November 29, 2021

Of What are We “Worthy”? That Depends. And it Matters.

Are you worthy of your position? Are you worthy of love?

I was working with a coaching client, and we were discussing her thoughts that she was probably not the right executive to stick with her advanced startup during the run-up to its anticipated IPO.

I was struck by her hesitation, and I’ve known her for a while, and I therefore have heard her articulate this same wonder through two advanced series of funding for the company. During her run at the company, she has grown, multiplied, sharpened. She’s on a roll, and based on some of the written feedback she’s shared, she is very highly regarded there.

So I was flummoxed. Why are we here again? Why is she imagining that an IPO is some differentiated event that requires a wholly different kind of person instead of the person she is, whose personal growth has outpaced that of her company’s?

Now before I go too far here, please know that I realize how market perception might influence which executives occupy the C suite for a public event. This is especially true for the role of CFO. She is not a CFO. So I get optics, and that might be a thing, but that’s not what she was pointing to. She was wondering whether she had the chops. Let’s also leave to the side whether she would want to work for a public company. Again, that wasn’t the point we were discussing.

I observed the pattern in her behavior, wondered with her about the truth of her thoughts, and then we moved on.

We flipped in to a life update. She was talking about her fantastic relationship with her partner. I asked “do you think you would ever want to get married again?” She paused, laughed, and said she and he were just talking about this. They were having dinner, and the topic arose, and she apparently said to her man: “I KNOW you would marry ME!” He said: “you’re right, I would.”

This stopped me cold. I was struck by her tonal difference between being the kind of person someone would definitely want to marry versus being the kind of person a company would definitely want to keep aboard in anticipation of a major business (versus life) event.

I told her I was astonished by the difference in her confidence and swagger between these two instances. She said: “Sue, I know I am worthy of love. I have always known I am worthy of love. I grew up in an environment in which love for me was constant and constantly affirmed.”

Whoa. How. Powerful. I literally could not imagine the level of conviction she held around this.

Sometimes, as a coach, your stuff gets involved in your coaching. Sometimes that’s helpful in coaching. Sometimes it’s a digression. In any event, this is the moment when that happened for me. I think we both learned something.

I realized that I did NOT grow up with that constancy around love and attachment. I can feel hesitation about my worthiness around love in the identical way she expressed hesitancy around worthiness of holding the position she is currently crushing.

Then I realized that I DID grow up with constant affirmations about how talented I was and how successful I would surely be. Obviously that’s all subjective, and obviously I have not been successful at everything I’ve tried. However, I have almost NO doubt about my ability to make anything happen, quickly and successfully. Taking this one step further, I noticed that even in my personal relationships, I imagine that if someone loves me, they are most likely to love me for my smarts, competence, and success. In a word: Oy.

I think my difficulty in comprehending her doubt about taking her career to the next level runs parallel to the reaction of my close friends when I waffle about whether I’m worthy of the love of a romantic partner. They express what seems like authentic shock, they roll their eyes realizing I’ve been working on this pattern for as long as they’ve known me (with decent success), and they remind me that anyone would be lucky to get to be my person. Just as I reminded my client that the company would be lucky to have her at the helm for this next adventure.

This conversation made me wonder about ways we can increase our understanding of (and perhaps overcome) our confidence gaps by evaluating the differences between those gaps and places where our confidence is abundant. Maybe upbringing is one explanation for the delta. I’m sure there are other explanations.

In this discussion, we both appreciated seeing our inversely proportional beliefs between love and career. As usual, my favorite thing about my work is how much I get to learn, on the daily.

Photo by Peter Ivey-Hansen on Unsplash

Sue Heilbronner

Sue Heilbronner is an executive coach, Conscious Leadership facilitator, and catalyst for change.

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