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irrelevant self esteem

March 25, 2022

I’ve been wondering lately if we respect the notion of self-esteem too much.

Imagine a guy named T. T, like many people, is considering leaving the company he works for. Like many, he feels underpaid, underappreciated, and disrespected. He has also been told by others in his industry that he has a great reputation and a great business idea of his own. He could start his own company, realize his vision, and see how it goes.

It’s a risky move. As any entrepreneur can tell you, starting and running a viable business isn’t easy. As the statistics can tell you, many new businesses barely get off the ground.

It takes a lot of guts to take the plunge. I read somewhere that entrepreneurs are more likely to suffer from overconfidence than the average person. I get it. It helps to have an inflated sense of optimism to push through the challenges, the difficulties, the obstacles. You really have to believe in yourself.

Or do you?

I’ve worked with more than one person in my career regarding whether they should launch a business. They all ask similar questions. “Do I have a good enough idea? Will people like it? Should I go for it, or am I better off staying put?” Most of the time, our conversations are business oriented. We talk about product-market fit, consumer targeting, concept testing. But sometimes, occasionally, it seems as though we’re talking about business when the issue is something entirely different. Sometimes the issue is really about self-esteem.

Folks like T may seem like they’re asking me to evaluate their business idea, but they’re really trying to manage the ache that comes with low self-esteem. “Starting my own business is not something I see myself doing,” is what they might say. “I don’t know if I’m worthy, or good enough,” they might think. So, instead of seeking business advice, they seek validation. They crave encouragement. Because they feel that unless they can overcome their low self-esteem, they can’t do whatever it is they really want to do.

They believe that addressing their self-esteem should come first and following their dreams should come after.

Meanwhile, they stay stuck as they do the really hard work of feeling better about themselves. They go to therapy. They read self-help books. They follow memes of self-affirmation. All while they put their dreams on hold.

The problem is, turning low self-esteem around is freaking hard. People don’t grow to hate themselves for no reason. They don’t become doubtful of their worth out of the blue. Some folks have low self-esteem because as children, they were never encouraged to accomplish difficult challenges, so they have no meaningful successes in their history to give them confidence. Others had needs that were neglected, ignored, or de-prioritized so that the starving egos of their caregivers could be satisfied. And some people don’t believe in themselves because their parents straight up told them they were trash – either by actions, or words, or both.

In other words, low self-esteem is developed through powerful early experiences, while our brains are developing, and while we’re learning about how the world works and where we fit in it. Reading a book or having a girlfriend tell you “You’re amazing!” over margaritas isn’t going to fix it.

And in the meantime, while you’re waiting to find reasons to believe in yourself, you’re wallowing in a bad job, a bad relationship, a bad apartment, a bad friendship… a bad situation. While you’re working on your self-esteem, you’re making bad decisions.

Which is why I think caring so much about your self-esteem isn’t the right move.

As any expert in business can tell you, there are specific things you can do to maximize your chances of entrepreneurial success. There’s a sort of roadmap. For instance, you need to identify a real problem that your business would solve for consumers. That problem must be meaningful enough to where enough people would pay for a solution, and it’s even better if a competitor isn’t solving that problem already. You also need to know who your target consumer is; the clearer you are on who your business exists for, the better able you’ll be to build what they need and communicate with them. Also important is a solid business model that can earn your company revenue and build loyalty over the long term, because without traction, your business can fizzle out.

Following this roadmap doesn’t guarantee success, but it does guarantee that if you fail, it will be for “good” reason. Most importantly, this roadmap doesn’t require any level of self-esteem. The person executing each of these steps can be full of self-loathing or they can be full of self-love. If they don’t do what’s required, objectively speaking, they’ll fail.

The market doesn’t care what you think about yourself.

So maybe you don’t need to feel yourself before you embark on the next bold step of your journey. Maybe you don’t need to feel your way through to your goals. Maybe you just need to break it down and do what research, experience, evidence, and data have shown actually works. In fact, good feelings can get in the way. Feel too good about yourself, and you may lose sight of the evidence. Your decisions may not be objective. Your choices can lead to failure.

Detaching your feelings about yourself from your goals isn’t advice most of us generally get. We’re told to believe in ourselves, to love ourselves. I say, if you follow the evidence, you have just as much or little chance at success as someone with more or less self-esteem than you. If you objectively follow proven steps to success, no matter how you feel about yourself… well… maybe you’ll make it.

And maybe making it will do wonders for your self-esteem. Maybe action, and not self-talk, is what self-esteem is all about.

That is all.

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