To Thine Own Self
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If self-esteem is getting in the way of your business, how do you change your outlook? And is low self-esteem something women deal with more than men? Jennifer Warwick, a women's career strategist and coach in Los Angeles, doesn't believe that only women experience low self-esteem, but she points out that women do tend to be much more open than men about their self-esteem issues.
"Women are encouraged to build intimate and complex relationships, and part of building trust includes being vulnerable and sharing your flaws," Warwick explains. "So it's no surprise that self-esteem is often seen as a more 'feminine' issue, especially in business."
For Cynthia Anderson, 36, president of CD Anderson, an accounting firm in Raleigh, North Carolina, her teen years marked a decline in her confidence. "I had acne and was very thin. This kept me from pursuing activities I would have enjoyed and kept me in a corner. I was ashamed of who I was."
Today, Anderson has been in business about two years and already projects revenues of over $1 million. Business success, however, can only boost your self-esteem so much. "Women tend to dwell on their insecurities more than men," says Anderson. "We expect a lot from ourselves, and when we can't be everything to everyone, we beat ourselves up."
"All that self-reliance can be isolating," says Warwick. "And isolation further undermines self-esteem."
Warwick suggests women entrepreneurs take a realistic look at their support systems. "Good friends and trusted advisors are essential and will hold your dream for you, even when you may doubt it," Warwick advises. "You must also be willing to let go of those who are not supportive of the dream."
Jennifer Read Hawthorne, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul , believes that learning to like and even love yourself is a lifelong process. "You can surround yourself with competent leaders, but you can never really compensate for low self-esteem. Sooner or later, you will be discovered." Hawthorne recommends several tactics for boosting self-esteem:
1. Make sure your business is your passion. Your low self-esteem could be tied to not following your heart.
2. Associate with people who seem genuinely happy. Happy people are usually at peace with themselves.
3. Ask for help. Don't try to work on your issues alone.
Warwick agrees it's important for women to pursue their passions and also believes women need to manage their expectations. The perspective that "only perfection is good enough" limits advancement in both business and life.
"Re-examine what you think of as 'good enough.' For many high-achievers, the concept of basic competence has mutated into flawless performance," says Warwick. "Take a deep breath sometimes, and stop when something is 80 percent or 90 percent perfect, then start on the next adventure. It's enormously liberating."
Anderson says the turning point for overcoming her own self-esteem issues began in college, when she started joining groups that interested her. "I had to move past my insecurities and live the life I knew I was capable of living." In business, getting involved and meeting people is still her best strategy.
"Get to know people [with] similar interests," Anderson suggests. "If you find them fascinating, you must be pretty fascinating yourself."