It has been brought to my attention that I am sometimes too full of myself. I will stipulate that this is true. And it made me curious: Is the opposite approach to life - cultivating low self-esteem - working out well for its many practitioners?

A lot of people tell me I need to lower my self-esteem in the service of modesty, credibility, and protecting the sensibilities of those around me. I would like to heed that advice and be a team player, but I'm also plagued with bouts of rationality that are keeping me from making this improvement to my character.

Before I do anything drastic in life, such as evolving into a person who thinks less of himself for the well-being of others, I like to do a pros and cons list. I'll start with the advantages of thinking too much of myself.
  1. It feels great! All the time!
  2. It boosts my testosterone.
  3. It improves my performance at most things. Science agrees.
  4. Higher testosterone makes muscle growth easier.
  5. I take more risks. (This is admittedly a mixed bag.)
  6. I rarely feel embarrassment even when I should. (Such as now, for example.)
  7. I am emotionally immune from criticism.
  8. Cockiness has an aphrodisiac effect on some. (You know who you are.)
Now for the downside of thinking too much of myself...
  1. I take more risks than I probably should.
  2. People call me a dick in every online comments board on the Internet.
  3. Higher testosterone increases cancer risks.
 Advantage: cockiness (until I get cancer anyway)

I see my inflated sense of self-worth as more of a strategy for happiness than a flaw. And by that I mean I know how to dial-back my self-esteem but I choose not to. Just moments ago I was reading the five-star reviews for my new book (How to Fail...) for no other reason than boosting my morning energy. I manipulate my self-esteem the same way I manage my intake of coffee. When I need a jolt of feel-good, I spend some time dwelling on whatever has gone well recently. And when my mind wanders to the graveyard of my many failures, I change the mental channel as quickly as I can.

There's no such thing as the right level of self-esteem. Everyone who interacts with you will have a different idea of how much is too much for you. So I intentionally err on the side of too much. The benefits simply outweigh the costs.

Keep in mind that I have succeeded in several fields in which I had no identifiable talent before starting, including cartooning, the speaking circuit, and writing books. Had I cultivated a more socially acceptable level of self-esteem I wouldn't have tried any of those challenges.

I have failed in my personal life and in my career about ten times more often than I have succeeded, but my artificially high sense of self-esteem allows me to quickly bounce back and keep punching until something lucky happens.

Some of you will be quick to point out the difference between quiet inner-confidence and being an arrogant dick all over the Internet. But if you think high self-esteem can be masked, you probably don't understand what it is. The moment you feel high self-esteem, you lose the filter. In other words, if you feel you need to hide your high self-esteem, you don't have high self-esteem. That's how self-esteem works.

So I ask the following question in all seriousness: If you think I'm too full of myself (which I am), how is the alternative strategy working out for you? Are there some additional benefits of low-to-moderate self-esteem that are not obvious to me?

How to Fail at almost Everything and Still Win Big

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Jan 13, 2014
Scott, it's not about having overly high self esteem: your level of self esteem is not excessively high, and you have enough going for you that you are clearly entitled to think very well of yourself. Rather, it's about how you express that self esteem around others. Perhaps you might best negotiate the apparent dilemma by cultivating a (I'd say "maintaining your already existing") self-deprecating sense of humor, which has the advantage of being doubly funny in someone as brilliant and capable as you.

Note: don't take advice on social skills from engineers with Asperger's syndrome.
Jan 10, 2014
Wow, three pages, and no one has done it yet.

Scott, you're a dick.

Jan 10, 2014
I loved this so much that I wanted to share it with my friends on facebook, but ALAS! There is no facebook 'share' option. Is there any reason for that? Why do you hate us? Why, Scott?
Jan 9, 2014
Scott, you are a celebrity. You can probably be as much of a self-worshipping sociopath as you want to be and because of your fame, few will call you out on it. That doesn't work for most people, not for long anyway. Humility is more attractive though, especially if it isn't wholly deserved. Of course, it is easy to kiss your own ass when you are a huge success. It's more unusual and more of an appreciated effort for someone in your sort of position to be polite and modest. I just watched your video for the Cintiq. You come off as smug, snarky and arrogant. Nobody likes a winner who rubs everyone else's nose in it. It would have been more charming if you'd let your less famous friend beat you using the Cintiq and you had somehow comically eaten crow. But maybe, like Rob Schneider, you're tired of always using that ploy and want the world to know what you're really like. okay fine
Jan 8, 2014
You have self-esteem but it's merely average. Someone named Scott Adams recently wrote that "[the] loneliness was debilitating." If you had as high of a self esteem as you think you have, then the diminished contact would not have hurt you as much. What you do have is a high level of self pride; your accomplishments fuel it, and it makes you feel good, which in turn adds positive reinforcement. The difference is subtle and not obvious, but it's there.
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Jan 8, 2014
It is just an application of game theory (the prisoner's dilemma, to be precise).
When you meet low self-esteem people, having a high self-esteem is better than having a low self-esteem, because you can take better advantage of them.
When you meet high self-esteem people, having a high self-esteem is better than having a low self-esteem, because you can defend better from them.
So, it always pays to have high self-esteem.

However, interactions between high self-esteem people (or blow-hards, if you prefer) are more fatiguing and less productive than interactions between low self-esteem people (well, let's say moderate: low self-esteem brings its own problems, as many other have pointed out), so the resulting payoff is worse for everybody, whatever strategy you adopt.
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Jan 8, 2014
Naturally I am too modest to point out the many advantages, to me, of being modest. And too busy. Doing what, you may wonder? Ha-ha-ha!
Jan 7, 2014
I think the best combination is having high self esteem and being too introverted to give two craps what other people think of you. Peer pressure never worked on me because rather than thinking "I need to go along with the crowd so people will like me," I held the attitude of "Those people are idiots."
Jan 7, 2014
"I have failed in my personal life and in my career about ten times more often than I have succeeded..."

Fear of failure is what holds many of us common folk back. I've read your book. The practical, honest assessment of your failures is what inspires. What is the alternative to bouncing back, staying down? Not bouncing back? Not learning?

No sir. You are not "full of yourself".

Oh, and one more thing. You said, "I manipulate my self-esteem the same way I manage my intake of coffee. When I need a jolt of feel-good, I spend some time dwelling on whatever has gone well recently. And when my mind wanders to the graveyard of my many failures, I change the mental channel as quickly as I can."

That is not being "full of yourself" either. That is smart!
Jan 7, 2014
One question for you Scott - what do you do to prevent those around you from feeling rubbish in comparison?

(I may be confusing self esteem and arrogance a bit here, but so are (1) you and (2) those who ask you to rein in your self esteem, as far as I can tell from your original post).
Jan 7, 2014
One advantage of lower self esteem: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning–Kruger_effect
Jan 7, 2014
My career strategy involves staying in the corporate system, but not rising too high up the ladder. I am pretty sure that I could perform in upper management, and some of my bosses seem to think so, too, but it sounds like too much work to me. I would rather go home and spend time with my family than jockey for more money. In this case, there is no conflict between being confident in my abilities and wanting to conceal them.
Jan 7, 2014
You don't constantly post 'selfies' so your self esteem isn't too high. If you're concerned so your self esteem isn't too high. You're asking for input so your self esteem isn't too high. Don't worry.
Jan 7, 2014
Confidence is often seen as synonymous with high self-esteem, but its not. Without self-esteem, confidence becomes more of a defense mechanism against having your insecurities exposed.
And similarly, humility without self-esteem means you let people step all over you.

Self esteem says something about your feelings of worthiness and deservedness (isn't that a word?) of being happy.
As long as you feel you deserve to happy, you'll strive to wield the strengths of confidence, detachment or being emotionally raw, and accept the flaws that make you vulnerable.

What does that make Scott? I have no frickin idea. Sure, he can detach and he's got confidence, but that doesn't say much about his esteem.
Jan 7, 2014
Being full of oneself does not necessarily equal high self-esteem. When I worked in the motion picture industry (awhile back), I saw dozens of examples of confident, highly-paid executives and producers whose low self-esteem manifested itself in certain ways. They had great stage presence.
Jan 7, 2014
In my experience, a man tends to make his biggest mistakes when he is the most confident.
But the guy who gave the world 'Dilbert' can be as arrogant a dick as he wants to be. We will smile indulgently.
Jan 6, 2014
I don't know, Scott. I find your most self deprecating posts to be the funniest and best.

It may be that - to paraphrase the old adage - Humility is very important in life. Once you can fake that, you've got it made.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jan 6, 2014
I allways wondered about your immunity to criticism, but now i know where it comes from.

I had a similar high self-esteem untill a couple of years ago when i was about 45, but it slowly faded. I guess time and the lack of big successes do that to most people. I know what you mean when you talk about the advantages.

There is one disadvantage that comes to mind: a lot of people (men) think that thei are above-average drivers. Especially here in germany that causes some of the traffic accidents. Same thing goes for a lot of risky sports (skiing, mountain biking, paragliding): if you over-estimate your abilities, then your bound to have accidents.

This does not apply to you, because as ypu have stated in several posts, you do not participate in those kind of activities.
Jan 6, 2014
Different track: The value of self-esteem, high or low, is pretty tightly bound to how reality-based it is.

Scott Adams's high self esteem enabled him to pursue a career as a cartoonist. I'm guessing a sense of reality gently steered him away from trying to draw like Walt Kelly or Al Capp; at the same time it didn't cause him to throw away his sketch pads. Self esteem latched onto what reality said he COULD do.

And in one of his books, Adams recounts being a little huffy when Bil Keane (Family Circus) said something like "Your readers will tell you what business you're in." In time, as oft related, Dilbert readers DID tell Adams what business he was in. And self-esteem again listened to reality.

In contrast, you have has-beens and never-weres whose self esteem parted company with reality long ago. Most will bend your ear with tales of how some philistine in management or elitist critic caused their failure. But the truly deluded will accuse audiences of maliciously electing not to love them. That's too much self esteem.
Jan 6, 2014
I don't think self-esteem -- high or low -- has a moral value in itself (Understand I am not siding with those who preach antlike devotion to society, nor with those who make trivially-defined self-interest a quasi-religion).

For some, great self-esteem does translate into selfishness or more extreme anti-social behavior. For others, you have the Spider-Man philosophy: With great power comes great responsibility. The former mutter about the little people and throw hissy fits when they are not accorded what they regard as their due. The latter, with perhaps a condescending smile, labor to give the little people the benefit of what they regard as their superior abilities.

The do-gooders can be just as annoying -- and as deluded -- as the selfish. But on the whole they are more of a plus to civilization than those who are essentially self-justifying parasites.
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