Mr. Rogers and Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  One of this campaign’s goals is to fight the stigma surrounding mental health so that people are more comfortable seeking out the support they may need.  Last year, I shared a bit about my struggles, in a general sense, in order to hopefully break some of the stigma.  I have decided to write another post, with a little bit more specifics, mostly due to a film I recently watched and its relevance.  The purpose of this is not to vent or seek pity or as a cry for help or anything like that.  While I know people may read this and want to reach out to me to offer support or the like (and I appreciate the thought), that is not what I want at all.  The purpose of this post is to fight the stigma of mental health issues by letting people know that I have struggled, and to encourage people to accept the reality of these issues and deal with them rather than avoid them and be ashamed.

Last week, I finally watched “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” the documentary on Mr. Rogers.  I had heard about it for a long time, and the movie did not disappoint.  His basic goodness and belief in humanity, along with his quiet strength facing social ills, are truly inspiring, and a model we should aspire to.

However, there was a more negative aspect of the film that stood out to me.  A few years after Mr. Rogers’s death, there was a small backlash against his philosophy of telling children “you are special just for being you.” People claimed that this mentality had led to young people being entitled and narcissistic.  These commentators state that if one wants to be special, they have to earn it.

Now, one could have a reasonable debate about senses of entitlement and people thinking they deserve recognition without earning it.  However, this is not even close to what Mr. Rogers was trying to convey.  As the documentary explains when addressing his critics, his philosophy was that each child has an intrinsic dignity and worth, and that it is important for children to develop that feeling of self-worth.

Unfortunately, in my own life, I internalized the message of those critics rather then the message of Mr. Rogers.  For as long as I can remember, I have tied my self-worth into what I have done rather than who I am.  I must be successful and do special things in order for people to like me.

Through a variety of fortunate circumstances, it seems as though I have led a moderately successful life thus far.  Perhaps the life I have led might even be categorized as “special” by those critics who say that “specialness” must be earned.  (It should be noted that many of those “successes” were more due to my fortunate circumstances, rather than my truly “earning” them.)

Meanwhile, despite those successes, I have struggled with having little to no intrinsic self-worth throughout my life.  I am nothing without my achievements. This has often led to my being unsatisfied by my successes and devastated by my failures.

Because of this lack of self-worth, I have deep-seeded insecurities that cause me to struggle in connecting with people.  That may seem strange to many, as I can readily start conversations with strangers and enjoy being social.  However, deep down, I rarely feel that any of these people could ever actually like me.  I feel that I must be impressive in some way.  Even if I may be able to have an easy conversation with you if we see each other, the idea of calling you or messaging you or reaching out to you in any way scares the hell out of me because my inner voice tells me that I would only be bothering you. This has led to my building walls and keeping distant from people.

As I write this, I realize a secondary purpose of this is to serve as an apology and an explanation.  I apologize to any of you that I’ve pushed away or seem to have ignored at times, especially if you’ve reached out.  Oftentimes, I have every intention of reaching back out to you, but I’m not in the right frame of mind or I don’t have time at the moment, and then life gets in the way and then my insecurities take over and I withdraw.  It is a weak excuse, but I hope it explains a little.  I am sorry if it seemed as though I didn’t care or value your friendship.  Because even if I don’t say it, I do value you and your friendship immensely.

That is more than enough about me.  As I said, I don’t want this to be self-serving.  I am only sharing my issues because I want to fight the stigma that people face when discussing mental health issues.  Maybe someone out there has similar struggles in their own life and this will help them in some way.  Low self-worth and self-esteem are often linked to higher levels of depression and anxiety.

Whatever your struggles may be, I beg of you to please accept them and confront them head on.  Do not try to ignore it and bury it.  Trust me, it only gets harder with time. You could start addressing things simply by going some of the websites I’ve listed below.

If you yourself have had struggles with mental health, and feel comfortable doing so, I ask you to also share your stories so that we can all fight the stigma of mental health issues.  People need to realize that they are not alone, and that talking to a specialist if you have a melancholy that won’t go away should be no different than talking to your doctor if have a cold that won’t go away.

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Month campaign by the National Alliance on Mental Illness is “Why Care?”  And who better exemplifies the spirit of caring than Mr. Rogers?

I wish I had taken his message of self-worth to heart more than the messages of the world that I must be great at everything.  I encourage you to learn from my mistakes and listen to Mr. Rogers.  To be clear, this does not mean that you are entitled to special recognition or adulation.  However, you are entitled to respect and dignity, because you are a unique and special human being.

Hold on and appreciate those caring relationships in your life that validate your special uniqueness and build your self-worth.  Ignore the critics and avoid those relationships that you need to earn or prove yourself for.  Treasure those people who, in the spirit of Mr. Rogers, care for you and like you for just being you.


Here are some links about dealing with low self-worth and/or low self-esteem, as well as some general information on mental health awareness.

I especially like this resource personally because it differentiates between self-worth and self-esteem.  And I appreciate this distinction because I struggle with one far more than the other.

The distinction between self-esteem and self-worth aside, there is overlap, and this WikiHow page gives a bunch of simple suggestions that would help with either.

I highly recommend this website for everyone.  It is a resource website both for people struggling with some issue and for friends & family of people struggling.  At a minimum, you can read up on how to talk to a friend or family member that is facing a mental issue in case such a scenario ever arises.

The Mental Health Awareness Month website from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  It connects to its “Why Care?” campaign and also has a large amount of different resources.

The Cure Stigma campaign from NAMI, which is focused on removing the stigma our society has about mental health issues.

This gives many tips on general well-being for both mind and body as they are intertwined.

Matt’s Essential Reading List #4

Here is my fourth installment of what will eventually be 50 essential books to read.

A reminder of my guiding criteria:

  • Prestige of the author and/or book
  • Readability/Approachability
  • Subject Matter
  • Quality
  • Perspective

Another reminder: a * denotes that the book is also on Amazon’s “100 Books to Read in a Lifetime”

How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

Academic/Expository/AnalysisHow Democracies Die

How Democracies Die won numerous book prizes in 2018.  It is particularly relevant now in the aftermath of the recent release of the Mueller Report and the current crisis in Venezuela.  This book is a great analysis of how countries can from democracy towards authoritarianism.  In modern times, this change is usually not sudden, but rather a gradual chipping away at democratic norms and institutions, until they are easily toppled. It analyzes Nazi Germany, Venezuela, and Turkey among others and compares these situations to what is happening currently in the United States.

Admittedly, the book is highly critical of Donald Trump and the Republicans.  However, it is not a manifesto for socialism or a liberal agenda.  It is not critical of Republican policies per se.  Rather, it warns that the methods that Trump and Republican leaders in Congress have used have begun to erode the foundations of the American system of government.

One of the key tenants of the book is that a historical foundation for American democracy has been mutual toleration, that competing political parties view each other as legitimate rivals with different views, rather than as existential threats that must be defeated at all costs.  This is a lesson we all must learn if the republic is to continue.

*The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

FictionThe Sun Also Rises by [Hemingway, Ernest ]

If you have ever considered participating in “The Running of the Bulls” in Pamplona, Spain, this is the novel that brought the San Fermin Festival into the world’s consciousness.  I have been fortunate enough to take part in the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona (and yes, I ran with the bulls as well!)  And while, I had already wanted to do it, reading The Sun Also Rises only increased the desire.

Beyond the excitement of the Spanish festival, the book, in my opinion, best captures the imagined Lost Generation lifestyle: sitting in cafes in Europe with people from different countries, contemplating life, whether it has any meaning, and thinking the next adventure it holds in store.

This is, for good reason, considered one of Hemingway’s greatest works, and it does capture his writing style and his lifestyle rather well.

And if you are still considering your summer vacation plans, the San Fermin festival is in early July and is an amazing time.  Most of the rooms are usually booked by now, but it’s always possible to find something.  When I went, I didn’t book until a couple weeks before and was able to find a nice private room right in the middle of it the action.  The hotel even had balconies overlooking Estafeta, the main street of the festival.

Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by Adam Grant

Self-Improvement/Philosophical/ManagementGive and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success by [Grant Ph.D., Adam M.]

I came across this book rather coincidentally. During my last month at SpaceX before I left on my trip around the world, Adam Grant happened to come and do a small management lecture on the principles of Give and Take.  He also provided books for the attendees, and I read it during the course of my travels.  The general principle is counter-intuitive at first, but then makes complete sense when you really think about it.

Basically, Grant states that people fundamentally fall into one of three categories: givers, takers, and matchers. Givers are rather selfless and willing to give without expecting much in return.  Takers are the opposite and try to take advantage of every situation and person for maximum personal gain.  Matchers are those that are in-between, people that are willing to help, but expect something in return, and vice-versa; believing in a balance.  In his research, Grant found that over the long-term, the givers are usually the most successful of the three.

The book explains the concepts extremely well, with great real-world examples.  It also provides guidance on how you and your team can develop a culture that encourages the giver mindset, which then is beneficial for everyone involved.

*Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Biography/Memoir[By Doris Kearns Goodwin ] Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (Paperback)【2018】by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Author) (Paperback)

As a history buff and political junkie from Illinois, obviously Lincoln is always going to be at the top of my list of presidents.  This award-winning book goes into great detail about Lincoln’s life and his political career, but also that of his major political rivals within the new Republican Party, who were more established and more likely to be the 1860 Republican nominee for President.

It is a realistic portrayal of Lincoln and his struggles, without as much myth-making.  Although, it does hold him in much higher esteem than his rivals (albeit for good reason.)  However, within the book are numerous lessons about how best to deal with people and stressful situations, and coming together in pursuit of a higher purpose.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

OtherA Visit from the Goon Squad

This was another accidental find.  A couple I met while traveling happened to have just finished it, recommended it, and gave their copy to me.  This Pulitzer Prize-winning book is a collection of interwoven short stories told in a variety of different perspectives and methods.  One of them is even told via PowerPoint slides.  It is a unique book, and according to Wikipedia, some critics have called it “post-postmodern”.

The stories are engrossing with interesting characters.  There is no underlying plot connecting the stories, however aspects of a story that are vague in one story often become clearer in a later story as more background information is revealed about particular characters.

It is entertaining and one of the more interesting books stylistically that I have ever read.  Despite the changing styles, which may be slightly unnerving to some, it is very accessible and enjoyable.

I kept the tradition going and passed the book on to a friend in Colombia after I was done.  So who knows where that particular book is at the moment…