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Low Self-Esteem and THE PLOT by Jean Hanff Korelitz

Good people sometimes make bad decisions because of pre-existing frailties, like low self-esteem.

Cover of the book The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz used to teach ways to improve low-self esteem.

Low self-esteem occurs when a person sees themselves in a negative or critical light. People with low self-esteem stop trying new things, avoid challenges, isolate themselves from others, and experience higher levels of anxiety and depression.


Here are some ways to increase self-esteem:

  • Focus On Your Strengths: Identify the things you’re good at and engage in those activities – Frequently, people with low self-esteem are overly focused on one skill or component in their life in which they aren’t excelling. Sometimes, they are so focused on the areas of imperfection that they ignore their positive attributes and abilities.

  • Improve Your Relationships: Engage in healthy relationships with people who recognize the good in you. People with low self-esteem shy away from relationships with others who see them as positive (“because if that person thinks I’m good, they must be a terrible judge of character.”).

  • Be Kind To Yourself: Listen to the messages you tell yourself and change the narrative when you recognize that you are giving yourself continued negative feedback. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to an attractive stranger.

Teaching Example: The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz


Once upon a time, Jacob Finch Bonner was a literary sensation. His first book was well-reviewed and widely read. But it’s been more than a few years since this one-hit-wonder wrote anything worth reading. To make ends meet, he’s fallen from being a professional author to teaching at a (poorly regarded) low residency MFA program. His self-esteem is tragically low.


Along comes an arrogant MFA student with a fantastic plot. The type of plot line will shape the best-selling novel that will inevitably be remade into a blockbuster movie. It’s that good. When the student dies, it seems the plot might die with him. Until, in a fit of desperation, Jacob Finch Bonner…repurposes… it for his own novel.


This decision, made because of his low self-esteem, has disastrous consequences.


Apply The Skills


Jacob Finch Bonner could have assessed his true strength - teaching - and attempted to be the best teacher possible. When his students succeeded, he would have felt proud and empowered as the mentor who provided them with the scaffolding to realize their dreams. This would have increased his connection to the students and the literary world. As he helped others hone their craft, he could have noticed the positives and seen himself as a successful professor, not a failed writer. Perhaps, with this positive re-frame, he would have spent less time judging and more time thinking creatively and found his own great idea.


If Jacob Finch Bonner had improved his self-esteem, he might never have felt the need to steal another person’s story. The only potential downside? We wouldn’t be able to read about his twisty downfall.


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