Why finance professionals should focus on Self-Worth rather than Net-Worth

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Why finance professionals should focus on Self-Worth rather than Net-Worth

Apr 22, 2024 | Strategy & Leadership

I started my career at a prestigious Investment Bank in South Africa. I was just short of twenty-three and acutely aware of my naivety. Having grown up in an unassuming seaside town, the shiny buildings, inflated egos, heavily starched suits were strangely alluring. I remember standing in the reception on my first day, peering up what seemed like never ending escalators. The feeling of possibility was palpable. This was it; I had arrived! Or so I thought.

Is self talk a formidable tool or dangerous weapon? With the steady rhetoric in my head, I could convince myself of anything. Yet, the true power or weaponry comes from the type of talk you subject yourself to. You have heard this before, so I am not expecting an earth shattering AHA moment. However, my experience has taught me that you do not get what you deserve but rather what you think you deserve. So, what we tell ourselves matters…

Its ironic, as 21st century humans, we obsessed with net worth, but the pursuit should be self worth. Self worth does appear to be in crisis, google the stats – its alarming! Also, social media isn’t helping.

Rewind to my first day, or those first few years and a sinister pattern began to emerge. We would be debating a deal at credit, and I had would have a reasonable opinion or question. Suddenly, the ability to add voice to my thought (which usually had an element of automaticity) malfunctioned. I would not utter a word. Or worse still, when I did have the courage to speak up, it was almost apologetic. My comment drowned in mundane conversation. Did I have anything of value to add? Maybe I don’t know enough, or perhaps someone else knows better? This rhetoric became the start of my second guessing.

The person that I presented was a self-confident intelligent person, which no doubt I was. It was the only way to survive even succeed. But I was yet to learn to self confidence is not self worth. These are two very different concepts that are usually misunderstood until the effects stop being benign. As I have moved along my career a couple of things became apparent. My self doubt became incorrigible. Where was it coming from. I had achieved success, a respectable salary, people’s regard, and general happiness!

I owe my self doubt to a couple of things, I am generally hard on myself (no surprise, I’m female!). The standards we set are somewhat ridiculous. I don’t think this point requires additional clarity. Directly correlated to the growing self doubt was perhaps all the instances that I allowed other peoples insecurities in themselves or me cloud my judgement. The examples are numerous. Every meeting, that I chose not to speak, because I felt had nothing meaningful to add. The times I did speak and was marginalised. The times a colleague/manager chose to patronise me.

Imagine your self worth as a balloon, each time this happens, its like letting out the air, little by little. Until there is no buoyancy in the balloon. It is terrible imagery, but it proves the point. Now, I am not purporting that I am a victim or that all women are victims. Quite the contrary, I am suggesting that we go through our lives facing and overcoming challenges. We build careers, confidence, go on courses, network with peers but perhaps never stop to do the internal work. The unsurprising outcome is largely a self-confident person with little to no self worth.

What is the big deal with self worth? So, what, if I occasionally second guess myself?

In pondering this question, I have summed the answer into two broad categories that probably warrant their own article, but nonetheless!

  1. Self Sabotage
  2. Authenticity

Self sabotage

I cannot count the number of times, I fed myself damaging stories or choose to downplay success.  If something good happens, then the natural response is, this doesn’t happen to people like me! If a situation goes poorly, then the rhetoric becomes, its ok if things do not work out. You are never enough, as you are!

When I look back to specific examples in my career, I let so many opportunities go, perhaps it was fear of rejection. I am still not sure. However, I can categorically report that I did not believe enough in me, so I justified not doing enough. Self sabotage, even though difficult to prove is a significant part of all our lives. I am not offering a magic potion to rid you of it. Not at all, I am creating a spotlight so the next time this happens, you have an awareness. Sometimes all you need is awareness to red flag bad behaviour.


Another buzz worthy phrase. Why does it matter, does it even matter? In my experience, hell yes! When you build your personal brand, you tend to subconsciously absorb suggestions along the way. You are too tall, too loud, too opinionated, not polished enough etc. These iterative changes are a source of growth. So not a bad thing.

Although, some of these iterations are questionable. Was the source of the change credible? Were people trying to achieve selfish objectives by leading you in that direction. We never stop to measure these, because its all in the name of the goal we are seeking at the time.  Recognition, a better title, a fancier job.

Authenticity does not guarantee some god given success, but the price of inauthenticity is failure. Think about this. So how then do you move from dimming your light, dealing with rejection and letting go of past mistakes?

My approach has been uncomplicated.

Check yourself by cautiously choosing the things you tell yourself. If you fall into the trap of saying negative things to yourself, note it. Create awareness around it. Try again. Do better next time. Eventually the habit will form. Words have power. And ironically your words have more weight than others. Self worth is not some destination, it is a daily grind. There is no yellow brick road to self worth or releasing your insecurities. In fact, this road is paved with pebbles, even craters.Our job is making sure that when we fall, and we will, we not only pick ourselves up, but safeguard our self worth.

Make sure the stories we tell ourselves are rooted in truth.

Written by Bhavna Gounder, a South African financial services director and author based in Canada.

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