There seems to be an unwritten rule that when you start a new role or project, you have to prove yourself for at least 12 months. Yet, this is one of the biggest barriers to career performance and trajectory. During a proving cycle, you are seeking approval and therefore trying to claim your own self-worth from external recognition from a boss or colleagues. Self-worth becomes wrapped up in how much you deliver. So, in a bid to please people, you end up saying yes to everything and making yourself to go to person to get things done. That’s when work becomes all-consuming and work-life boundaries blur. Even when you are at home, your mind is switched on and busy.
Imposter Induced Proving
In 2011, I started a 12-month postdoc contract. Although I had showed up for the interview, I felt like I only really got that position because of being recommended for the role by a contact. It had been unearned in my mind. Layer on top of that, the fact that I fell pregnant in the first month of the new position. I put pressure on myself to become indispensable so my contract would be extended for maternity leave and I would at least have a job to come back to.
The Self-Worth Depletion Cycle
The problem is that proving depletes your self-worth, then you feel under resourced in some way and the insidious cycle continues. In a bid to deliver on all of the things you have said yes to, you work harder. Health and relationships take a nosedive and you end up feeling like you are failing in multiple areas of your life. Exhaustion and guilt set in alongside a deep feeling of being overlooked, underappreciated and underpaid for all of that hard work.
“We can’t ask people to give us something that we do not believe we’re worthy of receiving. And you will know you’re worthy or receiving it, when you trust yourself above everyone else.” – Brené Brown
The etymology of self-worth is from 1650s “value inherent in oneself.” We can deduce from this definition that we need to find internal value rather than seek it from external sources. Your value can be considered to comprise of five different components:
- Vision: where you want to make a difference in the world.
- Purpose: why you care about making that particular difference. What drives you to get out of bed in the morning?
- Mission: the specific what you are doing to make a dent towards that vision.
- Natural Talents: doing something that aligns to your strengths and natural talents and capabilities.
- Values: what you are doing is aligned with your values and ideals.
Once you have clarity over all five components, you will be able to understand how you add value, recognise and appreciate yourself when you do rather than making it someone else’s job to fill you up with self-worth. Make that mindset shift from proving to adding value at work and actions and behaviours will change as a result.
Reclaiming Career Ownership
I had no clue about my value as a postdoc which meant that I wasn’t clear on my vision and direction, resulting in me being shaped and moulded to fit someone else’s purpose. I delivered on their vision for a further 8 years until I was filled with resentment and completely and utterly stuck. I had placed my career development in the hands of my boss, instead of taking ownership of it myself.
If you are trapped in the constant proving cycle, recognise that it is not helping your career trajectory, it is actually hindering it. Take back ownership of your career design by understanding and delivering your unique value. Defining your value gives you all of the navigational blocks to be the architect of your own career where you are supported rather than self-sacrificing.
Break the Proving Habit
Do you want to take the first step to breaking the proving cycle?
Drop me an email with the subject INTENTIONAL CAREER if you are interested in attending a free 1-hour career design workshop in June? Replay will be made available of course to those registered.