I was thinking recently about this question – what is a person worth? I had to hire some folks to assist me in our growing consulting and training company. I placed some ads in Craig’s List and on Elance.
Not surprisingly, I got a lot of responses to these ads. The respondents ranged from kids just barely out of college to seasoned marketing professionals who seemed to be down on their luck. I read each cover letter and resume with interest.
As I went through the files, I started asking myself. What do these people think they are worth? Not just what they think their time is worth — I mean, that was clear in the ad. The pay range was stated specifically.
But what I wondered as I read their materials was what they thought of their own self worth. Some of the cover letters were boastful, filled with big accomplishments. Others were practically apologetic. Some were confident and had subject lines like “I’m your man!” Others were bland and completely devoid of any excitement or enthusiasm.
Having just launched a new workshop centered on helping people raise their sense of self-worth and self-confidence, these emails and applications were really fascinating to me. And since launching these powerful workshops, I’ve been paying much more attention to the clues people give me — and that I give to others — about our sense of self-worth.
I realize that there are times when I too am filled with boundless confidence — and probably come off as blowing my horn a bit too loud. And there are times when I’m asked about my work and I hem and haw a bit before reconnecting with my purpose (see more about Purpose here) and am able to speak with the same level of clarity and confidence that I train others to do.
Self-confidence and self-worth are two side of one coin — the coin of self-esteem. Without a belief that we matter, that our life counts for something, that we have meaning, life can be a challenging journey. Without some level of empowerment, of agency, the feeling that we can actually accomplish things, then our life can seem difficult if not futile.
These two sides of the self-esteem coin—self-worth and self-confidence aren’t taught in most schools. Most of us learn them from role models and from trial and error in our own lives. Growing up, the people on TV seemed to be practically exploding with self-confidence – Kojak, the guys on Dragnet, Hawaii 5-0. Heck, even Dean Martin, in his boozy way, oozed self confidence.
But in my own life, many of the people in my environment constantly second guessed themselves. There were plenty of flaws and warts. And I soon became acquainted with the idea that no one was perfect and things didn’t always go the way you hoped they would.
I compensated for this by assuming the posture of my TV heros. Superman (at least on TV) never questioned himself. He was a man of action. So I became one too.
This approach worked for a while. I got jobs in Hollywood and started clawing my way up the ladder. Then I got a little window into the abject ugliness of the quest for power and fame. Someone wrote a nasty letter to my then boss, suggesting that I be fired. I won’t go into the details, but it was very painful.
And the truth was that I was doing a lousy job at that moment. I’d BS’d my way into something that was over my head — manufactured self-confidence and all — and now it was all crashing down.
My sense of self-worth cratered. I was five years old again and felt completely powerless.
I took a week off and sat in a hot tub in Esalen and watched the surf, the birds and lots of naked strangers. (There are a lot of naked strangers at Esalen.) I thought about who I was and how I was presenting myself to others.
I thought about my worth. My self-worth and my worth to others.
And I realized that I had much more value to offer to others and the world when I represented myself honestly and frankly. I acknowledged that I am a person who loves to take on a challenge, but I need to be able to ask for help when I need it.
Superman, I am not.
Then I hauled my wet, wrinkled butt out of the hot tub and got back to work. I met with the boss and helped get things sorted out. I owned up to my errors. And I did not lose my job.
I’ve had lots of opportunities like this to work on myself. And I welcome them — even when they are painful. Because the more I can grow and develop my sense of self-worth the valuable I am to others and the more fun and exciting my life is.
If I can do it, you can too…