As a writer, speaker and ex-corporate veteran I've had exposure to thousands of people slogging it out in the trenches of Company XYZ, trying to advance their projects, prospects, and sense of progress.
As the masses labor to bring their skills to bear, one skill all too often rears its head. The uncanny ability of sooo many companies to beat down extraordinary individuals and make them feel ordinary, average at best, or far worse.
Sometimes it's individual managers with ridiculous standards or astonishingly low EQ that slowly squeeze the self-confidence out of the employee, one missed opportunity to give positive feedback at a time.
Other times it's an entire culture that values all the wrong things, with a dearth of empowerment and inspiration as a brutal casualty of war.
Still other times it's systems run amok-- people evaluation systems that force rankings, calibration, bell curves, and mathematically create a majority made to feel anything but valued and valuable, anything other than special.
We're at DEFCON one here folks, a DEFlated CONfidence of the highest danger level.
It's time to wage war on the entities and employees that massacre our sense of self-worth.
Use these five mantras of self-determination to move through what makes you feel held back.
1. Your differences make you more than, not less than.
We exacerbate our feelings of inadequacy by viewing what makes us different from others as a liability. "I'm not a star employee because while I'm more creative than my peers, I'm not as analytical," you tell yourself, for example.
But it's that difference that makes you greater than, not lesser than.
Take pride in your different strengths and strengthen them to increase their applicability and extent to which they're appreciated.
By the way, I'm not saying ignore the unhelpful differences. Strike a balance; while you're working on improving the things that make you different in truly career limiting ways, revel in the unique spices you bring to the stew.
2. Your company doesn't define you. What you stand for does.
Look, I'm pragmatic--I get it. Your company may not literally define you, but it can define your trajectory and stature, which is an inescapable part of you.
But even then, that's just a small part of you. The much bigger whole comes from your values, your beliefs, your purpose. Who you are is so much more important than what you are.
If you can still be who you are at work and live your values, draw strength from that, even as you struggle with the impediments the company places in your career path. If not, or if enough is enough on the career front, then courageously make a change--just do so with your head held high.
3. Go for authenticity, not approval.
This is related to the above but worthy of its own consideration. When we seek approval we're seeking external validation, which is an empty victory at best, and elusive and confidence eroding at worst.
You don't need validation--you just need to be the valid you.
Fall in love with your internal qualities, not external accomplishments. Internal validation is what counts and is as certain as your commitment to remain true to yourself, your values and your beliefs. Self-confidence comes from self-congruency.
4. No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
Eleanor Roosevelt had it exactly right. Similarly, you get to choose who criticizes you. Everyone else can go pound sand.
5. Stop undermining yourself.
Self-deprecation is one thing, self-defamation is another. Don't lower others expectations of you by doing it for them. Talking your self down (or excessively up) both smack of insecurity. Avoid making sweeping, negative generalizations about yourself from one isolated incident. Stop the beat-down behaviors and engage in the lift-up behaviors.
This includes being mindful of your inner-monologue. It's so easy to read into the writing we think we see on the wall. Regardless of what reality is, our internal dialogue can distort it.
The bottom line is our internal dialogue does one of three things: makes a bad situation worse, creates a situation when there isn't one, or brings us above the fray and into positivity.
Which will you choose?
Recognize when your self-talk is spiraling downward and halt it. In that moment, consider your self-talk as if you were an outsider. Change the tone like you would for a friend that needs support. And while you're at it, ask yourself "Why Me?" less and "Why Not Me?" more. The former is the victim mentality, the latter is the victor mentality.
It often takes extra effort to glue that "extra" back onto the "ordinary". It's the great DIY project in life. And it's one you can't put off any longer.