Hirhurim linked a dvar Torah by R' Twerski that I think is worthwhile for everyone to read. Excerpt:
Today, we vote in blocs and think in blocs. We are influenced by the mass media, major corporations and by the leaders of educational institutions. Indeed, the educational system has been criticized as forcing all students into the belly of the bell curve, resulting in mediocrity as well as uniformity. We yield to whatever fad prevails. Our minds are made up by everyone except ourselves.
There are indeed rules and principles by which we must all abide, but there is ample room within these parameters to be oneself. What is my goal in life? What do I think happiness is? What are my unique abilities that I should develop? What kind of lifestyle do I want?
Rebbe Shalom Shachna, the father of the Rebbe of Rhizin, married the granddaughter of Rebbe Nachum of Chernoble. The latter’s chassidim did not approve of Rebbe Shalom Shachna’s ways, which did not conform to the Chernoble practices, and complained to Rebbe Nachum. When Rebbe Nachum asked his grandson why he was not conforming, the latter answered with a parable.
The egg of a duck got mixed up with the eggs of a hen. When the chicks hatched, the mother hen took them for a walk. When they passed by a stream, the duckling jumped in. The mother hen panicked, shouting, “Come out of there! You’ll drown!” The duckling responded, “Have no fear, mother. I know how to swim.”
Rebbe Nachum told his chassidim, “Leave him alone. He knows what he is doing.” Thence came the dynasty of Rhizin, famed for its uniqueness.
Listen to the words of Rav Shlomo Wolbe. “Every individual, like Adam, is an entire world. The existence of billions of people does not detract from each person’s uniqueness. Every individual is a one-time phenomenon.
Every person should know, “I, with my strengths and talents, facial features and personality traits, am unique in the world. Among all those living today and in all past generations, there was no one like me, nor will there ever be anyone like me to the end of time. Hashem has sent me into the world with a unique mission that no one else can fulfill, only I in my one-time existence” (Alei Shur vol.2 p.71),
And again, “How distant from reverence for Hashem is the person who seeks only the approval of others, and is ready to imitate whatever he sees others do.” (Alei Shur vol.1 p.132).
God created us all with sechel, intelligence. With that intelligence, we have the ability to make decisions and form opinions. If I cannot be certain of myself and my own decisions and opinions, how can I be certain of anything? We have to take the time to strip away the voices and opinions of everyone around us and really figure out who we are, what we want, where we are, and where we wish to go.
I recently read The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. One of the characters in the book, Howard Roark, discusses the concept of Second-Handers. Second-Handers are people who live not motivated by what they truly want but by how they wish to be seen by others:
They have no concern for facts, ideas, work. They’re concerned only with people. They don’t ask: “Is this true?” They ask: “Is this what others think is true?” Not to judge, but to repeat. Not to do, but to give the impression of doing. Not creation, but show. Not ability, but friendship. Not merit, but pull. What would happen to the world without those who do, think, work, produce? Those are the egoists. You don’t think through another’s brain and you don’t work through another’s hands. When you suspend your faculty of independent judgment, you suspend consciousness. To stop consciousness is to stop life. Second-handers have no sense of reality. Their reality is not within them, but somewhere in that space which divides one human body from another. Not an entity, but a relation—anchored to nothing.
After centuries of being pounded with the doctrine that altruism is the ultimate ideal, men have accepted it in the only way it could be accepted. By seeking self-esteem through others. By living second-hand. And it has opened the way for every kind of horror. It has become the dreadful form of selfishness which a truly selfish man couldn’t have conceived. [...] Look at everyone around us. You’ve wondered why they suffer, why they seek happiness and never find it. If any man stopped and asked himself whether he’s ever held a truly personal desire, he’d find the answer. He’d see that all his wishes, his efforts, his dreams, his ambitions are motivated by other men. He’s not really struggling even for material wealth, but for the second-hander’s delusion—prestige. A stamp of approval, not his own. He can find no joy in the struggle and no joy when he has succeeded. He can’t say about a single thing: “This is what I wanted because I wanted it, not because it made my neighbors gape at me.”
If one spends her life overly concerned with what others think, she will never get to learn what she thinks. In essence, she will never really exist as a unique individual - only as the member of a throng, of a collective opinion. Then one day, she will wake up and wonder, "Who am I? Why am I here? What is my purpose? What have I done in this life and why have I done it?" And there will be no answers. Until that point, she has not existed without others informing her how to exist. She has not lived as an individual.
We have to value our own worth and feel confident in the competence of our own minds. And if you make a mistake, even a big one, absorb it, make it part of you so you can learn from it and understand how to behave in the future. Recognizing something as a mistake means you understand proper ways to behave. Take confidence in that. You cannot erase, but you can build. Mistakes are precious - they show us the paths we should be careful around next time, they help us understand others who are as imperfect as we are, and they help guide us towards more correct behaviors and decisions in the future.
You are a being created by God. By putting yourself down, you are putting down one of God's creations. If God created you, there must be worth to you. A good friend once said, "Only you determine YOUR self worth. That's why it's called self."
We're all unique and we all have something substantial to offer. Remember that. :)