How Fierce Fempreneurs Overcome Low Self Esteem in the Workplace

04/24/2015 11:20 am ET | Updated Jun 24, 2015


I have loved building a small business, and have invested hours, time, and money that I will never get back, whether the business succeeds or not. The same goes for those trying to climb the corporate ladder.

I remember spending most of my teens with my mother's fist constantly pressed against my back, in an attempt to force me to stand up straight. Like many teenage girls, I had some serious self esteem issues. Learning to understand and love yourself while comparing yourself to every other girl you come across can be terrifying. Although we would love to imagine this obsessive comparison ends in our teens, some of us do carry it with us into our 20s and beyond.

Ah, The Roaring 20s
I have loved my 20s. I was the awkward, shy teenager, but truly came alive in my early 20s. I fell in love (again and again), met my soulmate, became a mother, and found success in business after making several mistakes. It's been quite the experience, and for most of us, this is what the 20s are all about. A chance to really understand yourself and to figure out where you want to go. You will fall in love many times, experience heartbreak, move into your first place, begin your journey up the corporate ladder, or even launch your own business.

All of these experiences are a blast for the most part, but there will be moments where you will feel as if you are in a high school musical flashback!

Facing an Uncertain Future
Discovering who you want to be tomorrow can take a toll on your self esteem, because it means experiencing the good and the bad. In literature it's called "A Coming of Age Story." Like I mentioned before, although I have finally found success in my career, there were many failures along the way. At one point I had to make my family understand that I did not want to be who they thought I should be. Being from a West African family, that is a very big deal, it meant wearing my big girl pants, and heading into this world knowing that I was expected to fail.

A lot of us graduate and join the workforce in our early to mid 20s. It's full of hungry, overambitious, and competitive members of our peers. The transition from student to employee is a challenging one. Every decision seems life altering, the choice to accept an internship with your dream company, or to take a more stable position elsewhere -- the choice to start a family and risk losing out on career opportunities. It's overwhelming, and if you let it, it can affect your self confidence and leave you living in fear and uncertainty.

Letting Your Fear Hold You Back
The moments I am most proud of looking back on are the moments I leaped forward, unprepared for what was on the other side. As a daredevil, in many ways, it's easier for me to make choices that most would run away from, but these are the moments when I learn what I am truly capable of.

Remember your first love. The first boy who gave you butterflies, I met mine in my early 20s. He was everything I wasn't supposed to be with.

  • He wasn't African.
  • It was a long distance relationship.
  • He worked for the military, which meant a high possibility of leaving for long periods of time.
It didn't work out, but it was an incredible couple of weeks. He was one of the most affectionate, kindest men I had ever met at that point. And although the heartbreak was unbearable at the time, I wouldn't change a thing. I learned that I can survive heartbreak that terrible.

Same goes with my first miscarriage, and my first failure in business.

Be fearless and be bold, letting your fears and your insecurities dictate your choices will hold you back in every aspect of your life, and it will suck the life out of you when it comes to your career success.

The Effects of Low Self Esteem at Work

Staying Hidden
People with low self esteem do not like to be noticed, usually because they are afraid of screwing up publicly, or they feel unsure about themselves and don't want everyone else to see what they believe may be there.

Usually not the smartest thing to do in a competitive environment like the corporate world. You want to be noticed in the right way.

You should have little milestones that you work towards achieving in order to catch the eye of your superior. If your goal is to move up the ladder, remaining unnoticed may not be the way to go. In this unpredictable economy, with many companies laying off employees unexpectedly, you want to be the person your superior, fights for because he/she understands your worth.

Your Productivity
Yes, your lack of confidence does affect your day to day actions and choices in ways that you may not even realize.

There's a reason parents are told to encourage their children, and to tell them that they can be whatever they want to be. When you do not believe in yourself, you tend to give up easily.

If you do not believe that you are capable of doing something in your workplace, it will affect the final product. Your work will suffer because you will not put the effort into your work that a peer with more confidence will.

It's Unappealing
Clients and employers will be turned off by your energy. There is something so pitiful, and miserable, about people that have very low self esteem, it's like the energy and positivity gets sucked right out of the room the moment they walk in. It sounds harsh, but I can speak of it, because I have been there.

I hated it and I know everyone else did too. People feel the need to say things to uplift you constantly or avoid you altogether. You will have a difficult time connecting with your colleagues, and your leaders.

Overcoming Low Self Esteem
Lois Frankel, author of the bestselling Nice Girls Don't Get The Corner Office, offers some great tips, but my favorite is 'fake it til you make it'. Walk a little bit straighter, and when that voice pops in your head during your next meeting telling you that you will look ridiculous if you give your answer, speak back. Mental fitness takes just as much work as physical fitness.

You have to exercise your mind often and feed it positivity in order to achieve results. Start paying attention to negative behaviors and catching yourself when you are about to repeat them. Staying quiet when you have the solution to a problem, avoiding eye contact, and walking with your head down, are all negative behaviors. Challenge yourself to adjust one behavior a week, and you will start to notice a difference in the way people look at you, but most importantly, you will feel better about yourself as you achieve more and more.

As women, we walk into our careers with an unfair disadvantage, the way to help to create a change is to prove those that expect you to fail wrong. You have to believe in yourself before anyone else will.

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Originally on The Indie Chicks