Self-Esteem and the Solo-Preneur | Internal vs. External Locus of Responsibility
Read this sentence to yourself in your mind or out loud:
"My life is the sum total of my own choices; the state of my business is the sum total of my choices".
As you read that and re-read that, what is your experience? Do you feel excitement? Pride? Shame? Do you sense a burden on your shoulders? What does it weigh in your mind? Do you quickly move to insist it is not your "fault". That it was out of your control? That it was this circumstance or that circumstance? That you were "wronged"? Or "unlucky"?
Or do you experience a comforting and/or challenging level of acceptance. A "yup" with a quiet nod of your head?
One thing is for certain-your relationship to that sentence is a good indicator of your level of self-esteem, or your level of healthy egoic development in the positive sense. You see, it is not the big ego that needs defending or asserting in the world; it is the small ego. It is not the big ego that is arrogant, self-righteous, or deflects responsibility and blames others; it is the small, pre-rational, pre-conventional, vengeful, ego-centric ego.
It is a challenging re-frame for most to get their minds around. But just ask yourself this: what kind of ego could achieve a non-dual sense of reality; what kind of ego could be one with all things, moment to moment? A big, huge ego. An ego so large it can be a yes to whatever is arising moment to moment and relate to it, be a part of it. That takes an expanded sense of self. Yet that ego is also diffuse. It is large, but it is flexible. It lacks rigidity. It does not need defending or asserting; it understands its power. As a result, there is nothing to prove to anyone-not even itself.
"Ego" has fallen on such hard times, particularly in the West for precisely the same reasons that are implicit above: most people seldom develop beyond stage 1 or 1.5 with their own ego, and since that stage of egoic development gets all the press, as it is loudest and most offensive to the senses, and most people are intuitively [and rightfully so] hesitant to talk about stages, as sadly most people use it to imply superiority in the context of worth, we engage in false reductionism and label all "ego" as bad. In that moment we engage as well in a bit of self-hatred [we must] and create internal dissonance [again, necessitated by our thinking] and yet, if ego is the very seat of our consciousness, there is no way to "annihilate" or "transcend " our ego. To attempt to do so is tantamount to philosophical suicide.
And there is insurmountable evidence proven by plenty of studies, from Dr Graves to Kolberg to Gilligan that these waves of unfolding are bigger in terms of how much they can contain and the number and breadth of what they can relate to; from ego-centric to ethno-centric to world-centric.
So, we can not truly or actually transcend it or annihilate it. However, we can evolve it.
So...what about stage 2? Stage 2 is not the vengeful ego, but an egoic consciousness focused on Justice. And stage 3 would be focused (or have a center of gravity around) or be Grace-centric and world centric. It is also often quietest--yet energetically "largest" or "Brightest". Think of the force of the ego of Mother Theresa. Imagine her penetrating eyes. The light she must have been in the room. Meek only in the traditional quiet voice sense, but radical Spirit manifest; hardly meek in the egoic sense.
And if we consider that, sweeping aside our preconceived notions about what the word ego usually means in our popular culture, and we begin to get a grasp onto that very upward spiral we all inherently must climb as we ascend or deepen in our own developmental paths, we see the truth.
At this point you may be asking what the heck this has to do with being in business for yourself?!
Let's look at self-esteem.
We use Dr Nathaniel Branden's definitions that self esteem has two equal and necessary parts or components: knowledge of your efficacy [knowing you are competent and effective enough to handle what life throws at you] and your self-respect, or the feeling that you deserve to be here and have a good life; that you are "appropriate to life". We could think of these two components as: your value (in the marketplace) and your worth (your divinity); your negotiated worth and your unquestionable worth; that which can be developed and improved and marketed and that which is unquestionably priceless. Your guilt [the feeling that we did a thing that was in violation of our own value set as Mr Mark Michael Lewis states] and our nervous system is more activated to be sure we do not do it again] and our Shame [the extra move of then judging ourselves as worthless or "bad" at our core as a result.
You must begin to understand that most have their value and their worth collapsed. This is why we engage in shame: we confuse our efficacy with our worth; our finances with who we are at our core; our social reputation with our divine nature. But your self-worth is a settled matter-no matter how much you attempt to outsource it to others and give them the apparent right to pass judgment on you and determine your "worth". At the end of the day, you have to agree or disagree with them to feel into their judgments.
No one can truly impact your self-esteem positively or negatively without you first giving them permission. Period.
Otherwise, we would call it "other esteem". Heh.
I have yet to find someone going into business for themselves for the first time who did not suffer unnecessarily from questions of worth, self-doubt, and/or inquiring "who are they to X, Y, Z.".
Who are you not to? Who are you to keep your gifts from the world? To make that global choice? That is the chilling question.
But on a more practical level, your self-esteem, or your level of egoic development in the healthy sense, will determine how quickly you rebound from negative and unexpected results. It will determine how well you are paid in relationship to how much value you offer others in their lives-and how easily you ask for what you are owed. It will determine how quickly you adjust and adapt to current fluctuating market conditions. It will determine how easily you accept and incorporate feedback. It will determine how easily you can admit errors and move on...
All necessary attributes for a thriving solo-preneur. All necessary attributes for you to thrive in a freer market economy. All questions ignored, stepped over, or only [if forced to] embarrassingly addressed by most courses in small business or even in courses like our CLC. Questions that in the Coaching the Life Coach program we spend an entire module on-and we do it first. Until these errors in thinking, as well as flashpoints in our past are addressed and resolved to a certain degree, teaching you how to build a business will only increase your anxiety and create internal dissonance.
And that would be...well...unkind.
Make a decision today to ask yourself these two questions any time you get results that are unpleasant or unwanted, and could be blamed on another external force, albeit the government, the market at large, your target market, or even God/dess Almighty her/himself:
1. How am I responsible?
2. What can I learn [that is positive or empowering; what structures can I put in place to resolve it?]
The first question may be hard to swallow. Good. You will need to expand your sense of who you are to answer it honestly and usefully. And remember: responsibility does NOT equal fault or blame. Those are separate matters. Take this practice on and you will begin to evolve your ego.
Because to be able to step into a world-centric life or spiritual purpose, developing an ego that is large enough to take that on without internal questions of doubt and worth is essential for your happiness and your internal harmony. Both things which, even while stretching and challenging you, I hope these writings will increase.
Jason D. McClain