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Updated: Oct 16, 2023

Stepping away from a successful career can dismantle the struts that underpin your sense of self-worth. Finding a new definition of oneself and one’s value takes time, work and support.

When you transition from one career to another, when you step away from your prior life and world, it might take you a moment to notice, but you might also find you have lost your own sense of self-value.

You used to be a successful lawyer or accountant or banker. You had a senior executive title and an organisation behind you. You could see recognition spark in others’ eyes when you mentioned The White House or Equinor or Harvard Kennedy School. So, while they might not yet know you, they do know these organisations and value them. By default, therefore, you are interesting and smart and capable too.

And so the outside world values you.

Over time, progressing through life, many of us find that this external affirmation also becomes how we value ourselves internally. If you were to have asked me through my career what do I value of myself, I would not have mentioned my resume. I used to laugh at the idea that people judge me by my 400 word bio when, were I giving a personal description, I would be unlikely to talk about any of those career achievements. They was not who I felt myself to be or how I defined myself.

And yet, despite this, it turns out that underneath that affirming, values-driven self-definition, my ego was very tied up with my job title and company.

When I chose not only to step away from those titles and establishments to start my own small business, but simultaneously to pivot towards a new career definition and goal, I lost this architectural frame and support. While in public I was confident and sure, in private I began to realise that my own sense of my value suddenly felt very unstable and insecure.

I understood intellectually that my value had not diminished, but emotionally it was a different ballgame.

This is one of the challenges of transitioning into a new definition of oneself. It is not just about figuring out what that definition is, although this can be very hard in itself. But compounding this is a realisation that you no longer have the support structure that, like it or not, defined how the outside world judged your value and, therefore, that supported your own sense of self.

You now need to build and strengthen and reinforce your own definition of value that truly comes from within.

Since starting my own business every morning I read to myself a short story of who I am, today. I am a coach, an advisor, a wife, a sister, an aunt, a friend. This is who I am. This is my value.

It’s taking time for me to fully stand in this space and acknowledge to myself that this is enough. This is who I want to be.

For those of you going through a similar transition, or supporting others doing so, take a moment to ask whether your old definition of self-value still applies, or whether it too might require some reinvention or support. Reflect on it. Consider whether you may need to encourage in yourself a new definition of self-value. And where you might get support for this.


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