Saturday, June 16, 2012

A Fathers' Day Message

Brian Campbell has an interesting Father’s Day piece in the 6/16/12 NJ Star-Ledger. It is entitled Specialize, My Boy: A Letter to my Kindergarten Graduate. It is certainly heartfelt. But I think it misses a crucial point, and contains a false choice. Read Campbell message, the read these comments I left:

As a father of two and grandfather of six, I would add: Don’t forget the most important ingredient—the vital component without which personal happiness cannot be achieved—the much misunderstood element of self-esteem. (By “happiness, I mean the a state of life that comes from achieving your values, not instant gratification).

Self-esteem does not come from how well you measure up against others; or accolades; or achieving greatness in the eyes of “society.” That is pseudo-self-esteem or, to be more exact, other-esteem. Living through the eyes and minds of others will always lead to self-doubt, second-guessing, fear of disapproval, a crippling sense of the need to please others rather than yourself. Spiritual dependence is not the path to happiness. I know. I had to overcome it.

But self-esteem is tied to accomplishment—which I would define as the successful achievement of the goals you set for yourself; goals that you love and have passion for. But it’s more than that. It comes from pride in the knowledge that you gave it you best shot, and that you will always give it your best shot, as a matter of personal character; regardless of the outcome. Self-esteem needs to be earned, because we are beings of self-made character. Self-esteem is the fuel you’ll need to endure the inevitable disappointments and then pick yourself up and go at it again. Self-esteem is the core belief that you are worthy and deserving of whatever success and happiness you do achieve.

Yes, recognition for your achievements from your fellow man is nice—important even—and winning that competition is rightfully and properly gratifying. But they are consequences, not primary goals. Nor are they the source of self-esteem.

Above all, self-esteem requires the moral certainty that it is right to do it for yourself—not your parents, or “society,” or “others,” or “a cause greater than yourself”—but for yourself. You have one life to live—the only one you’ll ever have—and you should make the most of it. Pursue your happiness with vigor. That’s what every father should want for their children—and their children.

Campbell seems to be saying that there are two choices in life; focusing all of your energy on a single goal, to the exclusion of all else, or diffusing your energy far and wide, according to whatever whim will give you immediate gratification.

But this is a false choice. I would say that choosing the course of your life requires a balance between many different considerations. But, there are three main ones.

1-       Decide what kind of a lifestyle you desire, because that will determine how much money you’ll need to make to achieve it. You need to earn a living. Being self-supporting is vital to your self-esteem and thus your happiness. To be self-supporting you need to make money, a morally noble endeavor. Money—properly understood, which means to understand its source—is the root of all good. But choosing a career path is partially determined by whether you value a "rich" lifestyle or a modest one.

2-       Then, choose your career path accordingly, as long as it is a career you can love and have passion for. Your first love may not be conducive to consideration # 1, but your chosen career must be a love, or at least something that is strongly gratifying.

3-       Whatever you choose, make yourself the best that you can be. Though this usually requires a major focus on your main task, it does not necessarily require you to give up all other interests. But if it does, and you are doing something you love, then go at it. This does not mean that you should never stop to “smell the roses.” That is how you fulfill the psychological need to recharge your mental and emotional batteries.

Now a word about winning. Yes, the world is competitive. There are often more slots than contestants. Sometimes, as in the Olympics, there is only one gold medal.

But in most fields, you do not have to be the best to succeed. You do not have to be the best engineer, or architect, or pro golfer, or teacher, or artist, or writer, or plumber. There is room enough in the world for everyone to succeed. You may have to choose between fields based upon the level of opportunity for success. You will definitely have to take into consideration your natural physical and mental endowments—the raw material from which you build your life.

But life is not primarily about beating others. It is about personal flourishing and happiness. And, as long as we remain free, we live in a world of endless opportunities to achieve it.


Pseudo-Self-Esteem vs. the Real Thing

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