Self-Esteem Boosts Career Success (Not the Other Way Around)

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A recent study (conducted by Kammeyer-Mueller, Judge, and Piccolo of Warrington College of Business, University of Florida and University of Central Florida, published in Applied Psychology An International Review April 2008) shows that career success does not boost self-esteem. On the other-hand, self-esteem does boost career success. A business psychologist and New York Times bestselling author on confidence and work (not affiliated with the research study cited) comments and provides suggestions on how to boost self confidence. She also discusses the perils of perfectionism and why trying to build confidence by working and earning more doesn't work.

Dr. Larina Kase, Philadelphia business psychologist and author of The Confident Leader: How the Most Successful People Go from Effective to Exceptional (McGraw-Hill, 2008) comments on the findings of a recent organizational behavior study (Dr. Kase is not affiliated with the authors or results of the study). The study results, published in Applied Psychology, indicate that occupational prestige does not improve self-esteem, but that high self-esteem leads to higher levels of occupational prestige.

Dr. Kase says, "Until now, many people subscribed to the work psychology myth that working, earning, and succeeding at work will make you feel better about yourself. This study is fascinating because it provides further evidence that solid self-esteen is the key to career success. When you have strong a strong self concept, you expect the best for yourself. You then set out to make it happen."

"The problem with relying on external achievements to build confidence," Kase explains, "is that not everyone interprets career success as such. If you don't feel good about yourself and you're self-critical, you will focus on what you could have done (to be even better) than what you actually did. This is one reason that perfectionism often backfires. Perfectionists put in more time and effort than others but do not get better results. It's a shaky type of self-confidence."

Dr. Kase advises,"There is also research which shows that people with higher self-esteem earn more, but not the reverse. Earning a higher income does not result in improved confidence.If you lack confidence, don't even bother trying to earn more money to feel better about yourself. Doing so is like eating candy when you're starving--ultimately it will not fill you up, and will make you feel worse. You'll make a lot of money and wonder why you aren't happy and why you don't feel successful. People may see you as sure of yourself but if you're honest, you realize that you doubt yourself and feel that you have something to prove."

Is it too late to boost your self-esteem and career advancement?

"While much of self esteem is created in childhood, it is never too late to improve your confidence and achieve more in your career," Kase says.

"The key to career success is self-esteem, and the key to self-esteem is mastering challenges," Kase advises. "Seek out difficult situations that push you outside your comfort zone by about 20%. Position yourself as a confident leader in your field and you will become one."

Kase cautions, "Interpret your success not by the outcome of the situation but by whether you got yourself to do something that pushes your limits. The more you put yourself out there and give yourself credit for the courage, the better you will feel about yourself. You'll see that even if you fail, you can handle the outcome and be proud that you took a risk."

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