Foresight Mental Health
The Three Columns to Self-Esteem (Part 3)
Updated: Apr 3
It’s been another month? Why does it seem like days go by slow but weeks and months fly by?
Is that just me?
Remember the movie Shawshank Redemption? In clicking on this article I hope you’re tapping
into your inner-Red as Andy gently nudged him at the end of the film, “And if you've come this
far, maybe you're willing to come a little further.” (Spoiler alert for the three people who still
haven’t seen it: Red went further and in all likelihood, it was a great decision...watch the movie.)
First, we reviewed the blueprint in what I believe are the Three Columns to help build and
sustain healthy self-esteem. In the most recent installment, the Second Column or the principle
of engaging in activities we like and are good at was discussed. In this segment, we will review
the Third Column - how identifying and working towards goals strongly contribute to building and
sustaining a healthy self-esteem.
Our journey begins with a little psychology history lesson involving German-American
psychologist Erik Erikson. Erikson is most well known in the world of psychology for his theory
regarding the psychosocial stages of personality development. Still accepted today, Erikson
supposed that there were important stages in each of our lives (0-18 months, 18 months-3
years, 3-5 years, 6-11 years, 12-18 years, 19-40 years, 41-65 years, 65 years - death) that help
form the intricacies of our personalities. For the purposes of this current conversation on goals,
Erikson’s seventh stage stands out - Generativity vs Stagnation. Generativity refers to the
concept of doing meaningful work and wanting to leave a legacy for the next generation versus
stagnation that refers to a sense of self-involvement and no interest in future generations. In his
view, one develops a sense of contributing to the world, generally through the realm of work and
family, seeking continued growth and development in this stage and would occur between
approximately 40-65 years of age.
Side note: Erikson developed this theory in 1958 and added on to the theory again in 1963, so
could there be some updates based on how cultures, societies, and values have evolved?
Probably and perhaps this is where the heart of the Third Column of building and maintaining a
healthy self-esteem resides now, paying no mind to a specific set of years.
Identifying and working on personal or professional goals will naturally help build and maintain a
healthy self-esteem. Goals help gauge one’s own growth and development in an= given area.
The goals can vary by person and have every right to be modified and changed at the goal
setter’s will. Also, goals don’t also have to be realized. Let me explain.
A person may have the goal of becoming a physician, running a business, or buying a home.
Within each of these goals there are underlying goals or markers that must also be reached. To
become a physician one must study the biological sciences as an undergraduate, take the
MCAT entrance exam, get through medical school, complete a residency program, pass board
exams, and only then start their journey independently, if they so choose, as a medical clinician.
To buy a house one must accumulate assets, build their credit score, research where they
would like to live and what kind of house they want to invest in, place an offer, and after the offer
is finally accepted wait for a few more months for escrow to close to finally start moving in.
It’s self-explanatory that goals can vary between people. Not everyone has the goal of becoming
a physician, with the options of what we can be “when we grow up” too numerous to list. And
although you may have started with a goal of becoming a physician, you have the right to
change your goal to become anything else one wants if on the path to becoming a physician
one realizes it is not the path for them. In cases such as these where a goal changes, the
intermediary steps required to complete before the final goal is just as important in building and
maintaining a healthy self-esteem as meeting the goal itself. The process in meeting the goal
may lead one to realize that the end goal or result was not meant for them - an opportunity for
self-actualization. While a goal might not have been met, a better understanding of the self has
occurred through active tasks and effort.
In sessions, I often share the meme above with members during similar conversations revolving
around goal setting (thanks Zoom for letting me share my screen!). It is an amazing,
aesthetically pleasing way of showing that goals will almost always involve a varied set of
“sub-goals” that require their own recognition of achievement.
Throughout several years as a therapist, I have heard countless times about the feeling of
failure reported by members that were not able to have/start a family for those that had this as a
paramount goal in their life. Whether it was not being able to find a partner or not being able to
have children, members often feel like the sum of this specific goal carried much more weight
than its parts and far be it from me to argue the deep feeling of grief and loss in those scenarios.
What is easy to forget in those instances are the important “sub-goals” that one potentially met
along the way. These potential characteristics that we discover about ourselves and can take
away from those moments - the ability to change, the conviction to set out towards a new goal,
the figurative artistry and maneuverability in dealing with the difficulties in order to continue on
the path towards the goal - is what helps build and maintain a healthy self-esteem as we move
on to the next set of goals. If in our minds we link the standard for success only to the end
result, we lose sight of everything else that was gained along the way.
To put it another way, Thomas Edison tried 3,000 different ways to make a more practical,
inexpensive lightbulb before finally patenting his invention of the “modern day lightbulb.”
(Side note: I found out during the process of writing this segment that Edison didn’t invent the
first lightbulb. It was first invented in 1800 by an Italian inventor named Alessandro Volta and
slightly improved later in 1840 by British scientist Warren de la Rue but as noted above, Edison
made the lightbulb more affordable and practical between 1878-1880.)
Think about that...Edison had to fail 2,999 times in order to realize his goal on the 3000th
attempt. Couldn’t we say then that what he attempted and learned during those first 2,999 trials
are just as important as the 3,000th?
If there is a lack of motivation to identify or work on goals, you could explore this topic with your
therapist. In the last installment of this series (I promise it’s almost over), we will review the First
Column - the identification and enforcement of boundaries as related to building and maintaining
a healthy self-esteem.
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