McGill-a-Grams: Full Self-Esteem Ahead!


Can making some great new friends make you feel worse about yourself?

By Shannon McGill

Self-esteem post-it wall. Credit: Kiran Foster.

Self-esteem post-it wall. Credit: Kiran Foster.

Dear Ms. McGill,

I’ve recently had the good fortune to meet a great group of people, all very creative, funny, and cool. 

The problem is my crappity self-esteem. I don’t feel worthy of their friendship, nor do I feel like I have anything of value to offer in return for their time and attentions.

I worry that my low opinion of myself will eventually make me blow it with these fine folks. Can you offer up any mantras for keeping cool and forgetting my uncertainties when out and about?

-Feeling Non-Awesome


Dear Feeling Non-Awesome,

The first thing I noticed upon reading your letter is how generous you are in your estimation of your friends—you say they are “very creative, funny, and cool.” There’s a lot I can tell about you from that statement alone.

Number one, you appreciate others, and you appreciate them for the right reasons. You’re not trying to hang out with these people because they have expensive cars or clothes or drugs; you like them for who they are and the way they behave.

You’re not shallow, FNA, not by any stretch—that’s point one for you.

Point two: your consideration of your friends and their qualities shows that you aren’t pathologically self-absorbed. Maybe you think that pathological self-absorption is rare. Oh no, FNA—oh no, it is not.

It’s no easy task to find a person you can spend time with who can really see outside of themselves, who can really see clearly what the people around them have to offer. You have this power, FNA; don’t underestimate it.

For every person who is open and mature enough to truly engage with the world outside of his or her own head, there are at least ten other people who are so caught up with their own baggage that they can’t see past their own noses.

You say you’re worried that you have no value, but in the same breath you’ve proven that you do have a very deep, important, and rare value. FNA, even if you are a complete mess with no job, no teeth, no property, even if you smell terrible and have an annoying laugh, you do at the very least have this to offer: you can see people for what they are.

You can reflect back to your friends the most attractive and positive things about them. You can make them see what makes them special. Let me tell you a little secret, FNA: that right there is the essence of charm.

Logic leads us to this conclusion, FNA: that you are almost certainly intoxicatingly charming. So here’s your first magic mantra: “I am wildly charming because I see the best others and make them see it too.”

For every person who is open enough to engage with the world outside, there are at least ten other people who are so caught up with their own baggage that they can’t see past their own noses.

And here’s an added bonus. Your traces of insecurity regarding how awesome you are probably make you even MORE charming. You might think your crappity self-esteem is a liability, but it isn’t really. I would much rather hang around with a person who is vulnerable and self-deprecating than with a megalomaniac who is blind to all his or her own faults.

A little self-doubt is not so terrible, FNA. It only serves to make you more human; more relatable and more accessible to others.

And here’s another thing, FNA. Since you’ve found yourself surrounded by people who are “creative, funny, and cool,” which is the most likely scenario to explain how you’ve gotten there? Do you think that a) you would be the lone dud in a crowd of superstars or that b) you are also “creative, funny, and cool?” THE ANSWER IS B, FNA. IF YOU PICKED B, PAT YOURSELF ON THE BACK!

I know they say opposites attract, but think of high school, college, or any of the jobs or parties you have been forced to go to. When it comes to how people organize themselves socially, like finds like. Similar people gravitate toward one another based upon mutual interests and/or personalities.

Even with your crappity self-esteem, you probably have way more in common with these folks than you think. And guess what else? I bet if you even just barely scratch the surface of any of these people’s friendly facades, you will find the same insecurities that haunt your own heart.

Here’s another secret: some of the best people I know, who are the most worthy of respect, are nervous wrecks inside. It is very fashionable to say, “I don’t care what anybody thinks about me,” or “Only God can judge me!” and other such rot, but that’s how sociopaths talk.

The best people care deeply about what others think of them. It’s what motivates them to be better, kinder, funnier, and more generous. The trick is not to let the caring paralyze you; to find that delicate balance between confidence and concern.

Yeah, I think you should scale back your negative self-talk, but other than that, DO NOT CHANGE.

Let your new friends inspire you to try new things, grow and develop, but DO NOT let them change who you are at a fundamental level.

DO NOT try to talk or act or dress differently.

DO NOT pretend to like or dislike things based on what you perceive as another person’s preference.

DO NOT downplay the things about yourself that you love and admire just because you think somebody else isn’t interested or not impressed or will be put off.

DO NOT get into any situations that make you uncomfortable or make you feel unsafe because you think it will lead to greater intimacy with a person you like.

The best people care deeply about what others think of them.
The trick is not to let the caring paralyze you; to find that delicate balance between confidence and concern.

Don’t do any of that. You don’t have to. Incidentally, I bet these people already love you anyway.

But here’s what you should do. Recognize that your experience, your outlook on the world, your way of thinking and speaking, is perfectly unique. You are a deep well of knowledge and insight whether you know it or not.

When you get comfortable enough around your new friends (Hurry up and get comfortable! What are you afraid of?), you can begin to reveal all of the bits of humor and information and strategies that you have accumulated over the course of your life.

Realize that everything that’s happened to you is interesting simply because it hasn’t happened to anyone else.

That’s the second mantra I want you to remember: “I am endlessly novel and entertaining because I’m full of experiences nobody else has had.”

I’m no New Age hippie, FNA, but I do believe in the New Age adage that thoughts create reality. Somebody famous said something once like, “Whether you think you’re worthy or unworthy you’re right.” I can’t remember if that was Eleanor Roosevelt or a line from Wayne’s World, but either way it’s the truth.

If I have convinced you with my air-tight rhetorical arguments that you are, in fact, the gem of a person I suspect you to be, then carry that knowledge inside of you always. Turn it over and over in your mind like a worry stone.

This is your third and final magic mantra: “I am wonderful, not just according to myself, but also to Shannon McGill, author of the popular column McGill-A-Grams, who is widely known to be (nearly) infallible when it comes to judgments of character.”

If at first you don’t believe it’s true, pretend to believe it until you do—and you are—as wonderful to your own self as you are to me and to the rest of the world.

Need help? Send your imponderable quandaries to


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