Overcoming Low Self Esteem at Work

by Crystal on February 7, 2009

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Overcoming Low Self Esteem At Work

We spend more time with our colleagues at work, than most of us get to spend at home with family or friends.  Unfortunately for most of us these days, work has become a bit of an emotional minefield, associated with everything negative.  Feeling good about yourself at work is very definitely a skill that takes some time to master, but considering it covers probably the largest chunk of your life outside of sleep, it’s also one that is well worth the effort involved.

My work cubicle from a distance
Image by Damek via Flickr

The Pressure Cooker

Over the past several years, and more so now that we’ve hit tough economic times, there’s a huge amount of pressure for most of us at work.  Job descriptions have expanded and in many cases what used to take 3 people is now being advertised as a single job.  Work hours have been creeping up, so it’s no longer an 8 hour day for many, and coming in during holidays and days off just to get through the workload is so common a phenomena it’s got it’s own name – even if I can’t remember what it is right now.  Job ads ask for applicants with 2 or more specialties (how does that work?) and the rates of pay (particularly for women, and in Australia) have been going backwards in real terms.

When restructures are so frequent that you feel that you’re in competition with your colleagues just to stay at the company, and just keeping your job means there’s a constant pressure on you to perform perfectly (or else), then there’s just no way you can consider it a harmonious environment.

Criticism and Self Criticism

Being told that you’ve not done something right is one of the most common ways that our self esteem is dealt a blow.  Unfortunately, we’re trained from an early age to think in terms of only one ‘right’ answer, everything else being wrong.  Then we’re taught that if we don’t achieve that one right answer, we’ve essentially failed.  Failure, of course, is seen as hugely negative, definitely to be avoided, and a proof that you’re not good enough to achieve.

Once we start getting criticised by others, we end up internalising these messages and start criticising ourselves.  That’s when self-esteem really starts to take a dive.  That internal voice needs to be your friend, not your enemy, for you to be able to stand strong in the face of criticism.  There are plenty of ways to modify your self talk, but let me tell you a bit of a secret – you can circumvent a lot of work with one simple change to this way of thinking.

There are plenty of other ways to think that don’t involve “right vs wrong”.

Thomas Edison didn’t think of every experiment as a failure when he was working on the lightbulb.  He’s famous for saying that he’d just discovered however many hundred ways that it didn’t work.  If he’d thought of every single lightbulb trial as a personal reflection on his ability, we’d probably still be using candles.

Let go of right/wrong thinking.  It doesn’t work.  There are always lots of ways to achieve any goal, and just because your way is different to someone else’s doesn’t make one of you right and one of you wrong. So long as you are getting an outcome, even if it’s not the one you hope for, you’re getting closer to the final one you want.  You can never be wrong, and the only real way to fail, is to stop trying to succeed.

…This post just ended up being WAAAY too long.  I’ve turned it into a theme for the week

Click here for Part 2: Learning to Cope


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