I Achieved My Goal, So Why Is My Self-Esteem Still Low?
In the perfect world, achieving goals would lead to enhanced self-esteem. Our goals would go according to plan. We would achieve our weight-loss goal and feel amazing, fall in love and create the perfect relationship together, or start meditating and discover inner peace. But life is not linear–sometimes the steps we think will take us forward actually shift us to the side, or even backward. This can happen with self-esteem. Though we achieve one of our goals, our self-esteem takes a sudden dip. Why does this happen? And what can we do to recalibrate?
Why Achieving Goals Doesn't Always Lead to Improved Self-Esteem
Expectations Vs. Reality
Achieving goals with a self-esteem increase isn't always possible. I recently met up with a friend for the first time in several years. I always knew her as a highly confident woman, yet during our conversation, she made several disparaging remarks about herself–her body, her job struggles, her inability to regulate her emotions the way she believes she should. ("I'm always angry and I hate it.") I knew that in the last five years she had earned a Ph.D., gotten married, and had two children, all of which had been her goals. Yet though she had achieved so much success, she did not have healthy self-esteem as I remembered.
Often, we create goals based on the way we believe they will enhance our identity. We want to lose weight so we can identify as attractive or earn a promotion at work so we can identify as hard-working. Identity goals are perfectly natural and inspire us to grow. But sometimes the way we pictured our new identity is not the reality–even after the weight loss we still feel unattractive, or our glamorous new job actually feels stressful and scary. When this happens, we often de-emphasize the success of the achievement and focus our inability to be the identity we crave. Our self-esteem plummets.
I've spent a lot of time reflecting on the conversation with my friend. In my opinion, though she has achieved many of her goals, my friend is struggling to meet her own identity expectations. Her goal of being a mother, while achieved, included the plan to feed her children organic meals every night–this had morphed into frozen pizzas. Her achievement of a Ph.D. had included the plan to be a tenured professor–she continues to struggle to find teaching work. In short, her inability to achieve these identifiers has resulted in her belief that she is a failure. To the outside world, she is a success, but inside she feels terrible.
When we over-emphasize the connection between achieving goals and self-esteem, we are often left feeling disappointed in ourselves. The truth is, it's very hard (and often unfulfilling) to be the "best" version of ourselves because we have to eliminate a lot of the things that make us the goofy humans we are. Our self-esteem flourishes when we allow it to come from not only our successes, but our imperfections, quirks, and learning moments. In my friend's case, she places so much merit on her inability to successfully provide the diet she wants for her children, she has lost sight of the fact that the time she spends not cooking is often spent cleaning up potty-training accidents and stopping balls from flying through windows. If that's not an identity to feel good about, what is?
Examining Your Relationship With Success
When you see your self-esteem quivering, it makes sense to examine what parts of your life are contributing to its status. In the following video, I explain how to use data gathering to learn about your relationship with success.
Mahrer, B. (2019, August 21). I Achieved My Goal, So Why Is My Self-Esteem Still Low?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, January 25 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/buildingselfesteem/2019/8/i-achieved-my-goal-so-why-is-my-self-esteem-still-low