Self-Esteem & Career Choice

“When your self-worth goes up, your net-worth goes up.”

Mark Victor Hansen, American Author and Motivational Speaker

“It’s a different world today,” said Oma. “Women have many more opportunities.”

Years ago, my mother-in-law, Gisela, and I shared a conversation over coffee while my four-year-old daughter, Heidi, played on the floor between us. “Oma” was a title Gisela wore like a crown. The word meant grandmother, but to Gisela, it was an official title: matriarch of the family. Oma had an opinion on everything and usually the evidence to back it up.  

“I started as a nanny,” she explained, “then later became a kindergarten teacher.”

Growing up in Germany during the Second World War, Gisela had a repertoire of tales that ranged from hair-raising to heartbreaking. She shared each with the flourish of a Spanish matador.

“Back then, people frowned at my career choices – even being a teacher was considered by many to be a man’s vocation. So, I was told to find a man and to stay home where I belonged.”

I smiled. Oma was never one to do as she was told – then or now. A genuine trailblazer, Oma still preferred to strike off on her own and defy convention wherever and whenever possible.

“Heidi will have more choices than even her mother could have imagined.”

I turned to my daughter. “What do you want to be when you grow up, Honey?”

Without looking up from her dolls, Heidi replied, “I’m going to be a nurse.”

Oma acknowledged that nursing was a good choice, yet one still thought of by many as a woman’s profession. Therefore, Heidi should be encouraged to expand her horizons a little.

“You can be anything you want to be,” she reminded her granddaughter. “You can be a doctor, a lawyer, a banker, the prime minister of Canada. You can be or do anything, little one.”

“Anything?” Heidi asked, looking up from her play.

“Anything!” replied Oma with a smile. “Anything you desire.”

“OK,” Heidi said. “Then I want to be a duck!”

Heidi’s dream may have needed to mature a bit more, but I couldn’t help but marvel at her innocent belief that anything is possible – even being a duck. Oma was right, too. There were undoubtedly more opportunities for women than were available when she was a young woman and entering the workforce.

In my experience, the better our self-esteem, the more able we are to take advantage of opportunities – especially in the career field. Successful people seize opportunities because they feel capable and up for the challenge. Unfortunately, poor self-esteem kept me trapped in many low paying, soul-crushing jobs. Opportunities were everywhere, but I stayed doing what I had always done because it was safe, it was predictable and because I was terrified to fail.  

When our self-esteem is poor, our view is limited, and our idea of what is possible is skewed. As a result, we feel trapped and can’t find a way out even though exit doors – metaphorically speaking – are clearly marked and available around every corner and down every hallway.

Perhaps it’s time for many of us to ask, “When did I stop believing in possibility? When did I resign myself to living a small, regretful life instead of a life of exuberant expectation? When did I move from believing anything was possible to thinking that few things are probable?”

Low self-esteem and a lack of faith in ourselves are bound to impact our choice of employment. However, it also limits us because we may never realize or reach our full potential.  

Most people with low self-esteem struggle with an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. So as not to feel overwhelmed, we stick with the familiar. In doing so, we miss out on so many opportunities to learn, grow and succeed. We never discover what is truly possible for us.

Remember, much of our inadequacy results from comparing ourselves unfavourably to others. Sit down today and make a list of all your skills. You just might be surprised at how capable you really are. Pay attention to that voice in your head – the one that gives you the litany of excuses why you can’t do something. That voice is feeding back what you believe to be true for yourself. This can be insightful. Question the validity of each belief and delete the lies.     

Be authentic and assertive. This will take practice, so start small. Choosing to use one simple word when disempowering thoughts and ideas enter your mind can be life-changing. The word is no. You might also try saying no to some people who discourage or keep you down.

When our self-esteem and personal awareness is underdeveloped, we see few possibilities in life. Fear prevents us from challenging convention, pushing ourselves out of comfort zones, exploring new and exciting avenues of opportunity. The truth is, nearly all the limitations we perceive are self-imposed. Only when we take full responsibility for the quality and content of our lives, do we begin to see a wide and wonderful world of opportunity spreading out before us.

American businessman, poet and humanitarian Samuel Ullman wrote, “You are as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fears, as young as your hope, as old as your despair.”

Think about it. Would you rather have the optimism of a four-year-old girl who wants to be a duck or the pessimism of an adult who says in despair, “I can’t be anything at all”?

There’s no time to waste, so get quacking!

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