This week I’ve been thinking about something we often overlook in the dialogue about entrepreneurship. There is a fair bit being said about vision, identifying your ideal customer and challenges of execution. We talk about marketing and time management and technology.
But we overlook something foundational to successful entrepreneurship: a solid sense of self-worth.
It may seem like a stretch to call this an element of business. We usually categorize the matter of self-worth as personal development. But as someone who has long battled struggles around worth and who has recently taken the plunge into entrepreneurship, it seems to me that this elementary relationship–the relationship to self–is integral to entrepreneurial success and equally importantly, to enjoyment of the entrepreneurial journey.
Below I outline 3 manifestations of a shaky sense of self-worth that sabotage entrepreneurial efforts and corresponding strategies that can help to reinforce your sense of self-worth and get you back in the game.
Even if you haven’t identified yourself as someone who struggles in this area you may find these symptoms familiar and these strategies effective. I challenge you to consider whether you could benefit from work in this area, even if you haven’t identified issues of worth as problematic for you.
By no means would I say that busyness alone indicates a problem of self-worth. After all it’s seems to be a plague we all share as we juggle work and family and life. But there is a particular brand of busyness–that busyness that keeps us from ever getting around to the important tasks–that may denote a weakness of self-worth.
This variety of busyness is driven by an inability to be still with oneself or to face daunting tasks, for fear of feeling inadequate. This busyness may take the form of compulsive maintenance of a zero inbox or a floor so clean you could eat off it. Or, as a friend of mine told me, making your kitchen sink sparkle like a diamond.
By losing yourself in these never-ending, somewhat mind-numbing tasks you can feel like you’re engaged in important and effectual doing, while actually avoiding the more challenging and important tasks like defining your values or ideal customer, strategically building products or content and spearheading marketing efforts.
Strategy for Building:
Try incorporating a pause for reflection before diving into a task or writing your weekly or daily to-do lists. For each item on the list ask yourself, “What do I want to see here?” This question can facilitate the attainment of your high-level objectives in a given area by allowing you to think about what’s possible before saddling that possibility with limitations of what you feel capable of or have time for or know how to do.
By focusing on your ultimate vision in a given area, it becomes much easier to avoid derailments like cleaning your spam filter or interrupting work to put the clothes in the dryer. It brings into focus what exactly you’re working toward so that you can direct your full energies and focus on the task ahead. This, in turn, enables you to more effectively problem-solve or learn or enlist someone else to facilitate the achievement of that defined goal.
This is a particularly nefarious challenge of the self-worth struggle, because it tends to create a vicious and self-perpetuating cycle. The cruel thing about insecurity is that others, whether consciously or not, perceive it and react to it. Souring relationships quickly, insecurity can reinforce itself by persuading us that the relationship soured because of our inadequacies or our failings, when in fact it is our own perception of inadequacy that tagged us.
Insecurity demands a dedicated audience in our own minds, pushing out feelings of confidence and diminishing our own sense of experience or preparedness. Insecurity claims you can’t be prepared enough, that you’re not ready, that you will embarrass yourself, that you should hedge. So when you speak or act, you do so self-deprecatingly. And when you do, the other party–be it your client, partner or spouse–perceives that uncertainty and often doubts or resists you because of it.
The cycle of insecurity can feel intractable, but awareness is the first step toward freedom. The following strategies can help you get there:
Strategy for Building:
At the heart of insecurity is a rift in our relationship with ourselves. The bad news is that insecurities can be extremely difficult to navigate, even if we want to address them. The good news–and this is REALLY good news–is that because the problem lies in our relationship to ourselves and not so much in our real competencies or even in our relationships to others or the world at large, we have complete power to resolve them (admittedly with some serious and prolonged effort).
Try these two exercises to help strengthen your sense of self-worth. They pack the most punch if practiced daily.
- Take five minutes in the bathroom or your bedroom and situate yourself comfortably in front of a mirror (I sometimes do this while brushing my teeth in the morning). Gaze into your eyes in the mirror’s reflection. Resist the temptation to start picking yourself apart about your crooked nose, or heavy thighs, or your dire need for a haircut. Instead stay with your own eyes and practice cultivating compassion towards that person you are gazing at. Then speak aloud several times a mantra like, “I accept myself as I am.” It can feel silly or ineffectual at first, but with time, you will begin to notice small shifts in your experience, especially when facing uncertainty.
- The second is an exercise of tracking your own progress in life. We are conditioned to spend entirely too much time thinking about what we are not or where we are trying to get to, and show very little kindness or appreciation to ourselves for how far we have already come. Take a few moments to reflect back on some areas where you used to really struggle but have since made progress. Write down those accomplishments, thanking yourself for your efforts. Again, I felt really foolish when I started these practices, but with time I noticed a marked increase in my own confidence and calm when meeting new challenges.
3. Self-Neglect/Failure to Invest:
Feeling uncertain of your own worth can make investing in yourself seem inappropriate, unjustified or simply out of reach. As a culture, we often wear self-neglect as a badge of honor, as if it were a testament to how hard we are driving ourselves. But at its core, the failure to invest in yourself is a reflection of poor self-worth.
Moms have a particularly severe challenge here. With all of the demands on your time, money and energy, how can you possibly carve out time, money or energy to invest in yourself? I love what writer/illustrator, grad and mother of three, Lou Niestadt said,
“Delight yourself first. They [your children] will do what you do, not what you say.”
I think this is a beautiful way to think about investing in yourself. It reminds us that in so doing, we not only value ourselves, but we model self-worth for those we love.
Strategy for Building:
Go back to that mirror and take with you the question, “What do I want to see here?” Spend some time really considering the areas where you want to grow or change. Now think of what investment would facilitate that process, and find a way. Maybe it’s starting small. Just a little at a time. Maybe it’s spending what you thought you couldn’t afford through a process of re-prioritizing. Or reaching out to a friend to help you stay accountable.
Whatever the goal, whatever effort it will take to get you there, you are worth it. And the very process of considering your wants and needs and taking steps to actualize them, will reinforce your own sense of self-worth. You may find that you surprise yourself, which is an excellent start to building your self-worth.
Go take a minute in front of your mirror. Then tell us in the comments what you want to see!
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