How to be Successful and Improve Self-Esteem- A Common Mistake We All Make

What does it mean to be Successful?

We each have our own idea of what it means to be successful and that’s okay. My idea of success is splitting my time between helping patients and writing while being able to take care of my children. Your idea of success may be a bank account with over a hundred thousand dollars in it or a house on a lake. The definition of success varies from person to person and that is a beautiful thing. It means that there is enough to go around in this majestic world we live in.

For today’s post, I am referencing Merriam-Webster’s definition of success which is a favorable or desired outcome. Regardless of your personal definition, I think we can all agree that success means achieving a desired outcome-whatever that may be. Each day we are working to achieve a desired outcome. Today, for example, my desired outcomes include helping to keep my patient’s alive and free from self-harm, exercising and having a family dinner after work. If I can accomplish those 3 things today, I consider it a successful day.

I must admit that there are some days where I do not feel as if I’m as successful as others. When that happens I try to determine where I went wrong and what I could have done differently. One of the biggest contributors to failing to achieve our goals is our desire to be right. Being right can prevent us from being successful at achieving our goals. There have been times where I lost sight of my ultimate goal in a given situation and instead put my energy and focus on being right.

Being Successful is more Important than Being Right

Being right satisfies our ego. Our ego impacts our self-esteem and self-confidence. In general terms, our ego is the way that we self-identify and it is a reflection of our feelings, beliefs and actions.1 To read more about ego functioning check out this article by Psychology Today.

When we are right, it feeds our self-identity and our ego. We feel a bit more confident, almost as if we have “won”. It is satisfying to hear someone say “you were right”. It can make us feel competent and in control. However, if we are unable to let go of the desire to be right we can actually get in our own way and prevent ourselves from achieving our goals. When the desire to be right supersedes our ability to be successful, being right is no longer helpful. MindBodyGreen has a great post about how being right can backfire and cause us problems. To read it, click here.

More often than not, achieving our goals is going to generate a healthy self-identity and increase self-esteem more than being right will. Being successful and accomplishing what we intend to accomplish is a genuine way to strengthen confidence and generate a healthy sense of self.

Many times it is in our best interest to let go of the notion of being right in order to be successful or effective. Consider, for example, I come to a 4 way stop 3 seconds before the car to the left of me does. I am right in going first to cross the intersection as I arrived there first. However, if the other car continues to move through the intersection it is more effective for me to wait, despite my rightness.

If I decide that being right is more important and I move through the intersection, I would get into a car accident and probably not receive a ticket as the other driver was in the wrong. However, my decision to be right over being effective would cost me time, money, stress, transportation issues and frustration. My goal in that situation is to get to my destination without harm or injury to myself or my vehicle. Choosing to be right over being successful would prevent me from being successful in achieving that goal.

Consider a political discussion with a friend or family member. Many times those conversations can end in anger and frustration because two people are trying really hard to be right and prove the other person wrong. Are we being successful when we hang on to the notion of being right in that situation? I would venture to say no. Being successful in that situation would include being able to peacefully and respectfully share different opinions and viewpoints without having the relationship suffer. Getting stuck in the notion of being right can cause conflict and arguments in relationships.

Being right can also lead to endless strain in relationships, resentments and grudges. Have you ever gotten into an argument with a loved one and believed whole-heartedly that you were right and that person was wrong? That belief makes it very difficult to let go of arguments and to move forward. Hanging on to being right can prevent you from achieving your desired outcome and being successful in moving forward in the relationship. I know people very dear to me who have been feuding for years because they both believe that their individual perspectives are right and the other person is wrong. The desire to be right is certainly causing dysfunction in their relationship.

How to Let Go of Being Right in order to be Successful

If you think your desire to be right is superseding your ability to be successful and effective, ask yourself the following questions.

  • What am I trying to accomplish in this situation?
  • Is my current approach getting me closer to my goal or farther away?
  • How can we both be right in this situation?
  • What can I do differently to be more successful in this situation?
  • Is my ego getting in the way of me being effective and if so how can I shift my focus to my goal?

It can be difficult to shift our thinking and it may take many attempts to be successful. The key is to have self-awareness and be mindful of the goal in each encounter. Our goals in every situation may be different. When I’m talking to my friend my ultimate goal is to keep our relationship healthy and functioning. When I am driving to work my goal is to arrive safely and unharmed. When I feel hurt by a loved one my goal is to express that hurt and move forward in repairing the relationship. When I’m working with a patients my goal is to support them in creating a life worth living.

Check yourself when you find that you are hanging on to the notion of being right and work on changing your approach so you can be effective and successful instead. Try not to lose sight of the ultimate goal at hand. Your self-esteem is going to be strengthened more through your ability to achieve your intended goals than by being right in situations.


1.Psychology Today. (2013). The elements of ego functioning.

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