Building a Better Bloke


Posted in Life skills, Philosophy by Sam de Brito on November 16, 2009

By David Delaney

Something that doing creative work has taught me: you’re about the worst possible judge of your own worth.

You have no idea. You’re prejudiced. All you notice are the mistakes, the things you could have done better.

People don’t always pull off whatever it is they’re trying to achieve. Geniuses are notable because they fail less often than the rest of us, but even geniuses blow it with predictable regularity. And – I’m certain – most real geniuses think of themselves as semi-competent strugglers in their fields …

I’ve known people who I consider to be outstanding at various things – creative work, doing a very difficult job, or just being totally lovable human beings – which is an achievement in itself in this harsh world.

And what I’ve heard from every one of those people at some point is that – according to themselves – they’re rubbish.

A few months back, I was with friends at the pub, and talking to a very dear friend who was in a bad place emotionally.

In my opinion, she’s a wonderful person. Not just my opinion – a heck of a lot of people I know rate her very highly indeed. She’s not just widely liked, she’s loved.

But she doesn’t get it. She literally can’t grasp what it is that other people see in her. According to her, she’s a waste of space. We’ve all felt like that, of course; only sociopaths are free of self-doubt.

And, like most people who are trying to get through to a friend who’s in that place (particularly when booze is involved) I got a bit frustrated, and my mildly intoxicated brain came up with this:

“You don’t get to be the judge of you. You can’t see yourself from the outside. Your own opinion on the matter is worthless.”

It made an impression. On her, on me, and on other friends within earshot. And it left me wondering where I was going with this, so I kept on talking.

“You can’t judge yourself. You can only make valid judgements using external evidence, and the only evidence that you have about your own value is the way other people treat you. You’re MY friend, and in MY opinion the world is a better place for having you in it. You have no money, you have no power, no-one looks to you for any kind of material gain. The only reason people spend time with you is because they LIKE you. You enrich our lives. That’s a fact that you should hold on to. It’s unprejudiced external evidence of your value.”

OK, I admit I wasn’t completely improvising, I’d had that thought before. But for whatever reason, it came out right when I needed to put it into words. I hope it helped my friend, and I believe it did. I know it went over well with a couple of other friends who were listening, because they both told me so, weeks later.

So there it is, a little tool for you to use if you’re suffering self-doubt.

Do you have good friends? If so, you’re doing something right. It’s not a foolproof rule, but it’s a pretty solid guideline.

Next time you’re wondering whether the world is a better place for having you in it, ask a friend. And trust what they say, because – unlike yourself – they can see you from the outside.

David Delaney is a freelance-writer based in Melbourne

10 Responses

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  1. The Weatherman said, on November 16, 2009 at 12:11 pm

    I wish just one person (other than a trained professional) said something like that to me. Maybe I wouldn’t be the messed up person I am now. Maybe I’d appreciate my self that bit more, and by doing so, believe in my self more.

    David, that 5th last paragraph just hit me right between the eyes.

    • Delaney said, on November 16, 2009 at 10:07 pm

      Well, if you have friends, let them know you appreciate them. The secret to having good friends is to BE a good friend. My own resources are pretty limited, but within the limits of what I can do, my friends know I will do what I can for them.

      I’d be lost without my friends, chances are I’d literally be dead without them. And that helps keep me going: I know I’m appreciated. It’s good to know, especially since I know I can be, er, a little difficult on occasion.

      • The Weatherman said, on November 17, 2009 at 10:30 am

        Spot on again David. Struggling to get better over the last couple of years I guess I’ve not been in a position to be much of a friend. My circle is limited, and it’s been family that have got me through. Family are biased of course, they’ll always say good things. Your post really struck a chord,

        “You don’t get to be the judge of you. You can’t see yourself from the outside…”

        These are, for me, extremely powerfull words. Thankyou.

      • mon ami said, on November 17, 2009 at 2:11 pm

        : )

  2. Jurgen Halle said, on November 16, 2009 at 12:48 pm

    Its a bit like when when you hear yourself back recorded and you think “Jeez, do I really sound like that much of a buffoon, like a mutant chimpanzee trying to imitate a human, that’s embarrassing”. And, then your friend, who’s there and also recorded says exactly the same about his own voice – though you know his voice is fine and as it should be!
    Yes, our ability to self-criticise is incredible.

  3. Tinman said, on November 16, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    A valid point indeed. Except, what if you don’t have any friends to externally validate you? What happens then?

    • Delaney said, on November 16, 2009 at 9:53 pm

      Well, then you’re in trouble. Really, there are two obvious reasons why a person might have no friends:

      1. Social phobia (extreme shyness)
      2. Being an arsehole

      Figure out which applies to you, then do something about it. I’d say it’s possible to recover from both conditions, but either requires a fair bit of work.

      The only other reasons I can think of would be living in an isolated place, or living somewhere where you don’t get to have a choice about who you associate with, such as prison.

      • Tinman said, on November 17, 2009 at 5:37 pm

        The words of Grandpa Simpson come to mind regarding your reasons for a lack of friends, “A little from column A, and a little from column B…” However, I also think that its possible that some people are simply loners by choice. As someone who is a bit of a misanthrope, I have a conflicted opinion of the human race. There are times when I can’t face dealing with other people, and others when I crave company. Its something that waxes and wanes depending on my mood.

        Where it becomes a problem is when you want a social life, but don’t have one. It can also be a self perpetuating situation in that if you have no social outlet, it can be difficult to find settings that provide an opportunity for meeting people without appearing to be a weirdo. (Doubly so if you ARE a weirdo to begin with.)

        In any case, friendship is not something that you can “make” happen; it either happens spontaneously or it doesn’t. To a certain extent, it is dependent on your ability to find common ground with other people. This can be quite difficult if you have fairly esoteric interests and are not interested in mainstream ones. If you’re not into popular music/literature, sport, and alcohol, it can be hard to interact socially with the majority of people whose social lives tend to revolve around these things.

  4. Rainman said, on November 16, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    “You don’t get to be the judge of you. You can’t see yourself from the outside. Your own opinion on the matter is worthless.”

    It’s a nice idea but I disagree. There is no single truth, of course, but overall I’d say people would be much better off forgetting what other people think or say about them. First and foremost, people should listen to their own heart. The opinions of others are often quite worthless and always subjective.

  5. Graham said, on November 19, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    Good flaming grief! Self-worth and self-doubt problems have plagued me hard these past few years. The fact that I am legally blind only has a little bit to do with it.

    My brother has said to me on a couple of occasions “you have achieved a lot in my eyes,” and, even though I don’t query it with him, I find myself wondering what he’s referring to, as far as my achievements are concerned.

    I have thrown away thousands of dollars and nearly as many opportunities. I have spent the last few years racking my brain over what I want to do, now that I find myself almost at rock bottom. Also, I am sure a shrink would diagnose me as having an accute fear of success and/or failure.

    I smile though, as for a brief moment, it does make me feel a bit better and his statement is a sign of the hugely strong bond that exists between us.

    Furthermore, I am going to bookmark this page and read it regularly, as it provides exactly the opposite of the kind of “advice” my parents and grandmother give me.

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