The Self-esteem and Success Connection

Self-esteem and success are tied together more than we realise. In the last 5 years that I’ve been in business with Insanitek I’ve had the pleasure of helping and watching many people grow, learn, and strike out on their own or join another company. There are many things that each individual has in common (beyond a love of science), but there is none that stands out so much as the connection that people have with self-esteem and their own level of success.

That’s right, their own idea of success, not success defined by someone else.

Think about it.

You’ll be miserable if you’re trying to live up to someone’s idea of success. And not only are you miserable, but you’ve also not lived a life you want to live. It feels like you’ve gone backward, not forward. That’s not success. That’s failure. But you need to not only know what you want, but have enough belief in yourself to go for it. That in itself is really difficult with social pressures pushing in from every direction.

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But it’s not as easy as just “knowing yourself.”

There is a whole freakin’ group of humans out there that are in search for themselves, and somehow they think that when they find the answer, the magic will fall around them (maybe even sparkles) and things will just fall in place.

Sorry, but that’s not how things work. Life requires we put a little bit of effort into it to move. Laying around expecting things breeds resentment from those around you as they pick up the slack and deliver your whims (unless you’re paying them insane amounts).

Don’t just “put it out there in the universe,” tell people what you’re working for, ask for support when appropriate, and continue rocking out choices that will take you down the path you actually want.

And, yeah, you’re gonna question yourself.

You’ll have grey hair and still be questioning yourself. Get used to it now.

Along the way of life you’re gonna make a TONNE of mistakes. Those things aren’t easy on the self-esteem if you aren’t prepared to learn from the mistakes and failures. Each time you do something you should be learning from it. Success or failure, life is full of lessons.

When you’ve had success, you generally feel better. We all do. It’s a natural high when we are able to do what we set out to do. Whether that’s landing a new client, successfully doing PCR work, finally finding an organisation system that works for your research, or even a personal breakthrough. Your self-esteem and success seem to work together. When one goes up, so does the other.

Your self-esteem and success are not as intertwined as you think.

There is a simple shortcut that can help you find a balance when either your self-esteem is suffering or you haven’t had a personal success in a while. The key is to step out of the “me” phase and focus on others.

Research on altruism (summary paper by Stephen Post, pdf) has shown that when people do good without over taxing themselves, they feel emotionally better, enjoy better health, and tend to live a bit longer. All good things, right? Well, it seems that being a little more compassionate and giving can help individuals feel success and get a boost in self-esteem.

We’re not talking pure altruism here. After all, if you’re going to give everything away, you won’t be able to pay  your bills or help others for long. As Post noted in the summary linked above notes, going overboard has the tendency to push a person into stress and anxiety ─ the exact opposite what you want. Instead of pure altruism, the focus is on the little ways you can take things to the next level in service to another human being even on a community level.

Connect, serve, receive.

You don’t have to be big to help another.

It’s hard to think of a good reason why doing repetitive lab work would help people. However, if you head out to the museum and help explain the cool things to kids and families, suddenly you’ve got a refresh view on how awesome the things you’re doing are. Bonus: You just might get a new scientist in training out of the efforts. Kids are quite susceptible to joy, and when you share your enthusiasm in science, they get hooked.

None of us work in isolation, though, so on months when you can’t spread the joys of science, you can make the life of your colleagues, friends, family, and clients a bit happier.


There are lots of ways to connect with people. Here are some of the ways I connect with those around me:

  • Make treats in celebration of birthdays.
  • Send small tokens of appreciation like tiny parcel from Leafcutter Designs.
  • Gift cards from Giftly on anniversaries or other occasion.
  • Noting people’s personality so if I come across a resource I know they’d appreciate I can share it.
  • Assist without being asked if I know someone is struggling or needs something (like helping out with the ever-present dishes when a student is crushed under academic work).

There are lots of little ways you can show appreciation for another human being in your life. When you do, they smile, then your self-esteem lifts just a little more knowing you did something good. And with a higher self-esteem comes a little more courage to keep trying to reach for your goals.

Your self-esteem and success are in your hands. Make the most of it.