I’d like to float the idea that self-worth is a fundamentally different thing from self-esteem or confidence.
People talk about these ideas as if they were each one and the same. But self-worth, I would argue, is our essential value as humans — our internal sense that we’re good enough no matter what happens on the outside. Ultimately, we need to be looking at our self-worth — our inherent value — if we want to fuel our best work.
This is also relevant when it comes to teams, even if folks may think self-worth is always a personal development discussion. Teams can also struggle with the gap between their abilities and the level they’re achieving at as a result of invisible floors and ceilings.
Over the years, in all the time that we’ve been running the Monthly Momentum Calls, I’ve often used the floors and ceilings metaphor for this catch-22 about our self-worth and ability to achieve at the level of our potential.
Ceilings are false limits that are imposed on us from outside, which we eventually accustom ourselves to, and which limit our ability to rise to the natural level we might belong at.
But the floors part is where things get interesting.
Floors equal our stabilizing force. We’re talking about the base of the house or structure you have built for yourself to live inside. That’s to say, what you built to keep you safe and comfortable, also limits you. (That’s a different take than the typical one on confidence, self-worth and limiting beliefs.)
It’s good to have stability, and to have safety, and especially if you had an experience where you lacked that, it will seem reaaally appealing to stay where you are rather than take any risks — except when that structure also starts to limit your growth and ability to do your own highest value work.
The problem with remaining just safe and comfortable is eventually, we forget that we’re the ones determining the confines of our lives. We wonder why we aren’t living and working at the level we are dreaming of.
Sometimes those limits are built for us by others, and sometimes we are the ones responsible for them. That can be a tough pill to swallow.
In a lot of cases, people have outgrown certain limits but still abide by those earlier limits without noticing.
How We Break Through Floors and Ceilings
Our issues with self-worth, and trust — and how this impacts our floors and ceilings — can arise no matter what stage or level of success we’re at in life.
Some people would probably call this “imposter syndrome.” Essentially though it’s all the same thing, where we haven’t done the necessary work to develop our sense of our intrinsic value.
Issues with our self-worth often show up especially when we run into big challenges.
Our courage to break through our floors and ceilings often shows up in relation to whether we let ourselves be seen and heard.
Big challenge moments, or leading through a turnaround, can change your life if you’re willing to embrace those challenges, rather than balking and backing down out of fear, and/or the desire for ease and security.
Those challenges can arise for us in different ways over time, depending on the point we’re at in our career, whether that’s as an individual employee, freelancer, leader or business owner. It can be uncomfortable to push your boundaries — which is usually a good thing — but the resistance comes when you don’t want to break the stability you’ve created within certain parameters.
For introverts this might become about protecting their privacy, or for many folks, we end up resting on the financial stability we’ve worked so hard to create — and in the process we end up having difficulty pushing beyond our comfort zones.
The point of course is that sometimes it’s the externally imposed ceilings that are holding you back, but other times it’s you that’s holding you back — out of fear of unmooring yourself from your stable ground.
If you’ve recognized that these forces influence you, and you’re ready to push outside your comfort zone (but maybe still encountering resistance), it may be worth asking yourself some questions:
What is hiding protecting you from? Is it a fear of burnout? Of being unmasked?
In order to break out of this pattern, we have to remind ourselves that there’s also pain or frustration — and often an even greater, deeper, and longer term sense of disappointment — in knowing what you’re capable of, but not ever reaching for it.
Creating Boundaries as a New and Improved House You Can Live In
If you’re aware of what you don’t want to compromise on, it becomes a question of creating better boundaries.
You can think of your new boundaries as a new house, or structure with floors and ceilings YOU have chosen, rather than ones that have been chosen by other people or by your subconscious.
You’ll want to create boundaries in terms of how much space you want to give other people’s thoughts about you. You might not want to live within their idea of you anymore.
If you work in a particular industry, or with a particular type of client, for example, you might not immediately want to quit what you’re doing.
But you’ll want to ask yourself: What’s the floor? That is, what is the minimum amount of time or energy I can keep spending on X? What’s the ceiling? What is the maximum amount of energy I’m able to spend on it?
When you’re clear on your floors and ceilings, and you know you want to attend to all the things, you can also rest in the knowledge of what the limits are for the amount of time or energy that you are going to be able to put forth.
You’ll also need to know when to let it go and walk away. Knowing when to walk away is different than never standing up, and never letting your light shine.
For a lot of people I’ve worked with, the floors and ceilings we’ve grown accustomed to can be really difficult to shake, because they operate on autopilot. Even when you’re trying to change your behavior around self-worth and your boundaries, you might only realize two hours later, “Oh shoot, I did the thing again!”
Or sometimes you know in the moment that you’re playing it safe.
Sometimes you might be able to rely on someone else — a trusted friend or advisor — to see these dynamics with more clarity than you can yourself. It doesn’t necessarily have to be an adult you trust either.
Kids, for instance, are incredibly intuitive. If you have them, you’ll know that to be the case. And they pick up on everything. That means that when you’re planning and leading in your life, and through your work, you want to be thinking about what you’re modeling for them on the day to day.
Modeling often means showing them how they can live their hopes and dreams. So when you see the ways you’re modeling, try to consider shining as you really are. You don’t want to just pass down the stories that we got when we were kids, which might have been limiting — whether about our abilities, creativity, abundance.
How Floors and Ceilings Operate for Teams
When teams run into their floors and ceilings in terms of their performance, managers often look at what or who on the team is broken and needs to be fixed or replaced.
In my forthcoming book, Team Habits, I take a long hard look at that knee jerk reaction within companies. One of my basic assumptions is that people are not broken, incompetent or lazy.
Teams have the same capabilities as individuals when they dig deeply and help transform their floors and ceilings. If you have a rapport and trust with the four to eight people you work with on a daily basis, this is a conversation you might want to consider having.
Human talent can shift quickly when it’s given space to thrive. You teammates can rise to the occasion in ways you, and they, individually, could not.
The primary way you can start to shift your team’s floors and ceilings is through team habit shifts. Probably the first habit you might think about is how to increase team belonging and performance.
Belonging is the habit that most closely links to trust, which is the foundational issue when it comes to floors and ceilings.
Many teams will need to learn how to trust each other before they can perform. Their ability to excel beyond expectation will mean breaking through floors and ceilings that have been imposed from outside, or higher ups — or as a result of their individual doubts.
But trust and belonging is the key that will get them there. Once we start to figure that out, the bonding starts happening more, which means the performing starts happening. Then you get a reciprocal spiral in action. And that’s how you get on the road to having a great team.
Team Habits is coming this August and now available for pre-order at your favorite bookseller. And if you’re curious about identifying your team’s strength areas, growth areas, and challenge areas, take our Team Habits Quiz, a free, customized report to help you understand how your team works best together and how together your team does its best work.