave it at that.