Don’t let low self-esteem hold back career goals

Posted in Careers, Mentor Minute

Don’t let low self-esteem hold back career goals

The Globe and Mail, Jan. 19 2012

The question

I graduated in 2002 with a bachelor of commerce degree from Dalhousie University. My marks were average at best. I majored in marketing because that was the only thing I could really do given my bad accounting and finance marks.

I was hired at an insurance brokerage in January, 2003, and since starting in this industry, I have obtained three designations (CAIB, CIP and CRM).


I sometimes enjoy my job but can’t imagine doing this for the rest of my life. I can’t help but feel there is more.

I work at a small office and have nothing in common with my co-workers. My direct boss is great and I feel great loyalty to him. The job is low stress and I love the city in which I live.

Should I stay for now? Should I pay for more education (CSC or MBA?) I spent years paying off my student loans and I am hesitant to incur more debt for another piece of paper.

Does the school from which one obtains their MBA really matter? At this point, cost, and being able to work while obtaining a degree is a large factor. I’ve always wanted to get into law but I’d like to think of myself as a realist. Maybe I’m not smart enough or maybe I can’t commit the time and money to this avenue.

The answer

I think it all boils down to your final statement: “I’ve always wanted to get into law but I’d like to think of myself as a realist. Maybe I’m not smart enough or maybe I can’t commit the time and money to this avenue.”

There are two things in this statement – a hint as to what you really want to be doing and a hint about the “gremlins” that are holding you back.

In terms of pursuing the career you really want, I recommend you read my responses to similar questions posed in the articles Turning a career rut into a stepping stone and It’s never too late to leave a boring industry.

So now, on to the gremlin subject. In this context, the term “gremlin” comes from a book I’ve read called Taming your Gremlin by Rick Carson. The author uses the term gremlin to refer to the little voice that lives inside our heads and gives us all the reasons why we should not to do something. Things like “I’m not smart enough. I’m too old to start a new career. It’ll take too long to go back to school and cost too much.” Reasons like “I don’t have the time, money, resources, education, knowledge, smarts, reputation, commitment, energy to do this.” The gremlin’s job is to keep a lid on our lives, our careers, our expectations, and keep us living small. It’s the thing that erodes our self-confidence, and makes us doubt our every move. In a nutshell, it’s the thing that has us stuck.

I have a client who knows she needs to make a career change. Her industry is changing rapidly with mergers and downsizing becoming the norm. Not only has she long ago stopped loving her job, but her job could be threatened. And yet her gremlin has her stuck. For a couple of years she has been saying to herself on her daily commutes, “There must be something more,” but she has been plagued by inertia.

On the one hand, her gremlin says, “You’ll never make a move – this is all you know. What do you think you would do? Who would pay you? You’ve lost your edge. You’ll have a take a huge step down the ladder.” On the other hand, her gremlin says, “But your current team doesn’t really need you. This gig won’t last forever. Someone will find out you aren’t really very good at what you do.”

And so, she has been circling for years. Damned if she tries to leave. Damned if she continues to stay.

Through our coaching, ultimately she decided that this is the year to stop listening to the gremlin and do something about her career situation rather than waiting for something bad to happen. She has decided that this is the year to become unstuck.

To tackle your own gremlin, start by writing down everything it has to say. Carry around a piece of paper with you and every time he opens his mouth with something negative about your future career, jot it down. Then, you can look at what he has to say and determine what is “real” or “true” and what is just an ugly statement designed to keep you living small.

Then, pick a theme for 2012 that really sums up how you want to “be” this year, a theme that acts like a beacon and draws you toward it. Maybe, like my client this morning, it’s the year of getting unstuck. Whatever motivates and inspires you, you need to commit 100 per cent to this new idea. If you’re sick of being stuck, pick something new and commit to it.


Katie Bennett is a coach and speaker and head of Double Black Diamond Coaching in Vancouver.