When I was around 13 years old, I was doing so poorly in school that I was told I could not return the next year to the private high school I was attending.
To add insult to injury, the school told me I would be lucky to finish high school at a public high school and should consider going to a special needs school. They called my parents into a meeting where they presented them with all sorts of brochures for boarding schools for special needs kids who would never amount to much. I still remember reading those brochures in amazement. I’d always done exceptionally well on standardized tests, had been a good student up until a year previously and here I was looking at being pigeonholed the day I started high school.
I had a bad year. I’d switched schools the previous year and was spending time with lots of kids who were acting out to some extent. I was having more fun with my new friends than paying attention in class. I was getting bad grades because I was not studying hours each night as the school expected and I was paying the price.
My parents did not follow the private middle school’s advice and within a year, despite being the same person, I was a straight A student and attending an even more competitive private high school than the one I was kicked out of. (I will tell you how that happened in a minute.)
If you are like me, your experience with life has likely not been too different from my own. In both your career and personal life, odds are, you have been called many bad things. Everyone has.
• In souring relationships, you have likely been called negative names and had all sorts of judgments made about you.
• You have likely gotten in arguments with family members and have heard them say bad things about you.
• You have likely been called names and judged by employers, co-workers, and others.
Sometimes the things people have said about you may have been correct—and you may have even deserved it. Other times, they might have been wrong.
In virtually every case when someone has attacked me and said bad things to me–or about me–I have refused to participate in calling them names back.
It is my personal belief that you should never call people negative names or make judgments about them. Doing so negatively affects their self-image and what they think about themselves. Once you tell people they are worthless, a horrible person, ugly, and so forth you send a message to their subconscious mind that they are these sorts of people.
People remember it when others judge them negatively and it does a tremendous amount of harm to their self-image.
• One of the worst things you can do to another person is harm their self-image.
• One of the best things you can do to a person is help their self-image.
I’ve had the philosophy of never calling people names my entire career. I always look to build people up instead of ripping them down–even people who do poorly in their jobs. In looking at the careers of the people who have worked for our companies in the past, in most instances, they are doing extremely well and continue to grow as they did when they were with us. I think that a lot of this has to do with the fact that I have always tried to have a culture that tells people they are good over and over again–and not one that makes them feel bad about themselves.
You can often tell a lot about the quality of a company, organization, or family by what ends up happening to the people who come out of it. The groups you are a part of will often shape your self-image because of the feedback they give you. I’ve seen families where everyone became doctors and went to Ivy League schools and others where everyone became drug addicts–the difference a lot of time (most of the time, I believe) comes from the self-image that people get from these groups.
You should always ask what the person–or persons–who used to do the job you are interviewing for are doing now. This will often say a lot about the sort of feedback and confidence those people received and how this affected their self-image.
In my opinion, you should do everything you possibly can to avoid people and groups who damage your self-image. Employers who make you feel incompetent or that you are somehow inferior will hurt your self-image. Family, “friends,” and others who seek to downgrade your self-image should also be avoided.
There is nothing wrong with being around people who help you grow and challenge you but people who consistently make stabs at your self-image should be avoided.
A year or so ago, I was speaking with a woman in her late 30s who had formerly been a well-known model and on a then popular television series for a short time. She was married to an incredibly wealthy man and a very happy person. However, she expressed to me that she liked to spend most of her time at home or with her kids–and not doing any socializing whatsoever.
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“Because people suck,” she said. “They are always telling you how much more successful they are than you, how much more popular they are than you, how much better they are at this and that than you. I find that most of the people I meet I end up walking away from being depressed.“
She then started telling me how she uses visualization and all sorts of positive affirmations to make her feel good about herself. She was carrying around some of the visualizations with her at the time.
This woman is incredibly beautiful and wealthy and has everything to be happy about. Because she has all this success though, she feels a lot of people out there are competitive with her and “trying to bring her down” and thus she avoids them.
Her self-image is fragile enough that she avoids people–most people–because she feels they will harm it. She grew up in a family that was not supportive of her and has used visualization, therapy, and all sorts of things to counteract her negative self-image most of her life (and it has worked). She is far more successful than anyone else in her family and her older brother has actually spent time living on the streets.
I’m not agreeing or disagreeing with her opinions about avoiding people but I do think everyone should be meeting people and getting out. The issue though, is that she is taking drastic steps to protect her self-image because it is fragile. She only wants to be around people who make her feel supported and lifted up and not the other way around.
There are probably certain parts of your self-image that are fragile as well. Everyone has “weak spots” in their armor that end up determining who we are and who we will become.
The way we think about ourselves will generally determine the person we end up becoming. It is for this reason that self-image is so important. In fact, your self-image will determine how successful you become in almost any circumstance and no matter where you find yourself.
In the 1950s a highly successful plastic surgeon in New York, Maxwell Maltz, discovered that despite being able to change the way people looked he could not change how people felt about the way they looked. He believed the reason was psychological and that in addition to needing a “physical facelift,” the people he worked with needed a “psychological facelift.” Maltz was the first person to popularize the term “self- image” to describe how people felt inside.
I find this observation of Maltz absolutely fascinating:
• How many people do you know who have sabotaged a relationship, job, or opportunity they had because their self-image was “not up to” whatever opportunity they may have had?
• In contrast, how many people have used an opportunity that presented itself to drastically improve their self-image and become more?
Discouraged by the fact that plastic surgery did not change how people felt about themselves, Maltz studied self-image and wrote the book Psycho-Cybernetics in 1960. Here, he theorized that the brain was like a computer on a guided missile that would automatically find a path to its target–the person’s self-image that he or she has been programmed with.
There are three important points that I believe Maltz makes in the book:
• In order for someone to make a positive change, the mind needs a “positive” defined internal target that it was aimed at, focused on, and refocused on until it hit its goal.
• Without a defined target, the person’s energy would be squandered. In fact, not having any goals is something people use for “avoidance” and is a form of denial.
• If a person had a poor existing self-image and no positively defined target, they would likely continue to move towards that goal.
Your current self-image is what gives your brain direction. This self-image is something that guides you on an unconscious level and actually ends up steering you to where you end up going.
How did I go from being a student recommended for “special education” to a straight A student in only one year? It was very simple. I had been an outstanding student all through elementary school. While it was a bit more complicated than simply deciding to be a great student, I already had a positive self-image of the fact that I would be able to do well in school. Because of this positive self-image, I was able to quickly fall back on that because I said to myself “your bad performance this year is not the person you are.” This self-image enabled me to change very quickly.
You absolutely need to ground yourself with a positive self-image. The stronger your self-image, the more you are likely to end up becoming in the long run. Giving yourself a strong self-image will have a profound impact on your experience.
Some people fail and they give themselves such a negative self-image due to that failure they never try again. Some people get divorced and decide they can never be a good wife or husband. That should not define the person. For example, people like Johnny Carson was married four times and consider Larry King:
Last night Larry King rather awkwardly returned to his old hour at CNN to chat with his successor, Piers Morgan. After calling out Morgan for being too boastful in the promos for his show, King conceded that he was rooting for him. And then a funny thing happened: Morgan mentioned that King has been married eight times, to seven women. King corrected him, saying the tally was one too many. But Morgan was right — King has been married eight times, twice to former Playboy bunny Alene Akins. “I forget,” said King, sheepishly. “The only one that counts is the current one.” New York Magazine, February 24, 2011
If people like Larry King do not allow their failures to define their self-images why should you?
Many people continually seem confused. They are not clear about what they want and are always bouncing around from one job to another, from one friend to another, to one relationship to another. It is always best to get and be clear about what you want out of your life and to work on improving your self-image.
You should come back to this again and again and tell yourself you are an accomplished person, can do anything you want, and will succeed at whatever you want to achieve.
You also need to guard your mind FIERCELY from anyone who wants to shake your self-image and hurt it.
Nothing is more important to your success and happiness than your self-image.
Read More About If You Spend Time With Negative People, Your Organization Will Assume that You too Have a Negative Attitude and it Will Hurt You:
About Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes is the Founder of BCG Attorney Search and a successful legal recruiter himself. Harrison is extremely committed to and passionate about the profession of legal placement. His firm BCG Attorney Search has placed thousands of attorneys. BCG Attorney Search works with attorneys to dramatically improve their careers by leaving no stone unturned in a search and bringing out the very best in them. Harrison has placed the leaders of the nation’s top law firms, and countless associates who have gone on to lead the nation’s top law firms. There are very few firms Harrison has not made placements with. Harrison’s writings about attorney careers and placements attract millions of reads each year. He coaches and consults with law firms about how to dramatically improve their recruiting and retention efforts. His company LawCrossing has been ranked on the Inc. 500 twice. For more information, please visit Harrison Barnes’ bio.
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