A model is proposed in which the goal of people with high self-esteem is to cultivate personal strengths in order to excel, whereas the goal of people with low self-esteem is to remedy personal deficiencies in order to become adequate In two experiments, subjects received initial outcome feedback of either success, humiliating failure (internal attribution), or failure that allowed face-saving (external attribution) Experiment 1 then measured subjects intrinsic motivation to pursue the task during free-choice time Subjects with high self-esteem had the highest intrinsic motivation after success Subjects with low self-esteem had the highest intrinsic motivation after the humiliating failure Experiment 2 required a second performance on a similar task Performance results were consistent with the intrinsic motivation results of Experiment 1, with one exception High self-esteem subjects were sensitive to the different failure treatments, performing well after humiliation but poorly after face-saving Subjects with low self-esteem performed the same in both failure conditions The relation of the present model and results to previous work is discussed