Many see the highest calling of human existence to be the search for some external truth. Others, however, move the locus of control and value to our innermost selves. Viktor E. Frankl, celebrated optimist and Holocaust survivor, summarized this position well in his influential book, Man’s Search for Meaning:
Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.
Where, then, do we find answers to life’s problems–or at least the means to confront and prevail over them? Whether we’re dealing with existential threats or more common challenges at school, work, or play, we should start looking in the place we know (or should know) best: ourselves.
Sense-of-self can be described simply as our self-image, our assessment of our personal abilities, appearance, and personality. Sense-of-self encapsulates what we perceive as our strengths and weaknesses, as well as our readiness to face challenges. Unfortunately, nothing guarantees that our sense-of-self is accurate in an objective sense. In fact, a lot of suffering in life results from the disconnect between sense-of-self and reality. We see this all the time in testing when students who consider themselves considerable more intelligent than their peers receive much lower exam scores than their classmates.
True success results from as objective and clear a sense-of-self as possible. A reality-based self-image or self-concept weighs personal perceptions about attributes and accomplishments against external evidence and feedback. An accurate and unsentimental sense-of-self leads to other insights that help us tackle the most difficult challenges:
SELF-CONFIDENCE: the extent to which you trust your abilities, qualities, and judgment
SELF-ESTEEM: the extent to which you value yourself
SELF-EFFICACY: the extent to which you believe in your own abilities to deal with various situations
High levels of self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-efficacy support peak performance… as long as these self-assessments are based on reality!
How can you construct an accurate sense-of-self? Seek out feedback and be willing to accept and act on criticism. The incredible power of coaching lies in the impact an external expert can have in guiding development based on experience, training, and evidence of ability and growth. Great coaches confront us with hard truths even when we can’t help lying to ourselves.
Whether you are prepping for a big test or working towards your life’s goals, your success depends on a strong, accurate sense-of-self. Do you see yourself clearly enough to compare your readiness to the challenges ahead? If not, don’t panic. If you have the will to grow and a willingness to accept help and feedback, you can bring your sense-of-self in line your actual self. Victor Frankl said as much in another insight on meaning:
Man does not simply exist but always decides what his existence will be, what he will become the next moment. By the same token, every human being has the freedom to change at any instant.