Written by Beth Williams, Executive Director of Human Resources at UMW and Mary Washington alumna, Class of 1994
“Too many people overvalue what they are not and undervalue what they are.”
– Malcolm Forbes
I grew up a sweet, shy, insecure, freckle-faced redhead who was always looking for validation. I thrived on approval and, for some reason, frequently felt that others’ feelings, wants and opinions were more important than my own. Perhaps this is why the above quote by Malcolm Forbes resonated with me when I first read it.
I invite you to read the quote again and think about it a little more closely; what does it mean to overvalue what you are not or undervalue what you are? What does it look like in real life and why does it matter?
Let’s imagine two business colleagues, one looking at the other thinking “I wish I were as great at public speaking as she is. I’m terrible at it, I get so nervous I can barely think”. At the same time, the other woman is thinking “I wish I were as great at project management as she is. I’m so disorganized and am terrible at estimating time, I’m always missing deadlines”. Both people are hyper-focused on what they are not and discounting the importance of what they are.
Why does it matter? What’s wrong with wanting to be better at something? Acknowledging our weaknesses and striving to improve in an area that’s important to us is healthy and rewarding. Constantly measuring ourselves by the yardstick of others’ abilities while discounting or even ignoring our own, is unhealthy and damaging to our confidence and sense of self-worth. We end up “hustling for our worth”, as Brene Brown puts it, which can look and feel like desperation, and is exhausting. We put more value on who we think we should be rather than who we really are and no matter how much external approval we receive, our internal voice is still the loudest and most influential one we hear. We need to change our self-talk and turn it into an inner coach rather than an inner critic. Let’s look at the example again with a couple of simple changes:
Let’s imagine two business colleagues, one looking at the other thinking “I wish I were as great at public speaking as she is. I’m terrible at it, I get so nervous I can barely think I should ask her to coach me on my project presentation next week – I’m proud of the results and I want my presentation to reflect that”. At the same time, the other woman is thinking “I wish I were as great at project management as she is. I’m so disorganized and am terrible at estimating time, I’m always missing deadlines I wonder if she’d be willing to teach me some of her strategies so I am as confident in my ability to manage my next project as I am about presenting the results.”
Notice how those simple changes alter the entire tone of each woman’s self-talk; not only is the message different, the feeling is different, there is a sense of possibility and potential for growth. Rather than telling herself the same old “I’m not enough” story and getting stuck there, each woman appreciates the other’s ability without undervaluing her own, which allows her to see the potential to move forward and learn from the other.
I am now a long way from that shy little girl, both in years and in disposition, but even now I still have those moments when I feel like I’m not being or doing enough. That not enough feeling is my cue to pay close attention to the messages I’m sending myself and invoke my inner coach, who is now able to drown out the inner critic and help me fully value what I am, rather than beat myself up for what I’m not. Everyone has something special to offer this world, let’s support each other as we learn to value our own wonderfully unique talents and skills, we will all be better for it.