Business Advice From History: Oscar Wilde on Self-Esteem and Success

Welcome back to another addition to the Business Advice From History series. For the uninitiated, every Tuesday, we will be sharing a quote from a notable historical figure, and then discuss how this may apply to modern day business. This weeks quote comes from across the pond:

“I have nothing to declare except my genius.” - Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde is an author from the 19th Century, often recognized for his commentary on Victorian society and his witty banter. Best known for his works The Importance of Being Ernest and The Picture of Dorian Grey, Wilde is a trove for insightful quips on a wide range of subjects. So what does a renowned author know about running a business? Not much from a practical standpoint. However, that doesn’t mean we cannot learn from Wilde’s example.

First let’s discuss the origins of this week's quote. When Oscar Wilde first arrived in the United States at the age of twenty-eight, he had yet to published any work. As he stepped off the boat onto American soil, an American customs officer asked him “Have you anything to declare?” in which he responded “I have nothing to declare except my genius.” Pretty cocky for a twenty-eight year old with no proof of his genius right?

Yet over the next twenty plus years, Wilde would write and publish some of Britain’s greatest works of the 19th Century. Wilde took multiple modes of entertainment by storm, creating instantly classic novels and plays. Two factors attributed to Wilde’s success as a novelist and a playwright. First, he had a gifted mind for understanding language and how to manipulate it. Second, he knew it.

Famed self-esteem psychologist, Nathaniel Branden said “The more solid our self-esteem, the more likely we are to cope with challenges, overcome obstacles, and preserver no matter how many times we have failed.” Oscar Wilde exemplified this concept his entire life. Even before tasting any success, Wilde knew he was a genius. Surely he failed along the way, the important thing is he picked himself up every single time.

No matter what your station is within a business, self-esteem is critical to reaching great milestones. Having all the technical aspects perfected will only help you so much, if you get too complacent, too uncertain of your abilities, you will never know what can be accomplished. While Oscar Wilde’s confidence is the stuff of legends, there are a few things we mere mortals can do to try and boost our self-image.

Start by silencing the critic in your head. Far too often we compare our blooper reel to our colleagues’ highlights. The work you put out is valuable, acknowledge that to yourself every once in a while. If you struggle with this, try creating a list of successes, keep them somewhere that you will often see it.

Shake up your daily routine by stepping out of your comfort zone. Challenge yourself to studying a new skill or taking on a small task that you wouldn’t normally do at work. This allows you to better gauge your limitations by objective results rather than your subjective mind setting imaginary limitations.

Declare your genius, people around you will have no choice but to notice.

Interested in more content like this? Check out last weeks Business Advice From History!

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