One of the most devastating things a fellow student said to me early in my freshman year of college was: “Everybody has to start some place.” The Op. 2 #1 was my first Beethoven Sonata I ever played. It seemed though that everybody else had already learned this work and I was pretty late to the game. We all go to college as a big fish from small ponds, but coming from a town of 3000 I think I felt this even more acutely. And to hear from one of my classmates that she considered me a minnow it just added to my feelings of inadequacy.
Whether it was real or imagined, I felt my classmate’s estimation of my abilities was shared by my teachers as well. At this point I had a choice to make; I could accept what others said was my lot in life or I could set out to make a liar of them. I chose the latter.
Success always requires a significant price, I decided early in my freshman year to pay the price demanded. I believed if I worked harder than anybody else I could make up for any deficiencies I might possess. If two hours of practice was expected I did four or more. I would be there when the music building opened in the morning and would work until I was kicked out at night.
The effort certainly paid off in the end and has continued to pay dividends my entire life. While my playing still has significant weaknesses, the Beethoven Sonatas is no longer one of them.
Self image is just that. The image we have of ourselves. The best part of this image is that it is very malleable. By making a decision to do the work required for success, regardless if we achieve that ultimate outcome, we will know that we were worthy of the effort. Even in failure we learn because our focus is not on other’s opinions, but rather on accomplishing great things.
With each step in this process we grow in stature in our own eyes because we know we are making the effort. The image we hold of our self is based only upon our own choices and efforts, not someone else. All efforts to build “self esteem” are doomed to failure because they are based upon someone else telling us we are great and deserving regardless of our efforts. In our hearts we know this is a lie.
Our self image or self esteem comes from knowing we were in the arena, fighting the good fight. And even if we come out bloodied and beaten we know the value of our efforts and the honor is ours for just being in the arena. This is something no one can give us or take away from us because it has been wholly earned by us alone.