You’ve taken the first step and admitted that you have a problem. You’re a paycheckaholic, addicted to your paycheck, and you’d like to take some steps towards generating other streams of income. Yet, somehow, you feel stuck.  It’s likely that you’re stuck in part because you are tied to an old thinking pattern or belief system. One very important aspect of breaking your paycheck addiction is changing your way of thinking. Your level of self-esteem–and your self-concept–may be contributing significantly to that thinking pattern.

I recently discussed the “psychological paycheckaholic,” who struggles to make the leap into self-employment because he or she suffers from low self-esteem. The psychological paycheckaholic is filled with doubt about his abilities. The psychological paycheckaholic does not believe that she is worthy of happiness and success.  That’s not me, you say to yourself. I feel good about myself. A lack of self-esteem is not what’s holding me back from starting my own business.

Sometimes, it’s most difficult to see truths when we’re too close to them; it is easy to deceive ourselves into believing that low self-esteem is not holding us back. It is not, however, an exaggeration to say that your sense of self-esteem in many ways determines your quality of life and the success you achieve within it.

This is a sensitive subject for many, and one that is very personal for me. As I grew into adulthood, I realized that my own self-esteem was abysmal.  I didn’t really believe I was deserving of success, even when I was achieving what might be considered success: being promoted, taking on significant responsibilities in my job, increasing my earnings. Sometimes, I felt like a fraud and wondered when I would be found out. Despite having the boxes checked off in terms of educational credentials and professional experience, I was afraid that people would realize that I wasn’t really up to the task that had been assigned to me. I was concerned that they’d conclude that they’d made a mistake with me. Sometimes, I worried that if I made a mistake, my true nature would be revealed, and I’d be disciplined or fired.

Being quite analytical by nature, I really wanted to understand why I felt the way I did. I was interested in finding the root cause of my concerns and seeing how I could improve myself. I was fortunate to be introduced to the work of  Dr. Nathaniel Branden. Through his work, I came to understand the connection between my anxieties and my own deeply-held beliefs about myself and my place in the world.  I learned more about self-esteem and my own interpretation of it.

What is self-esteem?

Self-esteem is more than just liking the person you see in the mirror. It’s more than merely feeling good or engaging in positive self-talk. There are further nuances and important facets of self-esteem that are critical to understanding ourselves and overcoming limiting thought patterns.

Dr. Branden’s definition of self-esteem has two components:

  1. You are confident in your ability to think and that you are competent to cope with the basic challenges of life. You believe that, with your ability to think, as well as your skills and experience, you are able to meet life’s challenges and overcome them.  You trust in yourself and your ability to survive and thrive, in particular through the use of your cognitive abilities.
  2. You believe that you are worthy of happiness.  You believe that happiness on earth is possible, and that you are deserving of it. You believe that you are entitled to assert your needs and wants, and to enjoy the fruits of your efforts.

Influencing factors

Your level of self-esteem has certainly been impacted by your upbringing and earlier incidents in your life. Consider the following:

  • Some children are raised to believe that the events of their lives are predetermined or orchestrated by some external force. Others are taught to use their own minds and talents to make events happen.
  • Some children are taught to persevere; they develop resilience. Other children, sometimes lacking encouragement or a role model when times get tough, learn to give up easily.
  • Some children are raised to believe that happiness on earth is possible and that they are in control of their own happiness. Others might hear, as I often did from my father when he would quote a line from Sophocles: “count no man happy until he is dead.”

Let’s consider how your self-esteem impacts your ability to enter the world of entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurial self-esteem

Having a high level of self-esteem is critical for overcoming your paycheck addiction and striking out on your own. It’s the emotional foundation for business ownership.

An entrepreneur must be confident in her ability to think. She trusts in her ability to generate a viable business concept, to find the appropriate resources, and to adjust course as needed. If she has a high level of self-esteem, she is comfortable with change and with the unknown, because she trusts in her own resourcefulness. If, however, she does not believe that she is capable of overcoming challenges—and she lacks resilience—then she may struggle to  begin a new venture and to sustain the momentum required to make it successful.

She must also believe that she has the right to pursue happiness and that she deserves the rewards of her efforts. In this context, happiness could mean a combination of running a profitable business that doesn’t add excessive stress to her life, working in a field that she loves, feeling that she is contributing to a higher purpose, and providing herself with the financial means to design her lifestyle. If an entrepreneur does not believe that she deserves to be happy, however, or that she has a right to pursue activities that support her own happiness, then she is less likely to take the necessary risks to grow herself and the business.

Making the shift

As you think about starting your own new venture, it’s worthwhile to explore your own level of self-esteem and consider how it may be holding you back.  It’s possible that, on the surface, you feel good about yourself.  In your subconscious mind, however, you may be holding deeply-entrenched thinking patterns that are shaping the way you think about making changes in your life.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I trust in my own ability to think and to solve problems?
  • Do I feel capable of coping with life’s challenges?
  • Do I think I am worthy of happiness? If no, why not?
  • Is my own happiness a goal that I am currently pursuing?
  • Am I entitled to assert my own needs and wants? How comfortable am I doing this?
  • Am I entitled to the fruits of my efforts (recognition, financial rewards)?

Perhaps your answers suggest that your self-esteem can use some improvement. Of course, everyone experiences insecurity from time to time; in fact, an important part of being competent at anything is checking yourself and asking yourself how you can up your game.  But these feelings of inadequacy become problematic when they hold you back from taking on new challenges and making changes in your life.

Developing an awareness of your level of self-esteem and working to raise it can be a critical success factor as you embark on your path to entrepreneurship and financial independence. Other people can support you in the process of increasing your self-esteem, but you’re the one who needs to take the lead.  We can try to use positive words to build you up, but the reality is that you need to believe in yourself at the deepest level. Dr. Branden’s books are a good place to start; many of them contain very useful sentence-completion exercises that you can work through on your own.  Or you may want to search the Internet for other self-esteem resources that appeal to you. And of course we’re here to help as well. Please post a comment to let us know of any resources that you’ve found useful.