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How the self-esteem craze took over America (2017) (thecut.com)
259 points by riyadparvez 4 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 229 comments



"‘Believe in yourself and anything is possible’? Nope, it’s just not true."

This is such a great quote. I honestly hate people that spout nonsense like anything is possible if you just believe, and that if you don't, it's that you obviously don't believe enough. It's almost the same as the prosperity gospel nonsense.

And later on in the article, talking about grit, I feel like this is the swing the other way. And now we're getting messages like "nothing is impossible if you work hard enough at it", which also shift the burden back to you. If you fail, it's not the world that's hard or unfair (it naturally is both), but again it's a personal failing on your part for not trying hard enough (or believing you are good enough). Everyday I see blog posts with the same kind of thing about how they have accomplished so much before most people have breakfast. Yet that seems to be mostly writing posts about how to get stuff done.

Obviously many things in life are hard, and you have to believe that you can do them to put the hard effort in believing you can accomplish them. But leaning so hard one way or the other that you will get some magic power is the kind of nonsense people love to buy, and therefore sell.


There’s no denying that mindset is incredibly important. As a business owner myself I can attest to this. But I think the advice gets twisted. The way I see it is this:

Everyone who succeeds in business believes that they can do it.

Not everyone who believes they can do it succeeds.

Therefore, believing you can succeed is necessary, but only a small percentage of people who believe are actually correct.

Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t believe, but chances are you are wrong.


Purposely believing in something that you know is most likely to be incorrect is difficult to me. In this case you have to think illogically on purpose in order to have any chance at succeeding.

But that kind of belief doesn't foster the mindset of "if I fail, that's just life and I will move forward." Having that much confidence in accomplishing something means staking my self-worth on it, because this is a test of my own effort and nobody else's. The results begin and end with my actions only, and the things I want are too important to me to not take seriously. If those things are what I ultimately want to spend my time on Earth succeeding in before I die, then not succeeding is devastating to my mental health.

I don't understand how not to think like this, because every real success I've fought for and won came as a result of believing my life was over if I didn't succeed. In some cases I really would become poor or have no future if I didn't succeed, so it grants too much legitimacy to the method.


> Purposely believing in something that you know is most likely to be incorrect is difficult to me. In this case you have to think illogically on purpose in order to have any chance at succeeding.

I think that's mixing up cause and effect. People who succeed usually have reason to believe they will. Don't work on your belief; instead, work on your ability. You'll know you're ready when you think you can, realistically, succeed (though best to start as soon as you can do what you'll definitely be able to, and think you might be able to handle the rest, because learning as you go is often much more effective than trying to prepare for hypothetical eventualities ahead of time).

And it's a lie that you need to believe you will succeed. You just need to act like it. Be invested, and don't quit until you actually can't go on any more (unless there's an actual dead-end, like you've got a business with 70% of your target audience as customers and still can't afford to feed yourself with it). Though you might not need to compensate for this particular cognitive bias, if you're already practised at it.


You’ve put that quite beautifully. I was trying to resolve something that I’ve learned from competing at a high level in a skill based adversarial sport (sailing), with the fact that it’s trivially obvious that just believing that you can do something doesn’t mean that you can.

What I learnt over the years as I improved at sailing was that you take decisions to consolidate your position and eliminate risk when you reach the place you believe you should be in the field. You don’t attack any more because you believe that if you do, you will probably lose what you have. In this situation, the allegory is in fact true.

If you want to win a race, you have to make race winning decisions and you won’t do that unless you believe you can win the race.

So why don’t you just do that, and then you’ll start winning?

Because you won’t and you shouldn’t. You should only make “race winning” decisions if you actually have the ability to win.

So how do you know when you should “believe”? That in itself is an ability you have to learn. In order to win you need to have the ability or skill, and you have to recognise a situation where your ability or skill means you can win. This is what the “believing” really is. Then you have to successfully execute and ride through the things you cannot control (the part that luck always plays).


> I don't understand how not to think like this, because every real success I've fought for and won came as a result of believing my life was over if I didn't succeed. In some cases I really would become poor or have no future if I didn't succeed, so it grants too much legitimacy to the method.

I've approached this by taking the stance that life should be process-oriented, not results-oriented. Sometimes you can do the right thing and still lose. Sometimes you can do the wrong thing and win. "Success" is often just luck with a nice backstory written after the fact. That isn't to downplay anyone's hard work, but often it's luck that provides the opportunity to work hard for something worthwhile in the first place.

It's entirely possible that in your life, you could have succeeded and still ended up becoming poor due to circumstances beyond your control. It's also possible that if you had ultimately failed, circumstances would not have turned out the way it so obviously looked like they had to play out.

Ultimately, you can only control yourself in this universe. If you've done everything you could do and gave it your best, really did all you can, then regardless of the outcome, you should be proud of yourself.


> often it's luck that provides the opportunity to work hard for something worthwhile in the first place.

Not having a plan means a 100% failure rate. Not following your plan means a 100% failure rate. Not revising your plan when circumstances change usually means a 100% failure rate.

Which is why most people fail. They quit at the first obstacle.


You don't need a plan to succeed, you just need to know that what you are doing is good. A normal general AI strategy is to try to increase the number of future options, it doesn't really plan it just makes choices which gives it more choices in the near future.

For humans it can be things like going to college, getting a computer science degree opens a lot of door so it is good even if you don't plan to do anything specific. Similarly as a company founder you can just try to do things opening doors, like Google focused on making a great search engine because they believed that having the best search engine would make all other aspects of the company easy.

You could say that focusing on areas which will give you more options in the future is a plan, but I don't think that most people see it that way. For example when you ask a kid why they go to college and they answer "I don't know what I want to do, I'll just study something interesting and see where it leads" you'd typically not say they have a plan. Yet many of them still go on to get valuable degrees and succeed in getting a much better job than the average person.


> Yet many of them still go on to get valuable degrees and succeed in getting a much better job than the average person.

Getting a 4 year degree requires planning.


How so? If you just go to school and do your work, one day at a time, for 16years, you'll get a degree without planning the whole thing.


You have to plan things like registering for the school, planning where you're going to live, planning your finances for the school, planning your schedule around the school's requirements, etc. Just aimlessly going about things isn't going to result in a degree.


I'll provide an anecdote from my own life that I feel highlights the interplay between luck and work:

In 2010, I had just graduated college, was quickly running out of money, and had no luck applying to jobs at software shops with languages I knew. Out of desperation, I applied to a PHP shop, with my only qualification being that I knew Perl, a cousin of PHP. Embarrassingly, I had to admit this in the interview, and even though they let me finish the interview in Perl, I wasn't optimistic.

A week later, I got a call back that the job was mine. There was a big learning curve, but I picked up PHP well enough to rise up to a leadership position on the dev team. When I was promoted, I learned that when I originally applied, the only other person that applied for the position was a guy who brought a guitar with him hoping that would sell them on the fact that he was a great culture fit. They said if anyone had applied that actually knew PHP, they would have gotten the job by default.

I was lucky that no one who knew PHP applied to the job when I did, but it was my hard work that kept me there.

Later in the thread you state "Being born in a free country with a working brain and body is most of what you need". This is the luck of winning genetic, social, and geographical lotteries.


> I was lucky

You put yourself in a position where luck could find you.

> This is the luck of winning genetic, social, and geographical lotteries.

It's the luck that 99% of Americans share.


Being born rich can overcome a lot of obstacles. Plans are not always required. Didn't Slack start at a gaming company?


Being born in a free country with a working brain and body is most of what you need. 85% of American millionaires are self-made.


>It's entirely possible that in your life, you could have succeeded and still ended up becoming poor

What does being poor have to do with it?

You can succeed at lots of things, but if you don't try to get rich(assuming you don't start that way) you're probably not going to. But if you've never tried, then how can you fail at it?

Getting rich is a focus in and of itself. There's lots of people successful at many things, they might not get rich off it, but unless that's something they really wanted, they probably won't feel much a of a sense of failure because they're not.


> What does being poor have to do with it?

I was addressing OP's concern about his own life: "In some cases I really would become poor or have no future if I didn't succeed"

I agree with you that part of OP's problem is framing success together with things like being rich and having a future.


> Purposely believing in something that you know is most likely to be incorrect

This makes me think of: acting. One way to act like a character is to try to believe you are that character. Or to believe everything the character believes. Then you figure out the detailed implications: when you see x, you think y, so you feel z (which should show on your face and body language) and do w. One way of finding the implications is to physically put yourself through experiences your character has had; if that is impractical, you can look for substitutes. (There is a famous story[1] of an actor who gave a compelling performance of a character agonizing over killing himself with a revolver in his hand... by imagining he was about to take a very cold shower.)

Which then brings to mind an approach: imagine you are the person you would like to be, imagine how that person would act, and act that way. (I'm not sure whether, to the parent commenter, that would be "a greatly successful person in the early stages" or "a person who will do the best he can—choosing the strategies with highest expected value—knowing bad luck may crush his efforts in the small or in the large, and won't be bothered if/when that happens because his choices were still the best".)

[1] https://www.rehearsalroom.com/offcuts/offcut31.html


One way to overcome this is 'regret minimization'. For example: "I will regret not trying this or not giving it my all"

This way even if you fail, you still come out on top as you should have less regret having tried and failed than if you never tried.


A saying I remember from my childhood was "if at first you don't succeed, try try again."

There was no messaging that life was easy, or that you only had to believe, or only had to try hard. You could do all of that, and fail. Then you reflect on the failure and try again, presumably having learned something.


""It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not weakness, that is life."" - J.L. Picard


Star Trek is a hollywood fiction.


“But she finds it so difficult to verbalize, Charles dear. It helps her if she can quote instead of working out words of her own.”


All quotes are equally worthless so I don't know why you bring that up.

People quote people because they want to express the same sentiment but they believe someone else did it better. Not because they believe the quote to be an absolute truth.


Picard's "wisdom" does not come from a man experienced in battle and leading men and flying a starship around the galaxy.

It comes from a person who has likely commanded nothing more than a typewriter. The real world does not work like the fantasy saccharin world of Star Trek, and wise sayings from it being applicable to the real world would just be happenstance.


I don't think you require to believe as an entrepreneur.

For example Elon Musk very well knows the possibility of failure. But it seems he finds it important enough to try it.

Same for Jeff Bezos, who has a regret minimalization strategy.

So seems they are very aware of the possibility of failure, but it's important enough to try it.

I like that, because it's a more rational approach than "I'm sure I can do it"


You have to believe there is a chance you will succeed or you will not put in the work to do so. But you don't have to believe that you will be successful despite all odds.

Elon Musk knew the chances of failure. He also knew the chance that he would succeed. The potential chance at success outweighed the potential loose from failure. That was my equation as an entrepreneur. I knew it was possible I would fail but the upside of success drew me in regardless.


Plenty of successes where accidents, someone inherited a business, or pivoted a hobby, or whatnot. You need to put effort in, but the reason you do doesn’t need to related to seeking wealth.

You don’t hear about these people as few people push much past 100m unless wealth or fame is inherently a goal.


They tried/are trying those things because they believe there's a non-zero probability of success. Belief in success being a possible outcome is pretty fundamental to accomplishing any goal or strategy in general.


There is a non-zero probability of you winning the lottery, why don't you spend all your money on lottery tickets? Realistically assessing risk is necessary for success, being over-confident in your odds will just waste money or time.

This means don't be over confident, but also don't be under confident.


The odds on starting a business are pretty bad. You kind of have to ignore them, or else have some reason you think they don’t apply to you.


You shouldn't ignore them. If the odds are bad and you only do it for the money then don't start a business, you'll just make yourself unhappy. Start a business because that is what you want to do, then the odds doesn't really matter because you aren't doing it for the money. Or because you have a good reason believing that your case is special.

But absolutely don't believe your chances are great for no reason as the self-esteem enthusiasts would tell you. I see countless people wasting their life away chasing ideas just because their self esteem is way too high. Don't do that.


That is pretty obvious. But believing you will succeed is still very different than believing you have a non-zero chance to succeed.

If I remember correctly, Musk even had the mindset of "I will probably fail, but something good will come out of it, even if I fail". I think the details on this mindset matter on the "believe" part.


Many entrepreneurs failed multiple times before finally succeeding.

The quitters, of course, get nowhere.


> Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t believe, but chances are you are wrong.

So dark and brilliant and illuminating at the same time.


This was one of the most disheartening realizations I ever came to.

I know a lot of people with the kind of indefatigable optimism and self confidence that leads to success over the long-term. They're almost always failures, they're almost always wrong about intricacies of how the world works, and are blind to the difficulties faced by both themselves, and others.

A select few of them are very, very successful, and in spite of no clear superiority to their peers, their careers go up like bottle rockets with no shortage of fuel.

I don't envy them their success they've usually earned it about as much as anyone else. But I do wish I had the boundless sense of hope and energy they have, and the mindset that it takes to push through challenges like they do.


"the mindset that it takes to push through challenges like they do"

when people say things like believe in yourself and you can accomplish anything! i think what they're referring to is this mindset you mentioned.


"Everyone" is a strong word. I'd wager you could find impressive achievements by quite a few business people with Imposter Syndrome. Believing you can succeed isn't necessary, or Imposter Syndrome wouldn't be a thing.


A number of years ago, an HN article said the most successful entrepreneurs are the most pessimistic.

I would say it is more about disbelieving in yourself, and still trying to pursue a goal greater than oneself.

"The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums." - GK Chesterton


Yet entrepreneurs are more optimistic than non entrepreneurs.


Also you have 'can do it' and 'correct' which imply the issue here amounts to ability.

I'd argue that grit, status and luck have just as much to do with success than anything.

So 'having the talent' is really just one small part of it.

And FYI it's not about 'being wrong', really I do think large numbers of people could do A or B if they had the right connections, were born wealthy, and wanted to work really hard at it. The talent part is somewhat unique, but far unique so in sports than for example business.


> but chances are you are wrong.

It really depends what the specifics are, what does success look like? Not everything is so difficult that a large majority will fail at it. Believe you will become a $500B dollar company? Ok you’re probably wrong. But believe that you can make a decent living and not end up homeless? Most people who set out to accomplish that succeed, after all most people are not homeless.


Lottery winner fallacy!

I am rich because I believed in myself and WORKED HARD!

There are a lot of people that bought a lottery ticket and believed they could win.

At least the lottery winners have a chance of changing the world for the better, so the myth serves society, even if it deludes the players.


> Everyone who succeeds in business believes that they can do it.

No, not at all. For example Larry Page offered to sell Google for 1 million dollars, he didn't believe he would succeed. Yet he went on to create one of the most valuable companies on earth. Being modest does not prevent you from succeeding.


Because he wanted to finish his PhD. At that time Google was just a cute research project. The engineering behemoth that became Google came after, and Page might have done that anyway after graduation.


The proposition that everyone who succeeded believed they could do it is demonstrably false as it implies underdog victories are impossible. Sometimes we surprise ourselves with our victories. I experienced this on several occasions playing competitive chess in my teens.


This advice perhaps even more apt for grad students. Entrepreneurs at least have the luxury of pivot.


grad students can change majors. Entrepreneurs can pivot. Workers can quit. We all have free will. I think, if anything, sunken cost fallacy keeps people “believing” well after the picture is revealed.


This is one of the most important comments, free will is underrated. I signed up to Blind app few months back and just can see how many people rant about their jobs and salaries and just stay in the same company (I'm not talking about cases which people has no skills or not many job opportunities)


Not everyone has the uzery of quitting. Free will we all have but situations can drastically curb our options.


Some people I know told me they couldn't quit because of various chains that kept them in place. I went over these chains with them (such as a mortgage) and pointed out all of them were of their own making.


I agree with this, most of peoples problems comes from poor choices earlier in life. Like when I say that it isn't hard for poor people to get a good job as long as they are smart people go "But what if you are poor, have 4 kids, no house and have to work two jobs, huh, what would you do?????". Well, every person starts out young with no debt and no kids and at least 12 years of free schooling. That takes you really far if you are in the top 1% of intelligence. If you are worse off than that then you spent your life making it worse instead of better.


But, if you are from rich family you can get well paid job where you slack whole time. Cousin Johny or dad will get it for you. Or you parents will pay nanny. You never get into the two jobs situation. Or you just get house gifted from mom.

All examples of normal family help if family can afford it.

If you are a man, four kids affect you less in employment options too.

It is that thing, even very bad choices have significantly less bad impact on you if you are rich.

> That takes you really far if you are in the top 1% of intelligence.

99% of people are not in 1% of intelligence. Per definition and there is really nothing they can do to change it. You can't change own intelligence.

(Pls biggest screw up I know had measured intelligence super high and that person is complete absolute fail cause intelligence is not that useful practically on itself)


Intelligence is useless if you don't train it, use it, apply it towards something useful, etc.

It's like Michael Phelps who was born with a talent for swimming. But that talent was worthless without putting in endless hours of directed training.

Similarly, a no-talent swimmer can actually learn to swim rather well. And certainly being very successful in life does not require you to be the best swimmer in the world. Just an adequate swimmer will do just fine.


> if you are from rich family

Yes, rich people have it easier. There is no path for your life to be better by complaining that life is unfair. You could vaporize all the rich people, and it still wouldn't make your life any better (and would likely make it worse).

The good news, however, is you don't have to be born rich to become rich in a free market country. Lots of people do it - 85% of American millionaires are self-made. There's even a book about it and how ordinary people become wealthy - "The Millionaire Next Door".


>all of them were of their own making.

Having taken it out themselves doesn't make the mortgage any less real.


I didn't say it wasn't real. I said something along the lines of they are victims (if they are victims) of their own choices.


If the options from which they could choose were constrained by other factors then they weren't really choices.

Free will implies the ability to choose freely.


Please describe some choices that aren't really choices for a typical healthy person in a free country?

I can list a few:

1. having a baby is a choice

2. getting married is a choice

3. buying a house is a choice

4. buying snazzy furniture is a choice

5. buying a new car is a choice

6. buying lottery tickets is a choice

7. where you live is a choice

8. using drugs/alcohol is a choice

These are the kinds of chains that people forge on themselves.


7 and 8 are quite debatable. Where you live is limited by what you can afford, where you work, etc. Drug and alcohol dependence is considered to be an illness by medical doctors, and it's well-known to have strong genetic components.

1 is certainly a choice if people are given access to sex education and contraceptives; unfortunately that is not uniformly the case.


How about those who freely choose to reduce their choices? Does that mean their original freedom was not real?!


It means they made a tradeoff and shouldn't blame the world for it later. If you laze around and don't gather firewood during autumn then the reason you freeze to death in the winter isn't because nature is unfair but because you didn't get the wood.


“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re probably right”

As it pertains to business, I’d say that self belief is probably the primary thing I can think of as a predictor for success. It implies that you are more persistent, more determined and willing to put more on the line.


A lot of people can believe in themselves. Fewer people can believe in the "right" things about themselves. And even fewer can execute well with those justified beliefs.


It's a necessary but not a sufficient condition for success.


I hate those cheesy, halftime-talk lines as well, but there's a balance that needs to be found. Some things are outside of your control, and it's just silly to believe you can change everything by sheer force of will; but most things are at least somewhat within your control, and blaming everything and everyone except yourself is equally bad (and extremely more common).

Blaming yourself, or at least thinking what you could do differently, is the sane default when something goes wrong.

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference."


Or as Roland's teacher Cort put it:

> "Control the things you can control, maggot. Let everything else take a flying fuck at you and if you must go down, go down with your guns blazing."

- Stephen King, "The Drawing of the Three"


>> "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and Wisdom to know the difference."

Your post is wise (or at least, it resonates to my best thinking on it which boils down to the serenity prayer as well.)

But I disagree that the two things in your first paragraph are equally bad.

If you think nothing is in your control and just blame others all the time - then you pass up every opportunity to make your life better, and I agree this is extremely common.

If you are on the other extreme and think you can control everything - you do end up tilting at windmills and wasting a lot of time and energy, but you also end up doing things that make a real difference in your life. It's a strategy strictly dominant to passivity.

Thus blaming others is always worse and I agree with your paragraph #2 and #3.


There are pathologies that come with thinking you can control everything. You might find you are materially better off but never really feeling satisfied with what you have. To me this seems far more common in wealthy countries like America than your first point.


> Some things are outside of your control, and it's just silly to believe you can change everything by sheer force of will; but most things are at least somewhat within your control, and blaming everything and everyone except yourself is equally bad (and extremely more common).

Your point is well taken. There's the other side of the balance" - the factors outside of one control define the ceiling limit of your delta change [0]. Of course, you can ask people to focus on the controllable and ignore the things one can not control. However, the fact that the family/country/skin color you are born determines pretty much most of your fate is not easily accepted by everyone. And rightly so, they have every right to be aggrieved about it.

[0] https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/about/news-room/press-releases-...


I agree that there's a middle ground here. I think the point of the "you can do anything if you try" sentiment is to push people to overcome their self-limiting beliefs. I've certainly accomplished a lot of things I didn't think I could because I was dumb enough to try anyway. Most people have no idea what their limits are because they've never hit them.


I’m not sure you can “swing too far” toward emphasizing grit and perseverance. We need to realize that we are actually talking about two different things here: (1) what is true as a matter of sociological and economic fact; and (2) what is the most useful and beneficial world view in which to socialize children.

The two things aren’t necessarily the same. I think about this a lot in the context of the culture of former colonies. I’m from Bangladesh, which was colonized by the British for several centuries (not to mention Islamic empires before that). As a matter of historical fact, the British Empire imposed many capital- and wealth-destroying and transferring policies on the Indian subcontinent. It’s fair to say that development in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh runs into barriers that are the result of that history—that the world is “hard and unfair” as a result.

How should that shape culture on the Indian subcontinent going forward? In my view, almost not at all. The UK is a shadow of its former self and isn’t going to write a multi-trillion check any time soon. What’s true or not historically doesn’t really have any bearing on how Bangladeshis should see the world. The legacy of colonialism is just another thing to be overcome through grit and perseverance, no different than natural phenomenon like flooding or drought. When it comes to socializing children to view the world a certain way, what other view could possibly be more helpful?


I agree with you that emphasizing grit is a good recipe for optimizing perfect success. However fetishizing grit is a terrible guiding principal for public policy.

Having grown up in the US, I think this is one of the biggest reasons for the deep dysfunction we have seen there in the past few decades. The value for "the pursuit of happiness", and almost religious belief in meritocracy places the blame for failure on the shoulders of the individual in the eyes of society, and helps to create an environment where courts and legislators can dismantle safety nets, and fail to support the population in times of collective crisis.

In times like we are living through, where there are a great many forces beyond the control of the average citizen which have the power to utterly wipe them out financially, it can be actively harmful to tell people that each individual is the master of their own destiny. We can and should expect and contribute to a collective good as well.


The almost-religious and in fact religious belief in meritocracy is what made the US wealthy. Not just at the beginning; it’s a culture that keeps being replenished through waves of immigration.

I tend to agree that from the perspective of public policy we should take a more systematic view. But as I said, I think how we want politicians to view to world for public policy purposes is different than how we want people (individually and collectively) to view the world.


> religious belief in meritocracy is what made the US wealthy

Is it really though? For instance, in the post-war period of the 1950's which is often taken as the period where the American Dream was in full force, organized labor was much stronger in the US than it is today, and a huge chunk of the population was essentially inserted into the middle class through the GI bill, which was really a social welfare program when it comes down to it.

I think the degree to which individual grit gave rise to American prosperity is often over-stated, and the degree to which it was a result of collective action is often overlooked.


The US was, per capita, the richest country in the world by 1820-30.


The US is also the most geographically blessed nation on the planet.


And? The 1950's were just one example. There are also a lot of factors besides "grit" which contributed to the success of the US. Practically unlimited natural resources would be an example.


What if you subtracted the wealth created by slavery?


You usually compare countries in terms of GDP or GDP per capita, which is a measure of production and not “wealth.” By 1820, the US was producing more per person than Western Europe: https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/economics/seminars/seminars/co...

That measure inherently excludes the “wealth” represented by ownership of enslaved people. It includes what those people produce, but the “per capita” measure also includes enslaved people in the denominator.

The production of enslaved people represented a small fraction of the economy—about 5% of GDP during the peak of the cotton boom: https://fee.org/articles/no-slavery-did-not-make-america-ric... see also https://jacobinmag.com/2019/08/how-slavery-shaped-american-c...

More importantly, you can’t increase a country’s overall level of production by enslaving people. Its basic economics—unfree labor misallocates labor resources to industries controlled by slave owners. Slavery obviously redistributes wealth from enslaved people to a slaveholding aristocracy, but that comes at the expense of economic growth for the country overall. This is true both theoretically and empirically. As shown in the GDP chart linked above, the end of slavery didn’t produce an economic collapse, as you would expect of it really was responsible for America’s productivity. There was not even a dip. In fact, ending slavery made America richer, exactly as economic theory would predict: https://www.econlib.org/archives/2014/09/ending_slavery.html


It does not inherently exclude wealth from slavery. Historical sources I had seen has slavery to be wastly profitable, that is why they did it.

It was not just reallocation of wealth like tax, it completely changed his money were made.


Slavery is very profitable for slave owners, it’s just not very productive. Think about it this way: imagine you run a business, and suddenly one day you no longer have to pay wages to your employees. This obviously makes your profit margin shoot through the roof. However, it doesn’t make your company produce more stuff. That’s the point: slavery was indeed profitable for slave owners, but it did not produce any more wealth than in an alternative scenario, where the slaves were free wage labor instead. Thus, while slavery surely made some slave owners wealthy, it did not make America wealthy, and in fact, it did quite the opposite.


> Think about it this way: imagine you run a business, and suddenly one day you no longer have to pay wages to your employees... it doesn’t make your company produce more stuff

I don't really understand this argument. Surely reducing one of the operating costs of doing business to zero leads to economic growth right? In your hypothetical scenario, wouldn't the business owner just invest some of that profit into growing the business, thereby increasing productivity?

Alternatively, they can lower their prices in order to beat competitors. If they're producing a commodity, this can have the knock-on effect of lowering the price of finished goods using that commodity.

Another point of comparison is, in places where they discover "free resources" like petrochemicals, like Norway, that does lead to prosperity, doesn't it?


You’re not reducing operating costs to zero. Enslaved people are still people, they must be fed, housed, etc. And while reducing the operating cost of say cotton production can make that business bigger, taking those enslaved people out of the market for consumption makes those other businesses smaller.


> In your hypothetical scenario, wouldn't the business owner just invest some of that profit into growing the business, thereby increasing productivity?

Sure, but imagine the alternative where the slaves are paid workers instead: then the same money that you use to invest into your business in slave scenario is instead spent by your workers on other businesses, which then use it to produce other things or invest in their businesses. Again, slavery, instead of increasing total wealth, just redistributes it in favor of slaveholders.


When people say richest country per capita, they dont mean "including native Americans and slaves". Those were not citizens. It is profit and wealth of whites that count.

You are however averaging production to slaves too. So in countries where blacks outnumber whites you get much smaller wealth then what contemporaries commented on.

The alternative scenario is north in any case. The kind of society and production south was is plain impossible without slavery. It just did not exist.


The GDP per capita statistics include everybody.


> The almost-religious and in fact religious belief in meritocracy is what made the US wealthy

I thought it was the abundant resources, rule of law, respect for property rights, free slave labor (for the first ~200 years, including before independence), and wave upon wave of immigrants who through self-selection were highly motivated and risk-taking. The post-WW2 prosperity was largely due to a lack of competition from other developed nations.


> free slave labor (for the first ~200 years, including before independence)

Do you think a free person or an enslaved one produces more economic value? If we decided to enslave everyone with green eyes tomorrow do you think GDP would grow or shrink?

Just because a certain practices makes certain individuals wealthy does not mean it makes the society wealthier.

> self-selection were highly motivated and risk-taking

This is beliefs seems to be very entangled with belief in a meritocracy. If you believe hard work and risk taking doesn't pay off why work hard and take risks. If you believe hard work and risk taking does pay off, well than that sounds a lot like belief in meritocracy to me.


Which areas do you think suffered economically compared to the US due to not using slave labor in the 1700s and 1800s?

And if slave labor were an important component driving the relative wealth of the US, wouldn't you expect the abolition of slavery to decrease the relative wealth of the US?

But that isn't what we see in the decades after the abolition of slavery in the US: "In the last third of the 19th century the United States entered a phase of rapid economic growth which doubled per capita income over the period. By 1895, the United States leaped ahead of Britain for first place in manufacturing output." See also, "Gilded Age".


Any argument about emphasising grit hinges on the extent to which grit is actually teachable. As the original article states, the measurable effects of grit seem to be a near-equivalent of conscientiousness from the well studied 'big five' personality metrics, and (as far as I understand) the evidence shows that these traits are very stable over the years (conscientiousness slowly increases over age, but roughly equally even for people who have lead very different lives) and there are no known interventions that would reliably change them.

So an argument against an educational policy to emphasize grit is that, as far as we know, this will not actually increase grit in the students. Socializing children to view the world a certain way will have many effects, but not that.


I don't know about cultural emphasis, but you can certainly go too far with grit and perseverance themselves, if you stick with a perceived opportunity too far past the point where its returns have fallen below those of other available opportunities.


> It's almost the same as the prosperity gospel nonsense.

It's almost the prosperity gospel nonsense, but it's exactly the Amway nonsense.

There's a good Oglaf comic about this. "The real magic is manipulating people by telling them to believe in themselves. The more you believe, the less you check facts."

[1] (content warning: The one I'm linking is tame but it's generally a NSFW comic) https://www.oglaf.com/conviction/


>I honestly hate people that spout nonsense like anything is possible if you just believe

I found it hard to read the rest of your post after this. While I think it is indeed a common failing to go too far with the "believe in yourself" mindset, it does actually have real, practical use in moderation, and it seems nuts to "hate" people for it.


it's inappropriate to hate the people who adopt it, because they're often in a position where they rely on that sort of belief for one reason or another.

However I think it is fairly appropriate to 'hate' the people who preach it. It has a sinister ideological component of advocating individualism above all else, mostly to justify lack of taking responsibility for the collective good, or categorically blaming individuals for their situation. It also has fuelled a gigantic self-help industrial complex that's fairly effective at parting desperate people from their money.


Hate no one. Hate bad and dangerous ideas and deeds.


Problem is, there's no stop criterion, so more often than not there is no moderation.

To me this advice is a net negative. Of course you should believe in yourself, but that's just the baseline.


"This version of the sentiment which you did not express is totally reasonable, therefore it seems nuts to hate people for the sentiment that you DID express."


The problem is when “believe in yourself” becomes blaming people for things outside of their control because they didn’t “believe in themselves”.

It becomes just another way to say “you failed because you’re lazy and didn’t try hard enough”.


Angela Duckworth and Stephen Dubner have a great podcast on this. The world is unfair and you aren’t guaranteed success no matter what you do.

But focusing on things you can control and having grit on average increases your chances. It’s a good default.


Define success. I'm college educated and make nearly $100k a year. To me this is the bare minimum. I don't feel comfortable where I am but I still meet people who envy me. I'm just doing what I'm supposed to.

It wasn't even hard to get here.


> I'm just doing what I'm supposed to.

From what I've seen, this is really the thing. Having a reasonably comfortable life is just about doing what you are supposed to do. Pay attention in school and make a decent effort at learning. Be sober at least most of the time. Get a job and take it seriously. Get married and be in a position to support your children before you have children. We've understood these things for millenia and they are encoded in our religions and cultural norms.

One of my favorite quotes from Calvin Coolidge: If all the folks would do the few simple things they know they ought to do, most of our big problems would take care of themselves.


Your list is missing a few things.

Be healthy, physically and mentally. Be born into a reasonably affluent family. Be able to attend a good school. Be able to find a partner.


> Define success

Success is personal. Whatever it means to you, believing you can achieve that and working towards it against setbacks, makes it more likely (but not guaranteed) that you eventually will.


A mark of a lot of successfull people is that they don’t feel comfortable no matter how far they go. I know many 40+ folks making 2X what you are, and they’re fearful of being let go. But we’re all survivors.

If you got this far w/o working too hard I’d suggest working a little harder to stay above your peers and diversify your future options. Gold rushes don’t last forever. Live to work (own business) or work to live (for someone else) and afford your hobbies.


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Hey, could you please review https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and stick to the rules when posting here?


Yes, this. I'm reminded of a great Captain Picard line after Data fails his game of strategema:

"It is possible to make no mistakes, and still lose. That is not a failing. That is life."


There's an inverse notion too, that doubling down on efforts in an unfavorable context is just a quicker death.


As a pretty new parent, I don't think the grit / hard work focused trend is as you describe it. The idea, as I understand it, is to teach the value of hard work as an end to itself, rather than as a means to achieve the impossible. This really resonates with me, as someone who felt like the lesson of my own childhood was to achieve quite arbitrary goals (grades on tests, correct answers to trivia questions, that sort of thing), which didn't really require me to work very hard, to my detriment.

Properly interpreted, I like the "hard work is what matters" child rearing trend.


The “hard work is what matters” method really falls apart when child can’t meet the expectations of the parent and the parent believes this is due to the child not “working hard”.

I’ve seen this happen to again and again to friends and people in my support group.


You're saying that the parent claims that hard work is what matters, but secretly has other expectations they aren't expressing to their child? Yeah, that definitely sounds like a failure mode to be aware of and avoid.


Well. I was expected to be able to do my homework, get good grades, and not get in trouble in school. I was “smart but didn’t apply myself”.

ADHD wasn’t an excuse to “not try”.

At school I got told I could do these things and just needed to “believe in myself” and I wasn’t trying to do that either.


I honestly don't understand what your comment has to do with what I'm talking about...

Doing homework is not necessary to get good grades - I personally took a lot of pride in optimizing for the smallest amount of homework I could do while still getting good grades - but it is necessary to do homework in order to be working hard at school. (I think not getting in trouble is important but orthogonal to this conversation about whether to value work or outcomes.)

I don't see how valuing hard work is an excuse to "not try" due to ADHD. I think it's the opposite? Trying is the requirement.

I think maybe I don't understand your comment at all. Sorry about that.


ADHD is a syndrome where it is you can't just "work hard". Parents expecting their kid to work hard when the kid can't work hard will make the kid very unhappy.


Thank you for the explanation. That isn't really my understanding of the challenges that ADHD brings, but I don't know much about it and will have to learn more if necessary.

Edit: For instance, is it the case that it is prohibitively difficult for people with ADHD to work hard in the skilled trades? That isn't how I usually think of it, but perhaps I'm wrong.


The biggest hurdle for kids to work hard at is school, ADHD makes that way more challenging/impossible. If the parents expects their kid to work hard at school they will be gravely disappointed with their ADHD kid.

> For instance, is it the case that it is prohibitively difficult for people with ADHD to work hard in the skilled trades? That isn't how I usually think of it, but perhaps I'm wrong.

If it isn't interesting/exciting they wont work hard at it without medication. Think of ADHD as people with more of a cat personality while normal humans are more like dogs. Cats gets distracted easily but hyper focus when they find something fun, while dogs can be taught to behave. Cats don't act that way because they hate you, they are just wired differently than dogs. Same with ADHD people.

Another point about ADHD is that they can work hard at school etc with medication, it isn't an unfixable problem. I grew up never studying, everyone being angry that I didn't do the work I should, teachers being disappointed etc. Then I got a diagnose as an adult and got medication and then suddenly I could work as hard as everyone else and life became 100 times easier. So I went from smart and lazy to smart and hard working, suddenly working hard to learn to code, practice algorithms, get into Google etc became possible while before medication I didn't even believe I could hold a job. So to me ADHD is 100% real, there is no way it can't be.

However it might be a bit over diagnosed, I don't support giving kids pills to stay quiet in a classroom. It isn't like not studying in high school or early college hurt me at all (Except that parents and teachers got angry of course, avoiding that would be the main reason to study harder...).


I think the divergence in where we're attacking this thread comes from this line:

> The biggest hurdle for kids to work hard at is school

You are focusing on school-work, and that is not the primary thing I'm thinking of. I think there are lots of other kinds of hard work kids can, and ideally should be given the opportunity to, practice. Things like sports and music and community participation and outdoor activities (for instance, backpacking/camping and rock climbing are things that are popular where I live and require hard work) and other non-school activities along these lines that require effort. Even something like getting really good at a difficult video game requires hard work. Watching TV and YouTube videos and such doesn't.

As is obvious from this thread, I don't have much expertise in what kinds of things are particularly hard with ADHD, but I suspect there are some kinds of hard work which are compatible and can be encouraged, and I'm definitely not focused solely, or even primarily, on school.

Edit: By the way, I have really appreciated your comments and patience in this thread. I certainly hope I haven't implied I don't think ADHD is "100% real".


Hm, I received the sort of upbringing you’re proposing, and I can definitely see where you’re coming from. However, my personal takeaway from my childhood is that hard work isn’t a virtue in and of itself, and as long as your goals are achieved it doesn’t matter how hard you work or not.

Of course, you could argue my parents didn’t teach me right. I’m pretty comfortable with where I’m at, but if you don’t want your kid to be like me, my outcome might be something to keep in mind :)


Right, this gets philosophical pretty quickly, but I think your personal takeaway from childhood is bad. I think there are more important things in life than meeting the arbitrary expectations of society. And I think a better lesson to take away from childhood is that hard work is valuable and important.

I think that for me (and I suspect for you as well though I wouldn't presume to say for sure), while my outcomes have been good without having internalized a high value for hard work, it could have only been better if I had. It's true that I can get quite far on the power of privilege and intellect alone, but I'm convinced I would get much farther still with a better work ethic. And that's what I'd prefer for my children.


> while my outcomes have been good without having internalized a high value for hard work, it could have only been better if I had

That's fair. For me personally, I feel that even better outcomes are meaningless when my outcomes have been more than good enough already. I wouldn't disparage hard work in the right contexts, but would you say hard work is still valuable and important even when the results of said hard work are not valuable or important?


Yes that's why it gets philosophical, I do think hard work is valuable even if the outcome of that work isn't. I think this is more true of younger people, because building a hard work habit, even through lower value work, is likely to lead to hard work with high value results later in life.


Certainly, it is a philosophical issue at this point, and we could agree to disagree here. But I would note that

> I do think hard work is valuable ... because building a hard work habit ... is likely to lead to hard work with high value results later in life.

It sounds like you still value hard work because it increases the expectation value of future outcomes, and not entirely “just because” you value hard work. And so, maybe we agree somewhat on the philosophical level too, after all :)


Your first ellipsis spans a sentence-ending period, which distorts my meaning. The first sentence stands alone, while the second sentence introduces an additive point. I think hard work is valuable both intrinsically (the point being made in the first sentence), and in service to future outcomes (the point being made in the second sentence). If in other comments I made it seem like I think it is only intrinsically valuable, that was a lack of clarity.


Typical correlation vs. causation problem.

The "rich" attribute their success to high self-esteem, when it is actually the reverse.

If you start with much, of course you will be more confident, as you can take more risk, unlike the poor.

In reality, most of the things we have in life was "given" with "hard work" disguised as our responsibility to make the best with the cards we have been dealt.


What are people supposed to tell you? Useful information would be stuff that's private, like how you get past your current work-related roadblock.

I've been through a bunch of therapy personally and read a lot in the psychology category and the deeper I get, the less I care about any of it. There are very few hurdles in life needing psychological tools. So much of it is a distraction for unsolvable problems. Some people see the targets, some see the obstacles (too often). Free psychological advice is worth it's price.


No one who doesn't believe they can accomplish something ever accomplishes it. Few things in life are certainties. But I know there are many paths for my next action: some which involve self-modification and others which involve world-modification.

In all but few cases, self-modification is the superior strategy. And I find that self-deception gives me the ability to perform self-modification much more easily.

And after all, my objective is success by my own metric. If the parameters of my life are constrained by outside factors, it hardly changes the actions which I take where I have agency. Imagine my objective as ending up in the top right corner of an infinite plane. You say that the universe actually constrains me to the rectangle whose corners are (-500, -500) and (+100, +100). Well, now all my actions to reach the top right corner will now target me into (+100, +100). That is adequate. That will do.

In any case, I'm fairly certain that those who don't work hard and who don't believe in their ability to achieve success (by their own metric) will outcompete in survival metrics all those who don't. If societies choose to overempower the latter, they will eventually be outcompeted by societies that empower the former, c.p.

My limited experience has me fairly convinced about this. But it doesn't matter, because if I'm wrong, I'll be outcompeted in turn.


""‘Believe in yourself and anything is possible’? Nope, it’s just not true."

This is such a great quote. I honestly hate people that spout nonsense like anything is possible if you just believe, and that if you don't, it's that you obviously don't believe enough"

Well, it is the same with, you can do anything if you want it enough. True, but in a tautological way.

You want to levitate, but can't? Clearly you don't want it enough and still have doubts.

So all in all just a quite useless statement.


If you fail, it's not the world that's hard or unfair (it naturally is both), but again it's a personal failing on your part for not trying hard enough

Thing is, if you just strip the part about 'not trying hard enough', this is actually true in quite a lot of cases? Yes the world is hard and unfair, but that doesn't mean people make mistakes for which only they are themselves to blame, that also is completely natural. No not all burden lies on you, but it's perfectly possible a lot of it actually does. Yet, I have a feeling in some circles there's this tendency to always try and blame something or someone else, which is almost living in denial. Maybe I look at things in a different way sometimes because I'm in engineering, were hard problems just lead to mistakes and in most cases it's obviously my mistake so you learn to deal with that. But to give some examples: people getting lawyers to fight teachers which gave bad grades to their children even when it's obvious the children just didn't perform well where the rest of the class did. My neighbour blaming the trees because the leaves fall on his lawn, despite the tree being there already when he moved in. People going to live next to a river and then starting action comitees becasue their basement floods when it rains a lot. Etc. Don't get me worng, I know in a case like the last it can in fact be nuanced and it can be possible there are actually upstream problems, but these are just examples to give a gneral idea of cases which I see where I think 'maybe, just maybe, there really isn't something else to blame and you should just accept it'.


A point in the article is that self esteem as a feeling alone was supposed to fix the problem instead of doing actual work.


Yes, it was classic conflation of cause and effect. The observation was that successful people had high self-esteem. The (wrong) conclusion was that they had the high self-esteem first and that led to their achievements and success.


> "‘Believe in yourself and anything is possible’? Nope, it’s just not true." > > This is such a great quote.

I feel this way about teaching young children "when you grow up, aim to be a professional sports player or a famous magician"

What percentage of people who try to make it in those careers make it? It seems toxic to train children from a young age "try to pull of something that has 0.5% of happening"


And when you continue going down that road, it get's even worse: Not only is the impact an individual has on their success limited, such is the impact on their failure. If you come from a rich family, you are far more likely to succeed, but you are also far more likely to end up in prison, if you come from a poor family.

Not only our economical system is in on the joke - also our justice system.

The problem is, there is no solution to this, we have to overplay an individuals responsibility to get anything done in society.

In German the saying "life is hard, but fair" can be jokingly turned around into "life is hard, but unfair". I feel like a little bit of cynism (the original kind the Greeks invented) can help you to still try your best, even though the system is rigged.


A good thought experiment to determine what people actually think: would they give that as advice to their own children?

Having higher self esteem or a bit more belief that you can do something than is strictly warranted can be advantageous in certain situations, but it has its limits when it encourages people to attempt things they'll fail at. People tend to not do the latter with their own children.

The thought experiment works in many situations: take an online programming course rather than going to college, dropping out of college to start a company is great, sex work is a cool occupation, abortion is murder, smoking weed is cool.


One of the definitions of possible is “that may exist or happen, but that is not certain or probable.”

If you take this as the definition, I do think the saying is accurate. Unfortunately, too many people understand the saying as “believe in yourself and you will definitely succeed”.

Look at it this way, if you don’t believe you can achieve some hard task, then you won’t start it on your own. If you do believe in yourself, you’ll almost certainly start the task. Whether you succeed is a different matter. But if you don’t start, you are guaranteed that you won’t succeed in that particular task.


I agree with your later sentiment, and think I shared the same at the end of my comment.

But sometimes people try to do something that is actually impossible. Like praying away cancer or medical problems, or believing they have magic powers. Sometimes believing you can do something that you can't (or will never happen) is a detriment.

Now let's talk about the "not certain or probable" as I think this is more interesting ground. Sometimes you have to realize that you need to do something differently. If what you want to do isn't probable, then maybe you should look at the problem in a way that has more probable success. I struggle with this all the time at work, sometimes I feel like I'm right on the cusp of a breakthrough or bugfix, and other times it feels hopeless. But that doesn't always mean it is so. Sometimes knowing when to give up is important, as long as you start again. Or maybe you realize it wasn't that important after all, and you should just do something else.

I could believe all I want I need to win the lottery. I could buy a ticket every day and it's not probable I will win, but it's not impossible. And you never know!


Well, believing in yourself isn't enough on its own (and nothing is guaranteed in any case), but believing in yourself IS the first step to succeeding at anything and therefore IS important.


Some of the problem here, imo, is a overly linear view of people and society.

The left broadly assumes that we're all equally capable and that it's just opportunity that's the problem. The right assumes that we're all equally able to achieve if only we would apply ourselves more.

Of course both are equally wrong and right and lots in between.

Some people will get nowhere no matter how much you give them. And some will fail no matter how hard they work.

What amazes me somewhat is that none of these are new problems for humanity, human beings are broadly the same for 1000s of years.


> The left broadly assumes that we're all equally capable and that it's just opportunity that's the problem.

I don't think it matters if we are equally capable. Capability, or at least talent, is just another form of opportunity.


Outcomes are a monotonic function of talent, effort, and luck. One is mildly controllable, one you can control in quantity and quality, and one is out of your hands.


If Stephen Hawking’s dream was to become an Olympic gymnast no amount of work would have made it happen. This is the example I use when people make this claim.


To be fair, when I started to think every day about the life I want to live it slowly started to happen. If I knew what I know now 5 years ago, I would have never believed something like this would be possible and yet here we are. Of course there are limits to anything, for example if you dream to be a commercial pilot and you are 50 now, then that's kind of too late.


> If I knew what I know now 5 years ago, I would have never believed something like this would be possible

The difference between now and then is that now you know it is possible, before you only believed. If you stopped working hard it isn't because you now no longer believe hard work pays off, but because you now no longer care enough to work hard for the rewards you'd get.


I agree with this. I used to tell people “Talent is just understanding and time. Time to practice, to learn, to grow your understanding, to improve your talent”. Naturally, there are folks naturally talented in a skill. Most have to work at it really hard. My take is “you can too if you put in the time”.


"‘Believe in yourself and anything is possible’? Nope, it’s just not true."

Yep I agree fully with that being nonsense. But at least it implies some modicum of responsibility or necessity of action even if it's just "belief".

One I've heard a few times lately (from some people) is stuff like "The universe will provide" "the universe cares about us". That's even more irritating because not only is it nonsense, it implies a complete lack of personal responsibility.


"You are the universe. Provide for yourself."


Nonsense. You aren't the universe.


A small portion of it.


You really need some kind of doublethink here. Believe you can do anything, but make decisions "as if" you couldn't.


> Believe in yourself and anything is possible

This sort of Chicken Soup for the Soul, chessy simplification is indeed not useful and not going to help people who read it gain much at all.

However, as many others have pointed out, the simple fact in this world is that, to be successful, there might be a lot of systematic forces at play, and luck might play a huge role, but those are the things that you as an individual can't control. The only thing you can do as a person is always to improve yourself and strive hard. In that sense, I don't think either "high self-esteem" or "grit" are anything negative at all. Surely they're infinitely better than the contrary which would be "low self-esteem" and "don't work hard"?

I think a more realistic and helpful formulation would be "1. Believe in yourself, but don't expect to succeed magically without great sacrifices. 2. It may well be that luck > systematic barriers > individual effort, but that's irrelevant, since your own effort is the only thing you can control". Then you would be mentally well-prepared for failures but still strive hard regardless.

I agree with a comment that in terms of thinking about public policies, it's debatable whether too strong an emphasis on bootstrapping is a good thing. But that shouldn't be confused with teaching individuals work ethics. Those two can be viewed separately. You may not succeed with strong self-belief and a lot of efforts, but you will definitely fail with an overly cynical outlook and no efforts. It's not that complicated.

Maybe what this whole discussion reveals more is that, when a huge amount of people in a country deeply doubt meritocracy or self-made success, there must be some deep, entrenched systematic problems with the country, which may well be in decline in a lot of ways (when a country is growing and a lot of opportunities are open, the ethos would be well different). But still, as mentioned above, this doesn't change much the way in which one should perceive and approach their individual behaviors when they want to succeed.

---

P.S.: As a side note. The highest-rated visual novel of all time, Muv-Luv Alternative https://vndb.org/v92, explores this topic really well. And I just read this post recently, which summarized some aspects of the idea perfectly: https://www.reddit.com/r/JordanPeterson/comments/7mczwb/at_4...


If you read the right news, nothing is possible. You seem to be on the right track.


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Hey, could you please stop breaking the site guidelines? You've unfortunately been doing it a lot lately, and we're trying for something different in this community.

If you wouldn't mind reviewing https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html and taking the intended spirit to heart, we'd be grateful.


It's like the term 'PPE', (personal protective equipment). It's a weaselly term that turns the idea of safety back on you.

I was confused the first time I heard the term PPE. To me they are masks, goggles, gloves., etc... But then again I read the safety sheets and don't care about slimly invented terms.


Don't take this the wrong way but, are you young?

I used to have the same perspective, used to scoff at religion, ritual, blind beliefs, etc.

The truth is, I don't think they're meant to be taken literally. When someone says "Just believe in yourself and anything is possible", they don't actually believe that ANYTHING is possible.

Phrases like that provide a framework for people to live their life by. Religion is the same thing. These are psychological tools that can be used, to help keep yourself on the right path - One of happiness, productivity, etc.

Anyways, just another way to look at it I guess rather than dismissing them. I have that initial reaction too.


Having adopted a lot of quasi Buddhist frames in recent years, I increasingly look in askance at the self esteem framework.

A friend was going through a crisis of confidence in their professional life, and was basically saying, I think I’m not a good psychologist, and the fact that I “wasted” 10 years training for this makes me want to kill myself.

Their buddhist teacher (In practice, a therapist, and also by education the teacher is literally a therapist) responded: so what if you’re not good at being a psychologist? What if it’s true? Isn’t it better to know?

Being emotionally invested in our specialness/abilities/whatever is a trap, because we’re not special, we all have deep limitations in our capabilities. Whatever you’re the best at: there are people better than you. There are people who are probably better than you at every single thing you do. So what? Part of the Sunday chanting service: “let us overcome the inferiority complex, the superiority complex, and the equality complex.”

None of which is to say we shouldn’t treat ourselves lovingly and with compassion. We definitely should, and it takes a lot of work and growth to do that, and pretending we’re not limited is a false solution.


> so what if you’re not good at being a psychologist? What if it’s true? Isn’t it better to know?

Isn’t there a saying, “ignorance is bliss


Not always for the other folks involved.


Indeed. If you're genuinely a bad therapist, but fool yourself into thinking that's not the case, then doesn't that mean you could end up worsening a bunch of people's lives? It depends on exactly what "bad" means—if it's "takes longer to help narrow down the causes of someone's problems", then that's probably not too bad, but if it's "subtly but consistently exacerbates one's patients' problems" or "recommends hallucinogenic drugs to patients with a family history of schizophrenia" (I've heard this is likely to trigger permanent issues; some googling gives conflicted but mostly supporting results), then you could really mess people up.

And if you know what your flaws are, then you can usually limit their impact. (For example, if you know you're bad at figuring out the right thing to recommend—either due to not knowing the field or being bad at learning about the patient's traits or situational details that make some approaches good and others inappropriate—then you could make fewer recommendations and/or couch them with more of the "here are a few possibilities that come to mind, I don't know which if any might work well, if you do try them pay careful attention and reevaluate" than you otherwise would; or consult better therapists and/or refer patients to them more often.) That may translate directly into becoming a "better" therapist, I guess, although you may still not be "good".


Any book recommendations? I’ve been meditating with apps like calm for a few years. I’ve gotten a lot from breathing meditations, but feel like I’m only scratching the surface.


Yeah! Breathing meditations are definitely the right place to start, but there’s really rich stuff after that.

You can kind of view Buddhism as a three step process: the breathing/physical meditation techniques are for learning to direct your attention, and calm yourself down enough that you can pay attention to bodily sensations/your feelings. The next is getting acquainted with your patterns, identity the maladaptive bits, and use various meditations to train your mind into different patterns. The final phase is the more woo-sounding stuff about ego death and no self, and I don’t pretend to have a handle on it.

Some great introductory books: “Radical Acceptance” by Tara Brach, which is pretty much anti-self esteem. This was personally the most useful to me.

“Peace is Every Step” by Thich Naht Hanh is a great intro, too, followed by “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings.” If you want something that is minimal woo, “Buddhism Without Belief” is pretty great.

Also, the center I’m peripherally involved in is The Florida Community of Mindfulness, based in Tampa. They’ve moved all of their programming to zoom since the pandemic. Practicing meditation with other people is probably the most useful thing you can do. No doubt there are other centers near you, and it might make sense to invest in them, but might be worth watching a couple of saved dharma talks, or tuning into a Sunday service (10am EST). The teacher at FCM, Fred Epsteiner, is very well regarded, though. Tbh I get kind of triggered by older white dudes giving me advice, but lots of people like him. :)


"let us overcome the inferiority complex, the superiority complex, and the equality complex"

This is a lot easier to do if we're alone on a desert island or in a cave on a mountain top. Even then, most of us have a lifetime of baggage to let go of, as we've been taught to idealize superachievers and geniuses, and despise underachievers and mediocrity from an early age.

I'm reminded of the start of one of my favorite Hardcore History episodes -- the first of the Death Throes of the Republic series[1]:

I want you to think back to the house you grew up in as a child. I want you to picture a room in that house that didn't exist. I want you to pretend it did, and the whole time you were a young child, growing up in to your adolescence and until you leave home you're aware of this room in the house.

The room has faces on the wall, dead people's faces -- the faces of dead people who were related to you. The faces are made of wax, and they were made immediately upon death of the individual whose face it was.

The wax was put on the face and, like a modern version of a wax museum, an accurate representation of your dead ancestor's dead face was made and was put on your wall connected by a painted line to his ancestor, your even earlier ancestor whose wax face made after death is also on the wall, and that is connected by another line to his ancestor whose wax mask is there as well.

These may have been full color versions of these ancestors of yours and their names were there and from your very earliest childhood memory you're aware of this room, and you are aware of who these people are and you are aware of what they did. It's sort of freaky, though, isn't it? Now you know how Julius Caesar felt growing up.

Now I remember being terrified by paintings -- completely innocuous paintings -- in my house when I was a child, and I know my children get freaked out at the slightest thing like that, but to Julius Caesar and people like him this "ancestor room" as it's sometimes called, had a profound effect on firing their ambition.

The ancient historian Sallust said that the Romans described their children's spirits as blazing like flames when they would look at the sight. The ancient historian Polybius said, "It would be hard to imagine a more impressive scene for a youth who aspires to win fame and practice virtue."

To these people who spent time amongst the Romans or who were Roman themselves, they thought this was a good way to create in your young people this desire for achievement which was the hallmark of Roman society during this time period...

[1] - https://www.dancarlin.com/product/hardcore-history-death-thr...


>we've been taught to idealize superachievers and geniuses, and despise underachievers and mediocrity from an early age.

Who taught you that?


Not the person you replied to, but it is pretty pervasive in popular (US) culture. People like Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, Beethoven, Isaac Newton, etc are lionized. Countless books are written about them and their accomplishments; they are held up as examples of the ultimate in success.

Meanwhile, people who play video games, stoners, adults who live with their parents, people who work at convenience stores for minimum wage, etc, are mocked with snide jokes on TV and in movies and internet memes. "Johnny, you need to do well at school and go to a good college or you'll end up like him!" as dad points to the janitor.


From the article:

> The logic was simple: If low self-esteem is tied to so many maladaptive responses, to so many forms of underachievement and bad behavior, then surely raising kids’ (and other’s) self-esteem could bring with it untold benefits.

It’s interesting to watch this same logic play out again in the software world under a new name. This time, we’re not increasing self-esteem, we’re attacking “impostor syndrome”.

In both cases the underlying association between feelings of low self-esteem or impostor syndrome and underperformance can be very real. Correcting low self-esteem or impostor syndrome can provide very real benefits. I’m not suggesting that either condition isn’t real.

However, in both cases the popular literature tends to assume that low self-esteem or imposter syndrome are conditions which occur independent of ability or skill level. Instead of teaching people how to teach themselves the skills they need and develop accurate and honest self-assessment techniques, we’ve skipped past the difficult work and simply tried to instill confidence in people. Imposter syndrome literature takes this a step further by implying that no one knows what they’re doing, that everyone is equally bad, and that there are no adults in the room. The goal isn’t just to lift people up, it’s to mentally bring everyone else down.

In both cases the intentions are good, but the end results are mixed. Some times, being able to honestly self-evaluate and accept that one needs to make some improvements is more valuable than short-term soothing of the ego. Obviously it’s not good if people are paralyzed by imposter syndrome or feelings of perpetual inadequacy, but it’s also not good if we try to offset those feelings with arbitrary ego boosts and misleading ideas that everyone is equally incompetent. Instead, we should be giving people skills to accurately self-assess without tying current abilities to their self-worth. Trajectory is more important over the long term, but ironically some of the imposter syndrome literature tends to reduce learning trajectory by telling people that they already have all of the abilities they need to be successful.

It’s a tricky situation. Interesting to read this article and see that it’s hardly a new issue in society.


There's an element of class consciousness because low-confidence tends to be the outcome of an impoverished and unprivileged upbringing.

Compare with an upper class upbringing which tends to come with a sense of confidence and entitlement. Reality often responds accordingly.

Generally we seem bad at noticing and rewarding genuine competence and much better at noticing and rewarding confidence, even if it's wildly unrealistic. And even if it comes with a spectacular record of failure or obvious evidence of limited integrity.

So imposter syndrome may not be so much about an unrealistically low feeling of competence, but about not having internalised the performative social signifiers of confidence - to the point where someone can navigate them without having to second-guess them consciously.

In other words there are two different games being played, and being good at something is only one of them.


> Compare with an upper class upbringing which tends to come with a sense of confidence and entitlement.

> So imposter syndrome may not be so much about an unrealistically low feeling of competence, but about not having internalized the performance social signifies of confidence.

Well... I don't know if imposter syndrome is so black and white. All I have is anecdata; I grew up upper middle class, went to some great schools, and held some really wonderful jobs (especially my current job, which is my dream!) - but each day I wonder if today is the day they realize just how little value I bring to the team. The frameworks I've built always need some kind of improvement and when my coworkers look at code, they just debug it in their minds almost instantly. Me? I need to manually step through the debugger with most of the bugs I work on. Management will discuss new features with our team and I'm still trying to figure out fixing the technical debt from the last feature. I've held this job for quite a while so I guess I'm doing something right but holy cow there's no way I'm in the same tier as my coworkers.

I dunno, I'm not saying that I disagree, all I'm really saying is I think there could be more that goes into imposter syndrome than class upbringing. It's a dissonance of knowledge and belief: I know I bring value, but I sure don't believe that I do.


And trying to make you feel that you are as good at debugging as your peers seems like the wrong path. Know and appreciate the value that you DO being to the table. That's really ask there is to it. All the impostor syndrome stuff is just overcorrection in trying to find that essential balance.


> when my coworkers look at code, they just debug it in their minds almost instantly

Woah back up, this is a good thing.

Easy to understand good is better. Writing code in a simple way means that the next person having to go back and fix bugs / etc won't have as many issues.


No one said it was a negative thing...


Fully agree. I believe this is also one reason why it's so difficult for successful managers to get honest feedback. Over time, they become more confident, which makes their (sometimes faulty) statements much more convincing.


It's a bit tricky, as the "privileged upbringing" also often involves heightened expectations of confidence (part of entitlement) and most of the life, especially early, is within a peer group who have similar privilege or lack of it. What would be an achievement for a less privileged family would be expected as table stakes for a more privileged one - you won't be compared (and won't compare yourself) with people who succeeded despite all the hurdles, the comparison is against what other people with similar (or more) privilege did by exploiting every advantage they had. So this creates a systematic exaggeration of your confidence and competence combined with the fact that you're always seeing everyone else's exaggerated competence and entitlement so that your actual competence does not compare favorably.

Such a situation can easily lead towards imposter syndrome and low actual confidence combined with a faked posture of high confidence - even if actual competence is expected to be good compared to poorer classes as socioeconomic status does (on average) lead to better skills due to better opportunities and other aspects.


> However, in both cases the popular literature tends to assume that low self-esteem or imposter syndrome are conditions which occur independent of ability or skill level. Instead of teaching people how to teach themselves the skills they need and develop accurate and honest self-assessment techniques

This assumes that low self-esteem (and consequently impostor syndrome) are logical esteem issues - in other words, one learns to perform the correct calculations, and the problem is solved.

I believe low self-esteem problems are emotional in nature, and there's no amount of correct calculations that can solve that. There is an associated phenomenon indeed - the bucket with a hole; if somebody has low self-esteem, no matter how they fill the bucket, the bucket will never be full.

I agree that there is a reinforcement cycle with increase of skills, and that there is a component of "self-medication" that one can apply, but in general, I believe that low self-esteem has different causes, and is better handled by qualified professionals.

> The end result of all this was an increasingly massive cottage industry devoted to self-esteem

This in my opinion is a problem inside the problem: mainstream, unqualified, gurus are damaging, as they divert attention from qualified therapy.


> "Imposter syndrome literature takes this a step further by implying that no one knows what they’re doing, that everyone is equally bad, and that there are no adults in the room."

This also breeds distrust of expertise and anti-intellectualism. After all, they've been taught that everybody's equally bad so those experts signaling that their skills/knowledge are not up to snuff are clearly doing so for ulterior motives such as "gatekeeping" or for their own financial or other gain.


I mean, there are no adults in the room. It just very few. That is definitely true. That was one of revelations I had as I got closer to rooms that make decisions.

And the other part turned out to be true multiple times in my life. I thought how much better those people are and when I got close, they were good, but normally good and were clueless a lot.


Expertise is just experience. Which only applies in situations which you have seen before.

Or put another way: that one is a good plumber does not mean one is a good heart surgeon. Yet for some reason we assume that is the case in intellectual pursuits because we don't see the stuff ideas are made of.


>Imposter syndrome literature takes this a step further by implying that no one knows what they’re doing, that everyone is equally bad, and that there are no adults in the room. The goal isn’t just to lift people up, it’s to mentally bring everyone else down.

It may seem like that at first, but carry it to the logical conclusion. Assuming one does have imposter syndrome and isn't just incompetent:

1. Other people in your field are not as highly skilled or immune from mistakes as you think

2. You are not as far below them as you think

3. Their amazing accomplishments, which had convinced you of their inhuman skill and your incompetence, are still amazing. And how can you call somebody who achieves amazing things incompetent?

4. So, if there's less distance between you and them than you thought, the only explanation is that you're not as incompetent as you thought.

>Instead, we should be giving people skills to accurately self-assess without tying current abilities to their self-worth

Is it any better to tie self-worth to future abilities? I'm not saying it's a bad idea, but it might just be delaying the problem.


I feel like this misses the point of literature specifically on imposter syndrome. It’s not “other people are incompetent too” it’s that you categorically overestimate the abilities and accomplishments of others and underestimate your own. And then to realize that you aren’t alone and other people experience the same feelings you do.

The whole point is to end up where you’re seeing everyone as they are.


I think there are a couple of things going on that lead to the situation you describe:

One, there is a very strong ethos in our culture that the only thing that matters for results is effort. We want to believe that we are in control of our own destiny, and that everyone can each any level of success if they choose to exert the required effort. Any lack of success is tied to a lack of effort (or, occasionally, people will say the lack of success is caused by misapplied effort)... in both cases, the implication is that any person just needs to make the right series of choices to achieve any level of success that is possible.

The second thing is that even if we realize that some people won't be able to achieve at a certain level, it is probably still a good idea to act as if they can. Someone who thinks they can achieve something but can't will end up in the same place regardless of that belief, but someone who actually can achieve something will have a different outcome if they believe they can instead of can't.


> Imposter syndrome literature takes this a step further by implying that no one knows what they’re doing, that everyone is equally bad, and that there are no adults in the room

Could you please provide an example book, I'd like to check that out. Thanks!


Well said.

I would like to add one aspect, which is that if everyone is equally amazing, there isn't much that you can do to improve your situation in life. In a sense, it can be empowering if you know that your job situation is bad because you didn't pay attention in school, because that also means that there is an obvious fix.


Ctrl+F "spirit level", "anxiety", "social status", "social evaluative threat" = 0 results

I feel like you cannot really discuss the "self-esteem craze" without the larger underlying societal forces at play. When psychologists observe high self-esteem scores you roughly notice two categories of people:

1. a healthier kind linked to positive outcomes: it centers on a fairly well-founded sense of confidence, with a reasonably accurate view of one's strengths in different situations and an ability to recognize one’s weaknesses.

2. an unhealthy, insecure narcissism: it is primarily defensive and involved a denial of weaknesses, i.e. an internal attempt to talk oneself up and maintain a positive sense of oneself in the face of threats to self-esteem.

At the same as we saw a rise in self-esteem scores, we see a surge in anxiety and depression. This apparent paradox is solved by considering that the second kind and the rise in anxiety are linked to an increase in social evaluative threat: threats which created the possibility for loss of social esteem. They are the main source of stress in experiments since they are closely linked to the primary sources of stress in modern society: low social status, lack of friends, and stress during one's early life.

In short, our social status is closely linked to how we define our worth and how much we are valued. In our increasingly-mobile world where we do not have settled communities but are surrounded by strangers, our social status becomes even more important. The greater the social status differentials in our society, the bigger the potential social evaluative threat.

Hence, greater inequality seems to heighten people’s social evaluation anxieties by increasing the importance of social status. And our society has only become more unequal.

This is one of the reasons why higher social inequality among rich nations is so closely linked to a range of health and social problems and is uncorrelated to the average income among those rich nations.

This is discussed much more cogently in The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett.


I was thinking recently about how this term had disappeared at some point. It's a very interesting history, but I think some of the conclusions drawn are overly negative.

- They’re all very individualistic, they’re all very self-focused, they’re also all delusional. ‘Believe in yourself and anything is possible’? Nope, it’s just not true.

I could be wrong, but I don't think anyone literally believed that. You're not qualified to be CEO because you love yourself, but you're also unlikely to achieve anything with no confidence. It seems to me that we just talk about taking care of mental health instead now. Similar ideas, just a different angle.


Confidence is repeated domain specific success, the saying goes.


It is not necessary. Confidence issues are unrelated to actual success.

Confidence makes big difference in initial willingness to try something new and in ability to persist after failure. People with low confidence don't try harder things and give up after failures.

And in many areas, confidence brings success. Even in tech people judge you on confidence a lot, and other professions are even more subjective.


Sure, however backing up a bit and going a bit pseudoscience, let’s think about it evolutionarily.

If you’re a young confident fella who thinks he’s got a great lion fighting strategy but no experience you end up not existing. The lack of confidence is not a problem it’s a feature; it saves us in the long run against risks.

I have zero proof that high confidence people are more or less (or the same) able or capable than the general population.

But the point is deep down anyone “judging” you can eventually substantively evaluate your credentials/capability. It’s not a good long term strategy to be a high confidence shill / hype person. Probably better to work on being more technically competent. Now if you happen to have a personality issue / disorder that causes excess shyness, sure go fix that. But confidence in itself, imho, is an overhyped tactic in American life.


Funny to see it mentioned in the article: I remember my middle school English teacher coming back from a continuing education course and saying she would no longer grade us in red ink, because studies showed red ink felt more critical and hurt students' self-esteem, which in turn made them less receptive to learning.

The data matches my intuition, as I've certainly seen the tendency to shut down in the face of criticism in myself, but I'm inclined to believe learning to cope with red ink is just as important a life skill as whatever we were learning in 7th grade English.

Self-esteem is positive, but achieving it by shielding kids from criticism in order to maintain a fragile fiction of how perfect and special they are is harmful. It's the ones who have good self-esteem even after seeing their mistakes circled in red who are best prepared for life.


It seems to me that self-esteem does have value. Telling yourself you're useless, stupid, etc. eventually becomes self-fulfilling. So why not try to maintain a positive self-view?

That being said, what's seems to have gone wrong is how to build self-esteem. It's simply not a gift given to you by others, or even yourself. Instead, it's something that is earned. It's a muscle that when exercised develops depth and breadth over time. Put another way, you don't develop self-esteem by avoiding adversity; or canceling anything remotely uncomfortable.

You build proper self-esteem by facing the darkness, not closing your eyes and pretending the lights are on. Self-esteem isn't something that's said, it's something you do. Like anything of value you have to put in the work, you have to put in the time. There are no shortcuts.


This is similar in theme to the article about frequent feedback that was posted here a few days ago.

On some level there's a choice between experiencing and growing from your failures, or being shielded from recognizing failure in the first place.

The second one "feels" better until someone comes along and eats you in your weakness.

The thing I am curious about is how this will play out in America. Meaning will weak americans just fade away as the strong ones accumulate skills, wealth and family? Or is weakness so permitted that we will be taken over externally?

The former will be a good cultural and physical rejuvenation for the republic. The second a disaster.


Spent the week with my 20 months old niece and quickly taught her a new word: "almost." She used to say "uh oh" when she failed at a task, or would ask for help. Instead of praising her for at least trying the task, i would say "almost" and soon I saw her saying this to herself, and it seemed to encourage her to try again until she succeeded.

I'm not a parent so I have no idea if this is good or not.

But it strikes me that there is more to giving feedback than just quantity of it, or positive/negative. "Almost" introduces another dimension, and potentially activates a different set of motivating emotions as well.


I believe what you are describing would be part of what people call a growth mindset where there is not really a fixed point of completion.

So a statement like, “Wow, you are good at reading!” might become “Wow, you are getting so much better at sounding out those really tricky words!”.

The first statement is more self-esteem building where the second is more highlighting an area where growth has happened and can continue to happen.

To me the first also feels quite lazy and anecdotally speaking from my kids, they really like when I actually pay attention and give feedback on specifics of what they are working on.


I love this comment, and while I don't have kids, small kids seem to like me, and I seem to get along well with them. I love the using almost, and of course it's probably also a tone of voice and also showing attention. But I do the same thing with words, giving praise like "so close" or "try it again" with excitement. I also like framing things like games or adventures.


"weak Americans fading away will be a good cultural and physical rejuvenation for the republic" Seriously? What exactly constitutes a "weak" American. Do you consider this some inherent generic property or do you recognize the socioeconomic/environmental circumstances that greatly constrain how most of downtrodden America developed and continue to live. What do you mean by "fade away"?


>> Seriously? What exactly constitutes a "weak" American ... What do you mean by "fade away"?

By "weak" I mean ones with poor reading comprehension :) J/K - I think it should be clear from the previous paragraph that I am making a contrast with those who can handle perceiving and learning from failure and those who can't.

On a relative level - two kids go to the same school. They get the same math homework. The first kid gets it wrong but it's told it's fine. The second kid gets it wrong too, but he's told that he got it wrong and feels bad about it but also learns to get it right.

Compounded over a lifetime, person B learns and accumulated strength and capability relative to person A, with person A having relatively less wealth and power. That's what I mean by weakness and fading. Remember, kid B didn't start off with more wealth and opportunity, he was just not shielded from painful learning in the name of self esteem.

>> do you recognize the socioeconomic/environmental circumstances that greatly constrain how most of downtrodden America developed and continue to live

This is a different topic (I intentionally constrain my example to people who start off on the same rung) and not relevant to the point I am making.

But personally - as someone who came to the US as a penny-less immigrant (as did most of my current friends and family) - I refuse to "recognize" that and in fact attribute our relative success in this country to not thinking that way.


Self esteem is attacking the is-vs-ought problem. Sure, in the cold, social Darwin paradigm, those without ability have no worth - but this is not how things SHOULD be.

I think it’s important for people to know that they have value, regardless of their abilities. This doesn’t mean that people should not be encouraged to succeed. I think self esteem and achievement can go hand in hand. For me personally, I think believing that I was special helped motivate me to achieve more! After all, If you’re not special, what chance do you have competing against the other 7billion people in the world?

Anecdotally, I was raised by two very people-self esteem parents, and have become fairly successful compared to my peer group. I also remember the first time I heard someone say that self esteem was bad. It came from the evangelical, objectivist parents of a kid I knew in early high school. That kid ended up failing college and getting addicted to opioids.



Self-esteem is a good thing to have, lacking it is not. Every psychologist will tell you that. Making it an industry or government target is bad but inevitable. Let's move on


Who can dis Mr Rogers but did he contribute by telling me that I was special? What I have learned since then is that I am not, or at least not to anyone except a select few people in my life. I feel like the more I have felt this way the more successful I’ve been, because I know that most people aren’t really paying attention to me, and I can pursue what makes me happy in my personal and professional life.


I think the message of Mister Rogers is that you are special and valuable just the way you are and not that your specialness means you can achieve anything. Perceived success or lack thereof is independent of a human being's innate value. To me, the message is not "you can do anything". Instead, it takes the element of success out of the equation.

However, this attitude could help someone become successful as it removes the notion that one is inherently inferior and can help one feel that bouncing back when things go wrong is possible.


I agree; I also think saying, "I'm special (read: unique), and everyone else is too," isn't necessarily contradictory or incorrect. It doesn't make you better or more special (or unique) than other people, but it helps you realize that what works for others may not always work for you, and vice versa, and that's okay. It's important when dealing with others and oneself to remember that everyone's different, and different isn't bad.


IMO, Mr. Rogers message was "be yourself, regardless of circumstance". Self-esteem is more like "tell yourself you are great and powerful, regardless of circumstance".


Reminds me of this: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/the-men-w...

I think a lot of kids grew up being told they're special, then grew up to realize they're not beautiful and unique snowflakes. "Flight Club" the book might have been a response to the self esteem movement, but the movie landed at the right time for kids who grew up being told they're special, but now feel ennui, to find it.


I always thought that Fight Club was more for the "bored" generation, but may self-esteem is part of that.


Is it a craze? Or is it fashion? Today it's jeans with cuts on the knees, tomorrow it's polkadots. Yesterday it was self esteem, today it is he/him, she/her.

I like trends. I enjoy fashion. There are many trends to choose from. Delightful.

Self esteem was innocuous light reading that soothed my teenage and young adult anxiety. I found it beneficial at the time.


Not sure what's the point of attacking self-esteem as a general concept. Perhaps there's some valid criticism of policies aimed at boosting it.

But the article is trying to convince us we shouldn't want to feel good about ourselves because a random study here and there didn't show a desirable correlation.

If a study shows happiness doesn't make you rich should you stop being happy?

It's a story of how most psychological research struggles with major epistemological issues.


I seems to me that the thing with self-esteem is much like with money. Happy, confident people do have self-esteem but trying to increase self-esteem doesn't mean one becomes happy and confident - much like wealthy people have money but merely giving the same amount of money to someone doesn't make that person wealthy. Wealth, like happiness and confidence, comes from another place and money, like self-esteem, is just the signal of how it shows up.


My understanding was that self esteem is actually just the opposite of what it is usually purported - it is how you view how the rest of society views you and your role in it. If that is true, just telling someone "you're special" isn't enough - you actually have to be special and be recognized and respected for it. It's about as useful as telling a person "you're tall" regardless of their height.


Everybody has the potential to be 'somebody', but we all need help getting there. Some of my greatest successes as a taxi driver involved helping people with low self-esteem. Two of my passengers, whom I'm still in contact with, come to mind...

One was quiet, and just provided directions. "Right, right, right, left (into a parking lot)..." Oh, we're going to the drive-through liquor store. After she bought her vodka and cigarettes she said to take her back to her apartment.

"Do you have any food in your apartment?" Alcoholics are always malnourished. She did not, so I stopped the taxi meter and detoured to McDonald's. I called her back a few times, and detected a hint of hope in her voice: "someone cares about me". She found my card a few months later, and I learned more about her story. The state had tried to help her with her prescription-exacerbated drinking problem by sending her to minimum-security prison for 2 years (3rd DUI). She'd tried to stay sober upon release, but life happened and she still didn't know how to cope. After her taxi ride, she drunk-called her good friend, who called her youngest son with instructions: "GO SOBER UP YOUR MOTHER." I eventually told her daughter that her mother needed to feel safe to finish her recovery. She lived with that daughter for a while, then moved to a couch at her son's. Now she has a room at her son's house, and is doing quite well for herself.

I got crucified trying to protect another passenger from do-gooders. She's doing well now, no thanks to the professionals who mis-categorized her as a hopeless drug addict. She found that she's good at something, and is developing her skills to help herself and others.

On a submission about the 1% rule I commented: "We're all in our little alcoves of the human experience, trying the best we can to make the most of the situation we find ourselves in. For most of us, no matter how good we are at something, there are probably 100-million other people just as good as you.

"The 1% rule reflects this reality: every snowflake is unique, but individual snowflakes are not special." [0]

[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=22623162

Most people are not special snowflakes, but we never know which child will turn out to be someone significant, and who will turn out to be just regular someones.

Everyone has the potential to be someone important to someone else. My former-alcoholic passenger (above) calls semi-regularly with updates about her family drama. She is now an asset ("grandma") to her family, rather than the hopeless drunk I took to the liquor store almost 8 years ago. She recently got her drivers license reinstated, contributes by watching her grandkids and (now) driving people around, and is appreciated by her family.

I'm invited to her daughter's Christmas party in a few weeks. They're rather well-to-do, but I didn't know that when I took a few minutes out of my day to pay attention to my nobody-passenger.

Very few of us will turn out to be special snowflakes, but everyone has the capacity to become someone significant to the other people in our lives. I think this is the true essence of what this submission calls the "self-esteem craze".


> Everybody has the potential to be 'somebody', but we all need help getting there.

That's utter garbage. You fail to define the mesure to be "somebody" as well as the acceptable amount of "help" to invest into someone to reach that undefined goal.

FWIW, I'm perfectly fine, in the grand scheme of things, to be a nobody and certainly wouldn't want it any other way.


I always thought self-esteem comes from a feeling of empowerment. The most we can do in this effort is do our best to match kids with their innate talents and help develop them.

https://www.edge.org/response-detail/10144


Kind of related: Wussification of America: https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/12/the-wus...


An overexaggerated sense of high self-esteem is a defining characteristic of American culture. It was here way before the 1980s. I would say the delusion has its roots from the Puritan Calvinist pilgrims who thought that God has a plan for you and its predestined. Of course this notion would get further warped to, if you just believe you can and put in the effort, you will.

In the US we love this stuff. We feel we can just will things into happening. Through the sheer force of will problems will just get solved. Unfortunately this behavior comes at the expense of just dealing with the issues in meaningful ways. We just pick elected officials who make claims that they can just solve hard problems without evidence.

We need to come to grips with the idea that success or failure is all really chance. You are no better than the beggar on the street; you just have more luck. You don't really deserve anything. We need to learn to be generous, virtuous and pay it forward so we need not rely on an inflated sense of self-esteem to get out of bed in the morning.


The part you're missing of the Puritan (Calvinist) theology though is that we're all sinners deserving only of condemnation with nothing deserving or redeemable in ourselves, but God chose to show us mercy and redeem us anyway. Not all puritans were Calvinist but if you're mentioning predestination, it kind of bears to reason that that group were.

I kind of get what you're saying...but if its based in Puritanism, it's probably a perverted form of it

I actually attribute the origins to the New Age movement (rooted and perverted from Hinduism) and the power of positive thinking that resulted of it during the 70s. Essentially if you believe in something hard enough then it can become true


> Essentially if you believe in something hard enough then it can become true

a.k.a "magical thinking" iirc


I wonder if this is why American students are much more reluctant to pick STEM degrees than other equivalent countries? Like, they can't handle any setbacks hurting their self-esteem so they pick a simpler major instead of pushing through. Like, "I didn't really fail that calculus class, I just didn't want to study it so I choose a business major instead!".


Extra shiny stars if you know the 300 million USD secret... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Secret_(2006_film) Koosh! you're special!


This brings to mind one of my favorite essays on good science.

"Warning Signs in Experimental Design and Interpretation" by Peter Norvig —

https://norvig.com/experiment-design.html


"Failure is not an option".

I have heard that from so many bosses at various levels. Make me want to face palm every time.

Of course it is an option. Might even be the most likely outcome.

It does not inspire me work harder at all.

If failure really is not an option then the outcome is set no matter what I do.


Different forms of individualism, be it self esteem promotion or perseverance promotion, are still individualism. It’s so rare to work in isolation in the real world, so why are collaboration, support and reliance not seen as more important?


How the "How the self-esteem craze took over America" craze took over HN.

"Number Six: Where am I? Number Two (not identified as yet): In the village. Six: What do you want? Two: Information. Six: Whose side are you on? Two: That would be telling. We want information...information... information!!! Six: You won't get it! Two: By hook or by crook, we will. Six: Who are you? Two: The new Number Two. Six: Who is Number One? Two: You are Number Six. Six (running on the Village's beach): I am not a number; I am a free man!!! Two: [Laughter]"


It’s good, healthy and all, but knowledge-intensive endeavors still need a bit more than self-esteem and can-do attitude?


"‘Believe in yourself and anything is possible’? Nope, it’s just not true."

Some things require an inherent talent.

No matter how much I practice painting, I will never be good at it. I don't have a talent for it.

Same goes for things like music and writing , evidenced by the sheer amount of crap music and books out there.

Talent is not skill, and skill is not talent.


You can never win the lottery if you don’t play.


I always thought this started with Nathaniel Branden's work on self-esteem [1] in the late 60's parallel to Ayn Rand's work. The impact of both these individuals' ideas on the path America subsequently took is hard to accurately estimate, but it's probably not incorrect to say that it was significant. Both were fierce individualists and opposed anything that even smelled of collectivism on moral (rather than utilitarian) grounds.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Psychology_of_Self-Esteem


It sounds to me as though Brandon's idea of self-esteem is a bit different than how most people think of it today. Rather than a nebulous, unsupported good feeling about oneself, his was closer to what we might think of as self-confidence supported by cultivated personal integrity. That's from someone who has read about his book but not read it, however.


I read his book a few times and it’s very weird. His work is not the modern interpretation. It feels purer but also much less helpful. It won’t encourage you to start a get rich quick blog and sell memberships to others, for one.


Self esteem isn't confidence. A lot of this seems to be borne out of the misunderstanding of what self esteem actually is. I remember this whole craze, I grew up in the thick of it. One thing the "preachers" utterly failed at is understanding and thus communicating what it even means to have self esteem.

Then one day I came across this most profoundly enlightening article about a commentary on self esteem by the one and only Bruce Lee https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/12/18/bruce-lee-artist-of...

What does it mean to hold someone else in high esteem? One could argue it means you respect their opinion or their actions, and then they can serve as a role model, a source of validation.

So therefore self esteem is the critical ability to derive validation in your actions from your self.

Self esteem is NOT just believing you can do something or be great or whatever. That's confidence. That's got nothing to do with self esteem at all.

What self esteem comes down to is deriving direction, right from wrong, validation, etc. from one's self. This is so important, because, if you derive validation through pride in reflection of others then you become a slave to those others.

This is what self esteem is about and why it's so critical. The craze lost the view. But the core message is still true today.

Lee also recognizes the challenge in cultivating self esteem, that it requires constant effort. It's not simply about "believing it so therefore it's true" like so many self esteem preachers would have had you believe during the craze. It's a challenge and it's an ongoing effort, like any other kind of hygiene.

It's common to suggest people think for themselves. This is impossible without cultivated self-esteem. I would argue that a huge number of people today suffer due to a lack of self esteem. The personality cults that we see destroying society today can arguably be enabled by looking to others for validation instead ourselves. It's a drug. It's far too easy to find outside validation now. Self esteem is enabling, yes, but it's also grounding. It's too easy to believe lies if you fail to ground your validation of action and thought in something more constant than the fleeting voices of strangers on the internet.

TL; DR: Self esteem is not about confidence in your abilities (or the idea you can do something because you believe you can), it's about recognizing yourself as a legitimate (perhaps the most legitimate) source of validation of your actions and choices instead of deriving validation only from others and thus self-esteem is how you avoid becoming a slave to the judgement of others. It requires constant maintenance.

The "craze" definitely failed to understand and communicate this.


Baumeister and his colleagues didn’t come down particularly hard on the psychologists and others who had contributed to the self-esteem craze. “Was it reasonable to start boosting self-esteem before all the data were in?” they wrote in one of the papers. “Perhaps. We recognize that many practitioners and applied psychologists must deal with problems before all the relevant research can be conducted.” This is, in fact, a common occurrence in social science: You have a handful of papers pointing to a correlation that could have important real-world ramifications, assuming certain things are true. But it takes a while to determine whether those certain other things are true, and in the meantime other people — people who might not be as committed to scientific rigor as the best social scientists are, or who are trying to solve urgent real-world problems and don’t have the luxury of waiting for more peer-reviewed evidence to come in — might decide to run with the idea before the evidence is in.

That seems to be what happened here. Despite the absence of causal evidence linking self-esteem to positive outcomes, it was such an irresistible story that, from the point of view of excitable politicians like Vasconcellos, there was enough evidence to go ahead and run with it. And thus a simple, highly viral message — raising self-esteem can greatly improve people’s lives and productivity — was able to catch on because it offered a straightforward solution to a constellation of problems that are not, in fact, straightforward to solve. It felt like an easy fix because none of the nuance that should go into rigorous social science filtered down to policy makers themselves — many of those policy makers developed misconceptions about what, exactly, bona fide experts had and hadn’t discovered. “Social researchers have long told us that a lack of self-esteem underlies society’s most pressing problems,” wrote a Maryland House delegate in a 1989 letter to the editor which ran in the Washington Post, “the ones government shells out big dollars to alleviate.” She was wrong, of course, but it’s not hard to understand where she might have gotten the idea. The fact that self-esteem was such a bipartisan hit, with liberals and conservatives both supporting it in fairly high numbers (albeit couched in slightly different reasoning), also made it tougher for any unified opposition to the concept to develop — though there were certainly some (again, mostly ignored) skeptics along the way, among them conservative social commentators like Charles Krauthammer and “Dr. Laura” Schlessinger who saw the self-esteem movement as yet another manifestation of the saccharine mushy self-help drivel that was, in their view, undermining America.

This right here seems to be the core problem. And the problem seems to be getting worse, leaking beyond the realms of the social sciences.

The public seems to be relying more and more on science for guidance as our media and politicians keep failing us. But most people don't really understand what science is! You can defend anything with "science" if all you're looking for is some study that claims to show evidence for whatever it is you're defending.

I'm not sure what the answer is. A massive education campaign to inform the public about how to interpret studies and draw conclusions that are actually supported by science? Higher standards for scientific publications regarding content and reproducibility? Regulations which would force media to disclose more information about the "studies" they cite?


> The public seems to be relying more and more on science for guidance as our media and politicians keep failing us.

They used to rely on religion, for better or worse. Dogma is the only true constant, trading one God for the other, first an elusive supernatural being, then the State, then science. It will still result is the same failed outcome.

I really like polytheist religion. You are warmonger ? Pray to Mars. You like to party and have sex ? Pray to Hathor. You are more inclined to wisdom and justice ? Pray to Athena.


This could use a (2019) tag.


Beautiful website




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