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The importance of self-worth in career development with John Niland

The importance of self-worth in career development with John Niland

Michał Grela

Michał Grela

Relationship Manager at Future Processing

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John Niland

John Niland

Author, Speaker and Coach at Self-worth Academy

People tend to focus on boosting their self-confidence or improving self-esteem, but many don’t realise that it is the self-worth which is the fuel we should run on. Experiencing difficulties in career or personal lives in never easy and it is crucial to be able to rely on our self-worth. 

In this talk with John Niland, the author of “The Self-Worth Safari”, “Hidden Value”, “100 Tips to Find Time”, “Opportunity Conversations”, and “The Courage to Ask”, as well as speaker and coach at Self-Worth Academy, we explore the differences between self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth and elaborate on the importance of the later in career growth and development. We will also delve into the origin of the idea of self-worth and why it is more important now than ever.  

Michal Grela (MG): Hello, and welcome to yet another episode of IT Insights by Future Processing. John Niland is my guest today, and I’m super excited and looking forward to discussing how self-worth is important in business, in the professional life today, in these crazy times. John, thank you for joining me.
John Niland (JN): Thanks, Michal. Great to be here, and indeed we are in crazy times.
MG: Yeah. John is best known as a professional speaker and coach supporting professionals building a stronger career identity rooted in self-worth and self-belief. That’s your LinkedIn description. Could you shed some more light and explain who you are, what is it that you do, what is it that you talk about?
JN: For over 20 years now, I have been coaching professionals on all kinds of issues of performance, how to grow their business, how to get more done. All the usual performance-based coaching stuff. And about 10 years ago, I began to get a bit concerned about what I was doing, because I noticed that while there were many good aspects to it, very often, my work was confirming people in their struggle with performance, in their struggle with their reputation with themselves if you like. And then a few years later, when I had some of my own difficulties in 2016 it was a very difficult life for me. If you’ve read the book, you’ve probably seen some of that.
And I discovered that actually for most of my life, I’d been running on this fuel called self-esteem. “Our reputation with ourselves” as Nathaniel Branden defines it, and he ought to know because he wrote about seven books on the subject. And I’d been running on that for a long time and began to understand that I needed another fuel source. And the reason I ended up writing the book is that, that started a whole new discovery for me in terms of how we show up, how we present ourselves, how we lead, how we think about our careers, because self-worth is fundamentally different to self-esteem.
MG: That was supposed to be my first question. There’s different fuels that you mention in the book. Self-worth, self-confidence, self-esteem, other esteem. What’s the difference, and why, from your perspective, self-worth is the ultimate, let’s say, fuel that we should run on?
JN: Well, it’s a secret fuel at the moment. There’s actually very little explored in comparison with self-esteem, on which books have been written, courses abound. Self-worth is largely unexplored. There’s very little on self-worth. But to answer your question, confidence is how we present ourselves to the world. It can be real, it can be faked. But either way, confidence is the presenting self if you like. And of course, everybody wants to be confident. We generally feel better when we’re confident. True.
Self-esteem is our reputation with ourselves. And for that reason, it fluctuates. On a day when you get everything done on your to-do list and the clients are buying and everyone’s happy with your services, well, of course self-esteem will be higher. But not all days are like that. And we’ve just been through the pandemic, which has actually created a lot of bumpy rides for people in terms of their self-esteem. In many cases, they’ve lost the things that define their self-esteem. Their job title, their position in the office, their desk. Sometimes, lost health or family members. And these external markers are very important in terms of how we define our self-esteem.
MG: Of course.
JN: Self-worth is different. Self-worth, first of all, comes from inside rather than outside. And most importantly, it’s unconditional. So it does not depend on your performance, and it does not depend on your behavior. So if on a given day, you don’t do everything that’s on your to-do list, or you don’t go to the gym, or you get rejected, whether in business or in love or whatever it might be, you can still have self-worth because there are no conditions for it.
MG: That’s a very interesting concept. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. I’m just finishing the book. As I said before, please don’t spoil the ending. But I was really curious where did it all come from? I mean, you mentioned that it was your own way of coping with the situation, but was it like anyone influenced you? Or how did you actually came across the idea of finding self-worth as the fuel?
JN: Like many adults of my generation, I had been living on self-esteem for a long time. And to be honest, that was good. I mean, it was an advance on what came before, which was about adherence to structures and rules and regulations.
MG: Yeah. We all live in a certain, let’s say, social agreement that we comply with, more or less. So, I guess we all play the same rules.
JN: Yeah. And I grew up in a very traditional social setting in the west of Ireland, in the 1960s. So it was religiously quite dogmatic, it was socially quite restricted. And in many ways, excellence was about doing the things you were supposed to do.
MG: Of course, yeah.
JN: Defining your own way didn’t come into it. So, self-esteem was a good thing and it served me well for quite a few decades. But in 2016, when a succession of losses happened in my life, both personally and professionally. And the details are in the books. I won’t spoil the read for anyone. But by the end of 2016, my energy was very low. I felt like an imposter in my coaching work because by then, I’m speaking at conferences and motivating people in their performance. And I was not feeling that level of motivation that I was putting across to other people.
And when you’re a coach and when you’re a speaker, you get a double whammy when you have a down day because you’re not supposed to have that. And of course, I came across all the good stuff on self-compassion and accepting and these very worthy things. But I was unable to apply a lot of them because I just didn’t have one until I started to work on it at that time. I did not have an unconditional loyalty to myself or friendship with myself. My friendship with myself was very much conditional upon what I was doing, what people thought, what I thought of myself, et cetera.
MG: The aspect of this unconditionality is what, from my perspective, sets apart self-worth from self-esteem. But I guess there’s way more reasons why self-worth is now more important than ever, especially from the perspective of, for example, career development in the professional setting. Could you elaborate a bit on that?
JN: Well, even before the pandemic, there was a lot of transition around. A lot of people were in career transition either because the world was changing from under them, or in many cases, because they were choosing it. Not everybody wants a traditional job role in the way that, that might have been conceived of 10 years ago. And then of course, the pandemic comes along and accelerate digitalization to a factor of fourfold at least, possibly even more. And then hot on the heels of the pandemic, we have the ongoing Ukraine crisis bringing yet another wave of uncertainty as you well know.
If we look at the net effects of that, there are now shock waves of uncertainty rippling right across the economy as we know it. On top of which, we’re all going to be in it for longer a bit, unless anything really bad happens, because we’re going to have longer working lives. And it was all very well to have a single career or two careers maybe when your working career was going to be a four decade span. But now, that’s going to be a six decade span very soon. We’re going to have longer working lives simply because of the growth in human longevity. And we cannot spend 40 years in our retirement because the funding isn’t there for it.
MG: Yeah. Plus the demographics as well.
JN: Absolutely. Plus the demographic factor indeed. And I haven’t even mentioned artificial intelligence yet, that Future Processing you’ll be more aware of than I am. So if we look at all of that together, we are going to see more career transitions. It will not be unusual for someone, even at very established senior level in an organization, to have three, four, or five significant careers over the course of their lives. Now what happens during transition, as we’ve seen in the pandemic, people lose the reference points that define their self-esteem. So, it’s very easy for mental health problems to kick in during transition. And we see this with the young at university, we see this with people who are struggling to leave the corporate world and get into the independent business world. We also see it, and often quite tragically, when people attempt to transition into retirement and fail to do so. Quite a number of issues of both health issues and mental health issues kick in the over 50 space as well. The way we relate to ourselves is mega important during transition, and that applies to individuals and it also applies to teams.
MG: There’s definitely plenty of driving factors increasing this level of vulnerability and fragility within individuals recently, more than ever, as you described. Once we were already likely looking at the light in the tunnel, the pandemic just happened so that we just stepped into another huge disruptor. But I understand that someone who is rooted in self-worth can cope with these challenges better as a source of productivity and energy and value. And this value aspect is something I would like to maybe focus on a bit, because in the book, you stated that self-worth, when it comes to the value added, allows you to transition from chasing your role or a project to building a clear identity and understanding of the value within and outside that you bring in the professional setting. Can you explain some more of that?
JN: Indeed. So again, it goes back to the transition. So, I coach quite a lot of people who have held different roles in the course of their lives. And sometimes, this is quite difficult to connect and that can sometimes damage their credibility, even on their CV or when they go for interview, because there’s a lack of a red line, there’s a lack of a connecting thread sometimes between the diverse rules that they’ve done. So from many point of view, from an identity point of view, from a credibility point of view, it’s important to find that connecting thread. And generally speaking, in a changing world, you’re not going to find that in job roles. That’s about what we do.
What we need to focus on is who we are at work. Who are you as a leader? Who are you as a consultant? Who are you as a trainer, if that indeed is a role anymore? Because I think there’s training involved in just about every role now. Going beyond some of these labels to are you a visionary? Are you a disruptor? Are you a relationship builder? Finding the red thread that runs through all of your roles to date and that you’d like to run into your future roles, whatever they may be, that’s about identity. That’s not about job titles. It’s not about benefits, it’s not about the peripheral nature of our careers. It’s putting who we are at work front and central.
MG: It sounds really easy and super hard at the same time. These are the very fundamental and basic questions, I guess everyone, that was my perception at least, was trying to ask themselves. But these are the questions that I always for myself struggle to find answers to. And they are of course fluctuating over time. It’s not something that you set up for ages and you stay with for good, especially in the context, that way you mentioned that we will be more and more focused on, or forced to or looking to, move the ladder to a different wall, metaphorically speaking, in the career scenarios. One of the last questions I would like to ask you, John, is related to self-worth in the professional context of the relations with the customer and the client. Because often, bad relation or a tough customer or a tough client defines self-esteem or self-confidence can boost it or can kill it. How leveraging your approach can be helpful.
JN: Well, this is probably one of the most fascinating ways in which you see the difference between self-esteem based client management and self-worth based client management. So, self-esteem based client management invariably is about chasing good ratings from the client. So to chase good ratings, we become much better at client service, we do our best to accommodate their short-term request, long-term requests. It’s not so much a client service relationship as a client servitude relationship.
MG: Oh, yeah.
JN: Very often.
MG: Client is always right.
JN: Absolutely. Whereas, with self-worth, we start to form different relationships with clients. Rather than struggling to meet requirements, we aim to ship requirements together with the client. We become partners with them, rather than servants with them because we’re not dependent upon their feedback to value our own work and to value our own contribution. Now, I know it’s radical and I can imagine is in the eyes of your child.
MG: Imagine how a person who is that deeply, differently rooted in his perception of the situation, how is he finding his way in a situation where everyone around in the team, his leader, his team is looking at the same thing differently. He doesn’t. He obviously stand out and is kind of like this black sheep even or I don’t know how to put it, but I imagine it might be tricky from time to time, to actually follow these rules in the room full of people who don’t play the same game.
JN: Oh, yeah. And there are leaders who were very adept at surrounding themselves with servants, as opposed to partners. But then, the question to anyone with self-worth is, do you want to work for somebody like that?
MG: Exactly. So, the outcomes eventually can be really almost the same. I mean, the customer can be satisfied by both approaches, but I guess, it all comes down to us being satisfied in the relation as well.
JN: But in practice, we build much better relationships when we have self-worth based relationships. I’ve worked with professionals who have doubled and tripled their fees they’re charging to clients, because of the fact that they’re trusted advisors, because they’re willing to stand up for what they believe in and they’re willing to stand up for an approach. It really-
MG: It’s bold. It’s very bold and radical. I understand it. It won’t resonate in every context.
JN: No. Well, nothing will resonate in every context. Even being a servant doesn’t resonate in every context.
MG: Couldn’t agree with you more.
JN: So, it’s which context do you want to be in.
MG: ichal Grela: How do you increase self-worth?
JN: Well, I’ve written about 300 pages on it, but I’ll try to summarize. Above all, there’s usually a moment of decision, there’s a moment of declaration. And it might take a little time to get to that moment, but there’s a moment usually, where people choose to be on their own side no matter what. To be that unconditional friend to themselves, no matter what anyone else is saying around them and no matter what they’re saying in their own minds, because the real problem here isn’t the external voices. The big problem is the inner voice that’s constantly saying, “Not good enough, not good enough, not good enough.”
So there’s an example in the book of a lady called Mary, who on a Sunday afternoon, when the voice was saying, “You should be tidying the house,” or, “You should be getting ready for work, you should…” Whatever. She sat down and she went, “Look, I am enough, I do enough, and I have enough.” And just like that. That was her intuitive. She didn’t sit down and make up those words. They more or less came to her as a kind of massive declaration, if you want. And when she told that story in the pilot groups, a lot of people actually borrowed that mantra from her because it became the declaration, if you like, upon which a lot of subsequent action gets formed.
It’s not so much the actions, it’s the intention behind the action that’s important. So suppose that somebody decides to go to the gym or to pay attention to what they’re eating, they can either do that as another set of conditions to feel good about themselves, or they can do it as an expression of something that already is, like self-worth. And it’s changing the intention behind the action. We still want to do our best for our clients, but at the end of the day, what’s our intention? Is it our intention to get good ratings, or is it our intention to be useful in that situation? So intention is incredibly important when we’re developing self-worth, rather than self-esteem.
MG: Nothing more to add. Thanks, John. It was a really interesting conversation, and a really interesting book. I must honestly admit that I am trying to see how this approach fits my current state of situation, and we’ll see if maybe introducing some of these rules will help me with moving forward. And I do highly recommend our listeners to grab yourself a pair of The Self-Worth Safari by John Niland, because it’s also a professional perspective, not only the personal. This book is really really interesting and eye opening. Thank you, John, for sharing your thoughts and for joining me today in the IT Insights podcast.
JN: Thanks for the invitation, Michal.
MG: Thank you.

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