After a seminar I gave in Vancouver, Canada, Don Beach, the sales manager of Benndorf Verster, one of that city’s top businesses, sent mea tape of a song that he wanted me to hear.
He said it reminded him of what I had been teaching his team about self-esteem. The song was a live performance by the old folk-singing duo, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee. The song is called “Love, Truth and Confidence.” It’s about how we foolishly chase after love and try to discover the ultimate truth, while ignoring something much more vital to our happiness: confidence.
The chorus of the song goes like this:
“Love and truth / you can find /any place, anywhere, any time / but you can just say ‘so long’ / once confidence is gone / nothing matters anymore.”
I never knew the true power of self-confidence until I began working with Dr. Nathaniel Branden and his wife Devers Branden. Both are authors and psychotherapists with the Branden Institute forSelf-Esteem, and they have provided me with the most powerful insights I’ve ever received into how I operate as a human being.Dr. Branden’s book, The Six Pillars of Self-Esteem, is unlike any other psychology book on the market, because in addition to its eloquently written philosophy on how to build inner strength, it also contains a full year’s worth of practical, powerful, user-friendly exercises to raise your own consciousness and self-esteem. His sentence-completion exercises are so effective and exciting that if you do them, I can say without a trace of exaggeration, you can get tens of thousands of dollars worth of personal growth therapy for the price of a single book.
Before you assume that Branden’s notion of self-esteem is the same as that being bandied about by New-Age educators, you must read his work and listen to his tapes. Most people today think others can bestow self-esteem on us. Such misguided thinking leads to phenomena such as classes without grades and work without standards for excellence.
Perhaps you have heard about that Little League group in Pennsylvania that wanted to eliminate keeping score from baseball games because of the damage that losing does to children’s self-esteem.When we confuse pampering and coddling with instilling self-esteem, we really encourage the upbringing of young, sensitive children who have no inner strength whatsoever. When it comes time for such overpraised, under achieving kids to find success in the competitive global marketplace, they will be confused, fearful, and ineffective.
The concepts taught by Nathaniel and Devers Branden are intellectually ruthless and unsentimental. Some of the best ideas go all the way back to Branden’s years working with the great novelist and objectivist philosopher Ayn Rand.
The Brandens have taught me how to objectively explore the weaknesses in my own thinking and to challenge the self-deception that was undermining my effectiveness in life.“To trust one’s mind and to know that one is worthy of happiness is the essence of self-esteem,” writes Dr. Branden. “The value of self-esteem lies not merely in the fact that it allows us to feel better, but that it allows us to live better—to respond to challenges and opportunities more resourcefully and appropriately.”
The two ideas contained in the Brandens’ work that have most helped me are:
- “You can’t leave a place you’ve never been”
- “No one is coming.”
I used to believe that I could run from all my frightening thoughts and beliefs about myself. But all that ever did was create deeper internal fears and conflicts. What I really needed was to get all my fears into the sunshine and demystify them. Once I systematically began to do that, I was able to dismantle those fears, as a bomb squad dismantles a bomb.Acceptance and full consciousness of those fears—and the self-sabotaging behavior they led to—was "the place I had never been."Once I was in that place, I could leave.
The notion that “no one is coming” was somehow terrifying to accept.The idea that no one was going to rescue me from my circumstances is an idea that I might never have accepted. That idea sounded too much like the final abandonment. It contradicted all my child hood self-programming. (Many of us, even as grown-ups, devise very elaborate and subtle variations on the “I want my mommy” theme.) TheBrandens showed me that I could be much happier and more effective ifI valued independence and self-responsibility above dependency on someone else.
When you accept the idea that “no one is coming” it is actually a very powerful moment, because it means that you are enough. No one needs to come. You can handle your problems yourself. You are, in a larger sense, appropriate to life. You can grow and get strong and generate your own happiness.
And paradoxically, from that position of independence, truly great relationships can be built, because they aren’t based on dependency and fear. They are based on mutual independence and love.Once, in a group therapy session, a client of Dr. Branden’s challenged him on his principle that “no one is coming.” “But Nathaniel,” the client said, “it’s not true. You came!”“Correct,” admitted Dr. Branden, "but I came to say that no one is