The Answer to “What is Self Esteem?” and Michael Jordan’s Top 5 Tips to Improve It

What is self esteemThere is a way for you to have more success and fulfillment in the work you do every day with a healthy level of self esteem.

Self esteem is one of the key elements to your progress in business as well as in private life. If you have enough of it, you will be proud of the work you do, you will try new things.

You will find out below what self esteem really is and how to improve your self esteem on the days when it is not going so well.

The explanation to: “What is Self Esteem?”

Self esteem is about how we think and feel about ourselves. It is a sense of our personal worth as well as our ability which is part of our identity right from the day when we were born (source).

How would you describe yourself? Write down a few points on a notepad and return to them when you might feel and think a bit different about yourself.

Before doing so, you might be wondering, now what exactly is the difference between self esteem and self confidence?

The best answer to this question I could find is by Nathaniel Branden, a Canadian psychotherapist: “Self-esteem is the sum of self-confidence (a feeling of personal capacity) and self-respect (a feeling of personal worth)” (source). So, to translate into an example, if Peter has (a) a good feeling about his French language skills which he has now practiced for a while and if he also has (b) self respect about how quickly he has improved these skills, he has a healthy level of self esteem (especially when he talks in French).

To sum all these words up, below is a famous Star Wars scene on how important self esteem is and how it changes our possibilities depending on whether we believe in ourselves or not. If you have not seen it, check it out, it is less than 5 minutes long.


Michael Jordan’s Top 5 Tips on how to improve your self esteem


Maybe not all of us need an explanation of what self esteem really is, but the question that remains is: “How do I get (more) self esteem?”

The quotes below from my sport hero Michael Jordan deliver – to what I believe – in sum a great answer to this question.


1. Set Your Expectations Right

“You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them.”

You see, we generally expect a lot from our environment, notably at work when things do not go well. It is often a protection mechanism, why look for the changes within us, if we can blame someone else? If we think about it, however, these expectations are very often triggered by how we think and feel about someone, something and ourselves.

So, start by (re-)setting your own expectations for yourself on a particular project outcome, not too high and not too low, within your comfort zone where you feel confident about what you can achieve. This should set your self esteem at the right level. Disappointment on too high expectations is not a great motivator.

2. Ensure the Right Mindset

“My body could stand the crutches but my mind couldn’t stand the sideline.”

Mindset is one of the three elements of successful personal development. With the right mindset and the focus, you can get very far, without it, all brilliant skills will not help, look at Luke Skywalker. Okay, maybe that is not the most realistic example, but I hope you get the point.

In my view, you need to be eager (& have the passion), you need to have the right mindset to progress at work with confidence (“How bad do you want this promotion?” or “When do I say ‘no’”?). Setting realistic goals gets you a big step ahead to start improving on whatever you have envisioned. And celebrate your small successes.


3. Work Hard On What You Love

“I have missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot… and missed. And I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Michael Jordan loved playing basketball. What you do love about your job? A higher level of Self esteem can be reached when we do the things we like. Things are easier to do and as we move on, we gain more confidence.

We can learn a lot while practicing over and over again, this is not new. It is also not new that we do not love every single part of the work we do, and that is normal. Yet, however, a lot of people “just want to get it over and done with”. And if they just do that, they will not get a lot of satisfaction out of it, nor a lot of praise.

If the boss has turned us down, we can try again, improve the paper or presentation we have been working on, if we have the greater objective in mind. Invest time in research, talk to people, practice our skills, be brave. Mix a healthy dose of what you love with what challenges you to develop yourself.


4. Try New Things

“I can accept failure, everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.”

While working on what we love accelerates often our self esteem, to tackle and try new things is also a source of improving your self esteem. How do we know upfront whether we will like it or not? Well, often we do not, unless we give it a try.

People are often afraid of trying, afraid of failure. Depending on the organisational culture within your company taking risks and trying out things might be welcome or not. I guess it also depends on the level of risk one is willing to take. Nobody should be blamed for trying out a new technology to communicate within a team, if it adds value to everyone. What do you want to change at work?

5. Accept Yourself For Who You Are Without Giving Up

“If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”

Those obstacles that he mentions can be external as well as internal obstacles. For the latter, sometimes we push ourselves too hard, because we want to be different, we want to be like the person next to us whom we admire. We want to boost our self esteem by being someone else, by being different. Instead, we should be accepting ourselves for who we are, show some self respect.


Next time, when you get angry at yourself because you do not immediately succeed, stop for a minute, look back at what you have accomplished up to now, and celebrate. Tomorrow is another day.

Thanks for taking the time to read through this, I hope you liked it!

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Image credit: iStockPhoto


  1. It is funny you should use that particular clip from Star Wars. I actually have desktop background with Yoda and the quote “Do … or do no. There is no try?

    Moving on to a more relevant comment.

    I completely agree with Ensuring you have the right mindset. Many things can be accomplished just by putting your best food forward. I mean if you always think negatively, the chances that you are going to “crush it” are low.

    You really have to always think positively and put yourself in the right mindset in order to accomplish your goals.

    Furthermore, one must not be afraid of failing. The main idea behind is to learn from your mistakes and grow to be better. Then next time you can hit the nail on the head.

    Great post.
    Iain recently posted…Social media for small businesses aka your farmMy Profile

    • Jantje Bartels says:

      Iain, thanks for sharing!

      I am glad you like the video clip. I guess it is well-known, but regular replay does not hurt, if one needs a boost. And very true about growing to improve, if we do not allow ourselves to make mistakes, I guess we have not really tried.

  2. Jantje, what a great post! I think using Michael Jordan as an example was an excellent choice! The fact that he points out that he has missed over 9,000 shots, over 300 games lost, really points out that through those failures, he has still become the greatest basketball player of all time (in my opinion, he is!). Through hard work, he has excelled. Someone I once knew made a comment once that stuck with me, years ago. He said, “You must really love something to keep doing it when you’re pretty bad at it.” LOL. It’s always stayed with me, because it’s true. When you start out at something, you may not be the best. But your passion for it, keeps you going, through all your mistakes, missed baskets, etc.
    Great points! 🙂
    Serena @ Get Your Life Straight recently posted…Keeping Your Heart Happy and HealthyMy Profile

    • Jantje Bartels says:

      Serena, thank you for these positive words. I am happy if you got something out of it. MJ is a great role model for a lot of people, so I could not resist. The kind of love you are mentioning certainly exists and is a big motivator!

  3. I love The Goat! He is a great motivator and a champion in real life. Great article.

  4. Very inspiring! Thank you for those reminders! I think mindset is so important. Whether or not we can do something is typically determined by the words we are thinking, “I can” or “I can’t.” More times than not we are the only thing holding ourself back. Self esteem can also be improved if surround ourselves with people who believe in us, encourage us, and help us pursue our dream.
    Sarah Barnett recently posted…5 Favorite Things about Life in AfricaMy Profile

    • Jantje Bartels says:

      Dear Sarah, you are welcome! Surrounding yourself with like-minded people is key for me. Sometimes easier than we think to find those people, too!

  5. I think accepting yourself for who you are without giving up and work hard on what you love is a great combination. I like to read motivational articles and your is top notch.
    Marina recently posted…What are the characteristics of an entrepreneur?My Profile

  6. I must say that #1 having to do with your mindset has me thinking that the mind garden needs to be taken care of daily, heck, sometimes it’s minute by minute watering and weeding that the mind needs to stay right. Great article, my friend. I enjoyed it immensely.

    • Jantje Bartels says:

      Pat, I have not made this analogy yet, so, thank you. Daily ‘treatment’ is certainly a great advice!

  7. Very well thought-out post. I especially agree with the fact that you must not be afraid to fail. SO many people don’t take that extra step towards success because they’re afraid of not being able to succeed.
    Holly Waterfall recently posted…How to Recognize the Signs & Symptoms of an Eating Disorder #NEDAwarenessMy Profile

    • Jantje Bartels says:

      Thanks! And yes, I guess people are right, it is frightening to step forwards sometimes, but that shows us as well that we are alive.

  8. Love point 4 – Try New Things – that in itself is the spice of life and so rewarding. You’re sure to increase your self esteem just by getting out there and living life.
    Andrew recently posted…Hello world!My Profile

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