Self-Esteem For Dummies
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All of the famous people below could have let a sense of low self-worth keep them down. Instead, they chose to prevail over substantial difficulties, negative events, and feelings they had. They triumphed over their problems, and so can you.

Helen Keller (1880–1968)

  • She had perfect sight and hearing until she was about 1-1/2 years old. She contracted an illness that is now believed to have been either scarlet fever or meningitis. Thereafter, she had no sight or hearing.
  • Her teacher, Anne Sullivan, arrived when she was 6 years old. At age 7, she attended the Perkins Institute for the Blind. Later, she and her teacher moved to New York so she could attend a school for the deaf. When she was 14, she entered The Cambridge School for Young Ladies, and at age 20, she started at Radcliffe College. She graduated from Radcliffe, cum laude, at the age of 24 as the very first deaf and blind person to earn a bachelor’s degree.
  • She became a world-famous speaker, campaigning for world peace, civil rights, labor rights, women’s rights, and birth control. In addition, she was the author of many books and essays on these topics. In 1964, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson. And the following year, she was elected to the National Women’s Hall of Fame at the New York World’s Fair. In 1971, she was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame.

Thomas Edison (1847–1931)

  • Edison went to school for only three months. His teacher assumed he was intellectually disabled because he couldn’t relate to how Edison’s mind worked. In addition, Edison’s health was fragile as a child.
  • Because Edison’s mother was a teacher, she taught him at home. As a young teen, an incident happened that affected Edison for the rest of his life. He was lifted by his ears into a moving train, and he started going deaf.
  • Edison patented his first invention, an electric vote-recording machine, at age 21. His goal was to produce a new invention every ten days, and during one four-year period, he averaged a new patent every five days. His lab was so prolific that he was nicknamed “the Wizard of Menlo Park.”
  • Edison’s laboratory invented such things as the phonograph, the motion picture, and the incandescent light bulb. Eventually, his electric business became known as the General Electric Company. Talk about a bright idea!

Harriet Tubman (around 1822–1913)

  • Harriet Tubman was the fifth of nine children born to a slave. Tubman and two of her brothers escaped from slavery when she was 27. Her brothers returned and forced her to return with them. Shortly after that, she escaped again to Philadelphia without her brothers, using the Underground Railroad, an informal, well-organized system of free blacks, slaves, and white abolitionists.
  • Throughout the Civil War, Tubman worked for the Union Army, first as a cook and nurse and later as an armed scout and spy. She was the first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war, liberating over 750 slaves in South Carolina into three steamboats.
  • In her later years, Tubman traveled to New York, Boston, and Washington, D.C., to promote women’s right to vote. She attended meetings of suffragist organizations and worked alongside Susan B. Anthony. At the founding meeting of the National Federation of Afro-American Women, Tubman was the keynote speaker.

Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919)

  • Theodore Roosevelt was born to a wealthy New York family, but he was a sickly child. He had severe asthma that was debilitating to him. In addition, he was nervous and timid. With his father’s encouragement, he began exercising, and eventually, his father hired a boxing coach for him. In addition, he read about courageous men and had a deep desire to be like them.
  • He was mostly home-schooled by his parents and tutors, and he entered Harvard University at age 16. When he graduated from college, a doctor gave him a physical examination and diagnosed him with heart problems. The doctor recommended that he avoid demanding physical activity, advice Roosevelt promptly ignored.
  • In 1886, Roosevelt was the Republican candidate for mayor of New York City, but he lost a three-way race. In 1897, Roosevelt was appointed assistant secretary of the Navy by President William McKinley. When Spain and Cuba declared war, he resigned from the Navy and formed the First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment (the “Rough Riders”), taking part in the war.
  • He then became the governor of New York in 1898, and he was vice president when President McKinley was killed in 1900. Roosevelt became the youngest person to be president, and he won in a landslide in 1904.

Albert Einstein (1879–1955)

  • Believe it or not, Einstein was considered a slow learner when he was young and may have had dyslexia. He was shy and quiet. He started speaking at age 2, and he rehearsed what he wanted to say. While we may see that as excellent preparation today, many around Einstein saw his rehearsal as an indication of stupidity.
  • At age 9, he went to high school, where only 3 to 4 hours a week were spent on his favorite subjects: math and science. It was only at home that Einstein could learn what he wanted. He eventually either was asked to leave high school or he dropped out.
  • He applied to Zurich Polytechnic in Switzerland, and while he passed the science and math sections, he failed the general section. Instead, he went to Cantonal School (also in Switzerland) where he flourished because he participated in hands-on activities and conceptual thinking. He applied again to Zurich Polytechnic and was accepted.
  • His first job was at the Swiss patent office, judging the worthiness of patent applications that required physics to understand. He eventually obtained a Ph.D. After learning that he was targeted by the Nazis in Germany, he moved to the United States at the age of 33 and took a position with the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University.
  • He developed the general theory of relativity in physics and created the formula E = mc² to explain the relationship between mass and energy. He received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.

Mahatma Gandhi (1869–1948)

  • Gandhi was born and raised within a Hindu merchant caste in India. At the time of his birth, India was ruled by England. He was a timid and shy boy, and he was afraid of the dark.
  • He encouraged oppressed people to improve their circumstances and led peaceful protests and strikes. He was arrested six times in South Africa and six times in India, and he served a number of prison sentences between 1908 and 1942.
  • Gandhi led the movement to break away from England. He published the Declaration of Independence of India, making the case for Indian self-government. Largely because of Gandhi’s efforts, India gained independence from England in 1947. Two countries were created against Gandhi’s advice, one for Hindus and one for Muslims. Gandhi died in January 1948 when a Hindu nationalist shot him for being too sympathetic to the Muslims.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882)

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in Massachusetts. His father died right before Emerson’s eighth birthday. He was raised by his mother and other women in the family.
  • At the age of 14, Emerson went to Harvard College, but he was not a very good student and graduated in the middle of his class of 59 people. He had poor health, so he moved first to South Carolina and then to Florida to regain his health. He took long walks on the beach and wrote poetry.
  • In all, he gave over 1,500 public lectures and wrote dozens of essays on individuality, freedom, and the ability of people to accomplish anything.

Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865)

  • Lincoln was born in a log cabin in rural Kentucky. His family was forced out of their home, and he had to work at age 7 to help support his family. His mother taught him to read and write, but she died when Lincoln was only 9 years old.
  • When Lincoln was 45, he ran for the U.S. Senate and lost. Two years later, he sought the vice presidential nomination and got less than 100 votes. Two years later, he ran for Senate again and lost again.
  • He was against slavery and also against having the new western states become slave states. He helped create the Republican Party.
  • In 1860, Lincoln ran for president and won. After his election, the South seceded from the Union and the Civil War began. He preserved the Union during the Civil War, put an end to slavery, and strengthened the federal government. He helped strengthen the American economy by modernizing banks and instituting protective tariffs to encourage the building of factories and railroads.

Frederick Douglass (1818–1895)

  • Douglass was born a slave in Maryland. He was separated from his mother at the age of 7 and then lived with his grandmother.
  • He learned to read when he was about 12. He believed that the knowledge he gained from reading would help him move from slavery to freedom. Douglass tried to escape twice before he succeeded. He began attending abolitionist meetings, and at one, he was unexpectedly invited to speak. He was nervous, but he forced himself to speak. He was so eloquent that he was encouraged to become an anti-slavery lecturer.
  • The first of three autobiographies was published in 1845. After returning to the United States, he published his first abolitionist newspaper. Douglass lectured against slavery and in favor of school desegregation during the Civil War. Thereafter, he spoke in favor of women’s right to vote.

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884–1962)

  • Eleanor Roosevelt was the niece of Theodore Roosevelt. Her mother was a beautiful socialite, whereas Eleanor was anything but. She married Franklin D. Roosevelt when she was 21.
  • When Franklin was stricken with polio, and his legs were permanently paralyzed, his wife argued that he should stay in politics. He was elected president in 1932, and Eleanor held press conferences, toured the country, wrote newspaper columns, and appeared on radio. She spoke up for the rights of minorities, the poor, youth, and the unemployed.
  • In 1945, Eleanor was named as the U.S. Delegate to the United Nations. She chaired the committee that wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. And in 1961, she was appointed by President John F. Kennedy as the chair of the Commission on the Status of Women.

About This Article

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About the book authors:

S. Renee Smith is a renowned self-esteem and branding expert, speaker, author, and resource to the media. Her expertise in personal and professional development and ability to inspire others to make positive, permanent changes has made her a sought-after consultant and speaker to Fortune 500 corporations, universities, government and nonprofit agencies, and churches. Vivian Harte has taught assertiveness skills online to over 10,000 students worldwide. She has 14 years of experience teaching in the classroom at Pima Community College and the University of Phoenix. She also hosted her own radio and television shows for many years in Colorado Springs, Minneapolis, and Tucson.

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