“Things aren’t going well in my work. I just can’t seem to see my way out of it. Maybe I’m just a big fat failure,” said of my new clients on a call.
I felt so much empathy for her. Who hasn’t been tempted to call herself a failure, taking the circumstances of the moment and turning it in a self-description?
Our work together became first to separate her own identity from her circumstances, and then to work on the thinking and actions that would move her into a new experience.
For the entrepreneurs and leaders that I work with as a coach, maintaining good self-esteem is crucial. When you have your own business, your well-being is tied to the well-being of your business. Having an energy that is self-confident and having clarity about your own value allows you to be the person you need to be to lead.
This isn’t just true of business. In any work, and life, being able to literally lead your own life is connected to recognizing how valuable you are, and how much value you bring to other people and situations.
No matter where you are in your own self-esteem journey, taking action can be clarifying and empowering.
Here are 5 actions I’ve shared with my clients for building self-esteem:
1. Know who you are.
You are not your work or your relationships or your family.
You are You. Beautiful. Uniquely you. The holder of many gifts.
The being who deserves love and connection and joy.
To receive that experience, learn who you are. Going on a journey of self-discovery is always valuable, and it especially helps your self-esteem.
- There are many ways to self-explore. Contemplative practices like meditation can help you get in touch with your own inner voice, your inner wisdom. Exercise in different ways, like kayaking or creative dance. Learn about yourself through something you love to do. Pick a hobby you’ve always wanted to explore and try it.
- Make a list of the skills and qualities that you have. Sit down with your journal or computer and think of what you’re able to do, the skills and qualities you’re able to offer.
If you find this hard to do, you can ask for help. Here’s a quick way to gather the information you need.
Ask 10 people who know you and value you to provide a list of attributes that describe you. Send a quick email that explains you’re on a mission to know yourself better and learn how others perceive you. Most people will be very glad to help.
When you’ve collected all this information, you’ll have a list of the ways people see you. Some you’ll recognize. Several may be repeated. Put those at the top of your list. Others may surprise you. Those will open you to a different way of thinking about yourself and your value.
- Know what you believe and decide how you want to show up. I work with my clients to find out what impact they want to have, what positive contribution they want to make, the legacy they want to leave behind them, even if they’re just walking out of a room. What do you value most? What do you believe is most important? When you know that, you can make great choices about how you choose to consistently show up in the world.
- Stop the comparison game. You don’t have to compare yourself to anyone. You can choose to improve on you. There is always someone who has more than you, has done more than you, or is better at something than you. Compare yourself instead with the previous you. See how far you’ve come.
2. Value yourself first.
Part of knowing who you are is to recognize your own value. Bottom line? Others can’t value us when we don’t value ourselves. So how can you value yourself, especially if you’re not feeling so awesome about how you’re doing?
- One way to do this quickly was recommended to me by life coach Martha Beck. Her advice was to begin with small things. Make each moment an opportunity to recognize and act on what would please you most. We all make dozens of decisions a day that are inconsequential to anyone else, but bring us joy. Choose your favorite mug instead of just picking the first one off the shelf. Skip as you walk the dog instead of just plodding along. Take time to shower and groom yourself. Wear something you think is pretty. What small thing would please you?
- Create space for yourself each day. We can get into a habit of reacting to what everyone else wants, or what we ‘should’ be doing. Carve out even 15 minutes a day to do exactly what you wish.
- Give yourself a good foundation for the day. Get up an hour or even a half hour early for a morning ritual of practices that support you. Meditate. Read something uplifting. Exercise. Eat a nourishing breakfast. Experiment with what feels best to you.
In the evening, reflect back on your day. Notice what went well. Celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small. This has a cumulative effect that makes a big difference.
Whatever you choose to do as your daily practice, stay with it. Do each item in your ritual each day, even if it means just a few minutes of each. That will help you establish your new habit.
- Prepare. If you have a difficult situation at work, then prepare for it. Research what you need to know. Practice what you’ll say. Rehearse with someone else so you can respond more easily to questions.
- Be your own best advocate. Take control of your self-esteem. You are your own best advocate. You know what you mean and what you want. Speak up for that, in your own way, even if you’re someone who can see different points of view.
This doesn’t have to mean standing up in front of a crowd to voice your views. It can be done with writing, or a quiet conversation with one other person. Your point of view matters too. So let it be heard. You are worth it.
3. Place yourself where you can add real value.
It’s hard to flourish when you’re in a job, business, or life that doesn’t suit you. It erodes your self-esteem. When you can find the place where your greatest skills and assets can really be used, and in a way you really enjoy, then you can bring the most value.
One of the reasons that people leave their jobs and start a business is that they see where they can add more value. They want to be able to create the environment that allows them to do that.
If you suspect you’re in the wrong work or personal situation, one way out of it is to first imagine the best life you could have. An exercise I have people do is one I call, The Best Day At Work Ever! You can do this exercise with your personal life too.
To do an abbreviated version yourself, ask yourself these guiding questions about your best day. What are you doing? Where are you – city? Country? Beach? What’s immediately around you – what is the room or environment like? Who is with you? What are they doing?
Describe your best day in as much detail as you can manage. Paint yourself a really vivid picture, either with words, or literally with art supplies or using photographs that you cut out of a magazine or take yourself.
Using that vision of your best day, examine your work or life and see how well it matches up. If you see mismatches, start to make shifts by doing one thing you can do in each area to change it.
Keep going. It’s worth the effort. When you find the right place for you, you’ll really be able to flourish and your self-esteem will soar.
4. Watch your language.
We can be careless with the language we use to describe our situation. It’s easy to catch the complaint bug when you’re in the presence of people who complain.
That kind of negative, victim-based talk eats away at your self-esteem. You begin to feel that you don’t have the power to change what you don’t want.
True, many people complain because they feel powerless, but it’s also circular, where one attitude feeds the other.
Stop the victim cycle for yourself.
Refuse to use language that puts you in the role of the victim.
Speak with clarity about your positive intentions.
Perfectionism can erode self-esteem. Think and speak about what you do in terms of progress, not perfection.
Self-deprecation can be mistaken for humility, to the point that we run ourselves down in order to seem humble. Humility, to me, is the recognition that we do very little in life all alone.
We always work in concert with and in the context of what others have done. Acknowledging that is simply embracing the reality that we are not alone. We collaborate with others in many, often unseen, ways.
When you speak, give yourself the same recognition you give to others. Value your own contribution. Acknowledge your role while recognizing the shoulders on which you stand.
5. Upgrade your surroundings.
Sprucing up your surroundings can make a big difference in building your self-esteem. Surround yourself with things you love. Choose things that put a smile on your face, that feel good when you look at them.
On the fireplace mantel in my office, I keep a red metal moose from Canada. That’s the country where I lived much of my life, so it reminds me of that time, a good memory. It also makes me smile, as this particular moose has a big grin on his face!
Having few things that you love is better than having many things that don’t matter to you. We put a premium on ‘stuff’ in this culture. More stuff is seen as a good thing.
The quest for and acquisition of stuff can get in the way of your self-esteem. Release the things that you don’t love and aren’t needed. Make someone else happy by giving your released items a home with someone who will appreciate them.
When you also release what you have to do to acquire all that stuff you don’t love, you create more space for you and what you love.
When I talk about upgrading what’s around you, I’m not just talking about your physical surroundings. Who are you surrounding yourself with?
Are they people who see the good in events? Do they see even unwanted situations as feedback instead of failure? Do they believe that they can change things for the better? Do they believe in you and your ability to do the same?
When you surround yourself with people who believe and support you in your beliefs that you can make constructive changes, you create your own little micro-climate of self-esteem. To keep that micro-climate going, avoid people who are destructive to your self-esteem.
You can even become one of those supportive people! Be a contributor to that climate of self-esteem.
One last thing about your people surroundings. If you’re someone who sometimes feels like you don’t fit in, self-esteem can be a challenge.
Find people who see you as you are and celebrate that. They are out there. They don’t have to be just like you. They just have to like you and what you bring to the table.
Self-esteem isn’t something you get and hold for a lifetime. It’s a mindset, a skill that takes effort to build and maintain.
The good news is, you can learn, practice and master self-esteem, just like any other skill. Even people who have had traumatic experiences have been able to come to terms with them and move into high self-esteem.
As you take action to develop your self-esteem skills, everyone around you will benefit, and you will be changed for the better.
Ursula Jorch mentors business owners and leaders to define their desired impact and build success on that foundation. Blending business strategy and leadership development, Ursula works with business owners and leaders to embrace their impact and empower their future. A 20-year entrepreneur, she is the founder of WorkAlchemy.com, a well-regarded speaker, and blogger.