I once had a beautiful plant. It sat on my dining-room table for three weeks as I waited for it to blossom. Each week, I waited for something to happen. By week three, instead of a luscious blooming bush, what revealed itself was a dry, shriveled piece of nothing.
I stormed angrily into the florist’s shop and demanded an explanation for why my plant had died.
“You killed my plant,” I shouted in a room full of customers. “You took my money and killed my plant.” Now with the attention of everyone in the store, I continued to rant like a spoiled, unhappy three-year-old. “I want my money back. It’s your fault. I did what you told me to do. I waited for three weeks, and now look, my plant is dead.”
Puzzled, yet relatively calm, the florist asked, “Did you do everything I told you to do?”
“Absolutely! I waited for three weeks just like you said. I just waited, and now my plant is dead.”
Scratching his head in wonderment, he asked, “Did you also water the plant every three days? Did you feed it the plant food I gave you? Did you keep it out of direct sunlight? Tell me, what did you do?”
“I didn’t water it, because it didn’t look like it needed it. I lost the food you gave me, and I didn’t have time to get more. And I thought you said to keep it in direct sunlight. I waited for three weeks before calling you because I figured it would be okay. I thought if I let go and let God, the plant would eventually bloom.” He looked at me and simply said, “I’m happy to replace your plant, but your job was to take care of the plant—do the footwork and then let go of the results.”
How easy it is to mistakenly believe that “let go and let God” means to sit back and do nothing. Our words may not speak it, but our behavior says, “If we just wait, God will provide and good things will happen without our having to do anything.” Alcoholics Anonymous, the Big Book, teaches that faith without works is dead. To me, that means that I do the work and leave the results to God.
It’s no different with self-esteem. Self-esteem is not something we’re born with. We don’t catch it, and contrary to popular belief, we don’t get it through osmosis. Instead, we get self-esteem the old-fashioned way: we earn it. We can’t think our way into right living; we must act our way into right thinking. Self-esteem comes from behaving in a way that makes us feel good about ourselves, which means being mindful of how we treat ourselves and how we treat others. And how we treat others is as important as how we treat ourselves.
When we’re disrespectful of others, it is easy to think that our behavior is an indication of power and self-esteem. On the contrary, it suggests that we care little about ourselves because we care little about others. For years, I had many excuses for bad behavior: “I’m only human,” “I’m just an alcoholic,” “If you grew up like me, you’d behave the way I do.” In response to my line about being an alcoholic, one of the most powerful retorts was “Alcoholism explains your behavior. It doesn’t excuse your behavior.” My behavior at the florist’s shop was inappropriate. That was no way to speak to anyone. Eventually, I went back and made amends for how I spoke to the florist.
Self-esteem comes from doing Esteemable Acts.