Matthew Hudson | March 8, 2009
Based on requests from our readers, we are doing another series on the impact and connecttion between coprorate culture and self-esteem. With the current state of the economy in the US, it just seemed to be the right time…
People draw the majority of their self-esteem from their job.
It’s a fact no matter how hard we try to deny it that as humans we create and base our self-esteem on outside influences. Every great motivational speaker from Napoleon Hill to Og Mandino to Denis Waitley always taught us that we must take control of our self-esteem and what programs it if we are to be successful.
In order to have this discussion, we need a working definition of self-esteem. Our friends at the American Heritage Dictionary define it as ‘confidence.’ With this definition, we are not too impressed with our friends. We find it easier to understand if you deal with each side of the hyphen.
The word esteem when used as a verb (as it is here) means ‘to hold in high regard.’ When we give something esteem, we hold it in high regard and give it great importance. When you put the two together your definition becomes “to hold one’s self in high regard.”
This is certainly easier said than done. Most troubled people are such because on the outside they profess to hold themselves in high regard, but on the inside they know the truth. You probably know a lot of these people. These are people who try to put on an outward display of their positive self-esteem. This effort actually induces more stress on them than if they would just face the truth.
All the psychologists tell us, that our fears and behaviors are learned over time. As a matter of fact, as a baby we are born with just two fears – the fear of heights and the fear of sudden loud noises. How many of us still have just those two fears today?
As people we want to belong to something – a group, a team, a gang. We spend our whole lives trying to fit in. The programming that we receive in life is what shapes who we are. Part of that programming is the impact of your company’s culture. There is a definite connection between what we do for a living and our self-esteem.
The problem is that we learn this connection between our self-esteem and our job very young in life and that it becomes more than a connection to us – it becomes a definition of who we are. This is a very powerful statement, one that needed proof.
We wanted to test this presupposition so we visited a 2nd grade class of children one day to talk about “Career Day.” If you do not have kids of your own or your children have warped your mind so that you cannot remember back that far, these 2nd graders are about eight years old.
Before we had any discussions, we told them we wanted to play a game. We pre-made five signs and tied strings to the top corners so that the signs could be draped around the children’s’ necks. On each of the signs was a job type. We hung one card around each child’s neck and asked them to line up in order of importance. Who did they think was the most important? This person should stand on the left and work their ranking to the right.
The signs read: Doctor, Teacher, Lawyer, Garbage Man, and Farmer
Here is what happened. The two children labeled Doctor and Lawyer started to argue and push a little as to who was most important. They both felt they were the most important and should be first. But the teacher knew that he was not as important as the doctor or lawyer and immediately took his place third in line without saying a word. The farmer, knowing that people who wore ties or dressed up for work were more important, took her place fourth in line. The teacher and the farmer both stood quietly not saying a word. We looked for the garbage man, but he was not in line. Instead, the little boy with the label “Garbage Man” was sitting to the side quietly sobbing.
As the tears ran down his face, I questioned him what was wrong. “Please, mister, I don’t want to be the garbage man! I want to be important!”
If we were looking for proof that a person draws the majority of their self-esteem from his or her job, it was there in the teary eyes of that little boy. We have conducted this experiment other times mixing up the signs. We have tried nurse in place of doctor, factory worker in place of farmer and expanded into third graders. Each time the results were the same. There were always two kids fighting over first, the middle children knew their place and the last place person always cried foul.
Where do we learn this? Television? Role Models? Parents? The answer is D - all the above. The impact all of this media or personal contact has on a child’s life only gets stronger as we grow older. But the purpose of Project LEGACY is not to address this problem with our society. That will be for another mission.
The important part for you to remember is that people draw the majority of their self-esteem from their job. This means the more fulfilling your employees feel their role is in your company or organization, the higher their self-esteem. And we all know the connection between a high self-esteem and work productivity and quality.