Self-Worth In Times Of Change

written by John Niland


What do all of the following people have in common?

  • Tom is a young man battling with the challenges of his first app-developer job.
  • Lisa has just been appointed as the first female partner (ever) in an established London law firm.
  • Sai has arrived from India and is now setting up as a freelancer in engineering automation.
  • Alison has just been made redundant from her management job in a bank and is pondering what to do next.

One obvious answer is that each of them are coping with change. The less obvious answer is that none of them have an established roadmap.  In their own way, each of them are explorers of unchartered territory, where nobody has really been before. (Of course, many of their aspiring mentors and advisers will pretend to have been there before, but let’s just ignore them for a moment.)

Individually and collectively, we face more change and upheaval than any generation before us. All too often, we are on our own with that change. Even when well-meaning friends and advisers tell us they have “been there, done that”, it often emerges that their circumstances and challenges were in practice quite different to ours.

While at times it’s exciting to play Christopher Columbus – exploring new worlds – it’s often scary.  Self-worth can be called into question with alarming regularity. There are several forces that compound the problems faced by our four friends above:

  1. We may feel that we are not allowed to be scared or insecure: the imperative of self-esteem demands that we be confident at all times. Lisa and Sai will probably feel this way.
  2. Through social media, we are benchmarked daily against the best in the world, so many people have a constant nagging sense of under-achieving.
  3. The marketplace is living through its own uncertainties, so setbacks and changes of plan are our daily bread. Ask Alison or Tom.
  4. There are entire industries peddling potential at us, so there are ever higher standards to live up to.

So what’s the solution?  How do we nurture self-worth in times of change?

One short answer can be: talk about it.  One of the reasons we’ve set up Human Space (see below) is to create a network of relaxed, informal settings where people can safely talk about what’s really going on, without masks or pretence.  In every age of crisis and uncertainty, humans have banded together to get through. It’s what defines us as a species. It’s why we out-lived the Neanderthals, even though they were in theory stronger and more suited to cold European environments.

In the right conversations, you get to reshape a fresh version of yourself. I sometimes call this the Paradox of Self-Worth. In theory, self-worth comes from within.  Yet, this “motor” of self-worth somehow needs to be kick-started from the outside.  If we are very lucky, we got this in childhood.  But most of us were not that lucky, because what we usually got was self-esteem, not self-worth.  (More about this distinction here).

In times of change, the benefits of self-worth are tangible.  We are more focused, as we are not losing energy via incessant self-questioning. We recover more swiftly from setbacks and disappointments, instead of descending into self-reproach.  We become more interested in the challenges of others instead of trying to be interesting ourselves. We are more engaging by being less self-preoccupied.

Are you in London? And are you free on March 12th?  You are welcome to join us upstairs at The Victoria, for a relaxed, convivial evening, with food and drink. More info here.


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