“My greatest pain in life is that I will never be able to see myself perform live”

— Kanye West

Wow, right?  I wish I had one twentieth of that kind of sentiment, however misguided. I’ve been told for a lot of my life that I have low self-esteem.  Somewhat recently, while I was feeling fairly on top of my game, but not seeing any fruits from my efforts, it was again suggested that I have low self-esteem.

As my mother’s daughter, I felt compelled to turn to the dictionary:self |self| noun ( pl. selves |selvz|)

a person’s essential being that distinguishes them from others, esp. considered as the object of introspection or reflexive action : our alienation from our true selves | [in sing. ] guilt can be turned against the self | language is an aspect of a person’s sense of self.

• [with adj. ] a person’s particular nature or personality; the qualities that make a person individual or unique : by the end of the round he was back to his old self | Paula seemed to be her usual cheerful self.

• one’s own interests or pleasure : to love in an unpossessive way implies the total surrender of self.

esteem |iˈstēm| noun

respect and admiration, typically for a person : he was held in high esteem by colleagues

This did not seem to fit.  I mostly think I’m pretty cool.  I mean, there are definitely people who are cooler, but I wouldn’t say I lack respect or admiration for myself.  I looked up a couple more words:

confidence |ˈkänfədəns; -fəˌdens| noun

• a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities : she’s brimming with confidence | [in sing. ] he would walk up those steps with a confidence he didn’t feel.

arrogant |ˈarəgənt| adjective

having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities : he’s arrogant and opinionated | a typically arrogant assumption.

Now, I could suffer from a lack self-confidence, that seems more plausible.

After years and years of marketing hustle and artistic practice, after being dissed on countless levels by people who I thought were friends, after failing friends due to circumstances beyond my control, yeah, I have some confidence issues.

For some people, like Mr. West, a mistake is just someone else seeing it wrong.  That is where arrogance steps in.  I don’t think I’ve ever had that problem.

What does it mean when you feel like you lack the esteem of others, despite thinking yourself pretty cool?  Is it low self-esteem or arrogance to feel misunderstood?  What does it mean to be your own best cheerleader, but still be self-aware enough to not sound like Kanye?

As an artist, it’s a struggle to be simultaneously praised and disregarded.  It’s hard to know whether or not to press forward.   In a society where people measure personal value in dollars, it’s hard to know whether a body of work is a worthy pursuit or a waste of time, especially when you cannot help but make art.

We try to build community among artists, but when everybody hustles, is there anyone left to listen or see or watch?

Which leaves me again at self-image.  We see messages like this in mass media:


and then are expected to function as though it doesn’t hurt.  Critics come from all angles via blogs and twitter.  Sometimes they love us, but if you get really popular, someone always wants to take you down.

So is it low self-esteem, or low esteem from others that results in a lack of confidence?  Hard to say.  All I know is that I have to keep on making, so I have to take the good when it comes and praise myself when it doesn’t.

I would love to hear how you do it.