The Value of Self-Affirmation

Do you remember your first job? Since you had no real work experience, you were hired largely on faith. You were at the bottom of the stairs and needed to prove why you deserve this job. The same is true no matter where you are in your career: you still need to prove your worth.

This post was originally published on The Simple Dollar .

A few days ago, I found myself reading an old article by Joseph Williams of The Atlantic entitled ” My Life as a Retail Worker: Vile, Cruel, and Poor . In the article, Williams recounts his own story in which his career collapsed suddenly and unexpectedly and he found himself working in entry-level retail. This is a fascinating article and I encourage everyone to take a few minutes to read it.

There are many things you can take away from this article. Some might read it as if Williams had a right and felt “superior” to his position. Others may see that the described retail work is quite demeaning to the employee, and that this whole story symbolizes some deep-seated problems with the way corporate America treats entry-level employees. Still others may see some flaws in the way Williams behaved in the workplace, even with the one-sided nature of the article (this is Williams’ point of view, after all).

Instead, I continued to put myself in Williams’ shoes. What would I do in his situation?

Right now I have a job in which I have effectively “established myself”. I can work from home and have no day to day management. I have “proven” that I can consistently write and meet deadlines with little or no guidance, and they know I can do it. I’ve been doing this for years. However, it took me many years to get to the point where I “proved” myself so well in front of my various clients.

When I first started writing Simple Dollar almost ten years ago, I had no reputation for consistency or relative writing quality. I had to prove it. I had to write every single day, over and over again. I did it with such consistency that people began to expect it. After a few years, I “proved” that I can do this consistently for a long time.

If I suddenly had to start over in retail, as Williams did, I might feel as if I had already “proven” myself. But that would not be true.

In truth, I would start over from the very bottom of the new staircase. I haven’t climbed a single step yet. Simply put, if I were starting a new career, I have not yet “proved” myself in this career.

If my career suddenly collapses and I find myself working at the entry level in retail, I would expect that I would have to go through a lot of the things that Williams went through. I expected my bags to be checked when I get to work and when I leave. I expected to be patted.

Why? Because I have not proved myself yet.

You have to prove yourself. Nobody thinks you are special or exceptional.

You see, one aspect of this entry-level job is that virtually anyone can get such a job without any proof of their character or work ethic. To get such a job, you often don’t need to include anything on your resume. Of course, along with that comes the fact that you won’t be paid well, your employer won’t completely trust you (at first), and you will be viewed (especially at first) as a completely replaceable cog. You are here to spend hours on relatively simple tasks, and if you can’t get them done, they’ll find someone to do them. Yes, these tasks can seem tedious, and at times you can feel like a lot has been dumped on your plate.

You will probably feel disrespected. You will definitely feel exhausted at the end of the day. But this is not the main thing.

What really matters is how you react to all of this. Are you going to use this as an excuse to put in the least amount of effort at work? Are you going to resent your boss for not treating you like a special person if you haven’t already proven it?

Or are you going to pull yourself together, figure out how to do your job as well as possible, find out what your boss is doing, and be ready to take that spot when the opportunity presents itself?

Another important thing to note here is that being a great employee for a day, week, or month is not enough either. One of the most valuable things you can develop in yourself is reliability and consistency, which I came across in my recent article on the skills you already have to be successful .

So this is what it all boils down to.

Looking to start a new career? You have to prove yourself. You have to start at the very bottom of the ladder, passing the tests to prove to yourself that everyone else must pass. If you fail – if you choose to just check and not take it seriously – you are not going to climb the corporate ladder. Period.

Do you want to move up the career ladder that you have right now? You have to prove yourself. You must simultaneously cover all the basics of the job that you have right now, as well as figure out what you need to have in order to be able to climb that next job up the corporate ladder. Can’t pull it off? You are not going to climb the stairs.

Do you want to start your own business ? You have to prove yourself. You have to create something yourself that would be attractive to clients and customers. You need to figure out how to tell these customers and buyers what you have of value and why they need them. Don’t you think you can do it? Then your side gig will not be a resounding success.

Every time you want to take a step forward, every time you want to start a new track, you have to prove yourself.

I like to use the military here as an example. The entire military hierarchy is built on showing itself. Reaching a certain rank means that you have shown others that you have the skills required for that rank. The whole system is built on respect for those who deserve these higher ranks.

Guess what? One week of hard work is not enough to get a high military rank. One year is not enough. A decade is a good start.

But what happens when you finally last long enough, when you have learned all the skills required to complete the tasks at your level and the tasks at the next level, and you are finally ready to move on?

You have shown yourself. And with that proof comes the reward. This isn’t just a financial reward, although it can be enjoyable. Rewards come in other forms as well – others know you’ve proven to be effective, so you don’t have to beat around the bush. You also no longer need to continue to complete some of the lower levels.

So what exactly am I going to do if I find myself in Joseph Williams’ shoes? What exactly am I going to do if I suddenly find myself starting over, on my first day at a sporting goods store?

The first thing I will do is realize that I have not proven anything about myself to the people I work with and that, on top of that, there was little qualification for the job. At first, I would have realized that I was literally a cog, a person at the very bottom of the stairs. Then I decided if I was going to do the minimum to get the check, or if I was going to climb that ladder. And knowing me, I will look up these stairs.

And from the moment I stepped through this door, I absorbed all the knowledge that I could assimilate. Every day I left, asking myself if I showed myself even a little. Have I done enough today to somehow prove myself? Did I do what I had to do with quality? Did I look ahead to the next step on this staircase and was I preparing to make it?

This is an opportunity that is presented to you whenever you start working in a new field. You have proven nothing — or very little. There is nothing special about you. You have to prove it with your consistency, hard work, willingness to learn, desire and ambition to move up. Your actions every day, every hour, every minute prove that you are doing this work.

And if you stick to it, if you keep working on it, manifesting yourself for days, weeks, months and years, opportunities will arise. Just being willing to prove yourself, make sure you’re doing a good job reliably, and learn about what’s next up the career ladder, you will set yourself apart from the majority of the people around you, and it will show. …

You will prove that you have value, and that value will be rewarded. But it’s up to you to decide. Nobody else.

All of this is true of any job or any entrepreneurial venture, be it an entry-level job at a fast food restaurant or a high-level technical job, or a leadership position, or a new startup you’re trying to create. Most of the time, you haven’t proven yourself at all, and success usually comes to those who do it.

Are you going to prove that you deserve the success that you think should come to you? Show it.

The value of self-affirmation | Simple dollar


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