Wednesday 28 September, 7.07 a.m.
Steve looked smart in his dark blue suit as he kissed Lynn on the
cheek and shouted goodbye to his son.
The thin smile he wore for his wife quickly melted as his attention
turned to the meeting in 53 minutes’ time.
This time last year, Steve had enjoyed the monthly regional sales
conference calls. But then, this time last year, Steve was about to
be anointed Regional Sales Director of the Year.
His boss, Dave Curtis, was biting into a blueberry muffin when
Steve entered the conference room.
‘Morning,’ offered Steve, brightly.
‘Morning,’ was Dave’s monotone reply, his eyes fixed in the cen-
tre of his cake.
Dave could ill-afford early morning muffins, with a stomach that
completely hid his belt.
He was hunched over the desk, with layers of fat at the back of his
massive neck gathering like ripples on a wind-swept pond.
The meeting began courteously enough as the company’s eight
UK regional centres exchanged greetings.
The overall picture was bright, with one exception. And Dave
wasn’t about to let it pass.
‘Steve, perhaps you could explain to everyone why we’re bucking
the trend here,’ he began, unexpectedly.
Steve paused. He could feel the heat build under his freshly ironed
shirt collar. He could hear the silence that seemed to last forever,
disturbed only by his heart thumping loudly.
‘Well, we’re experiencing flat sales this quarter,’ he began.
‘And why?’ pressed Dave, chewing deep into his muffin.
‘Difficult to say,’ offered Steve.
‘Well let me try,’ continued Dave, looking straight ahead, well
away from Steve’s gaze. ‘We have a Sales Director of the Year,
resting on his laurels … a demotivated sales team under him …
and an unimpressed client base. Fair comment, Steve?’
‘I’m not resting on my laurels,’ replied Steve weakly. ‘I’ve been
‘You’ve been basking in the glory of your award instead of …’
‘I’ve not been basking in any glory,’ interrupted Steve angrily.
Now Dave had his undivided attention, he had his prey fixed in
his beady stare.
‘I’m not finished,’ he barked. ‘You’re only as good as your last
sale, Steve. Or in your case, your last lost order. The figures need
to improve – and improve fast.’
Steve was stunned to silence and sat chided and humiliated for
the rest of the meeting, as Dave waxed lyrical about his plans to
turn things round.
But Steve wasn’t listening. He was slowly dying of embarrass-
ment, imagining the reaction around the company to the tongue-
lashing Dave had handed him.
Why could he never win an argument with Dave? Why did he
feel pathetic whenever criticized severely? It was as if he lost the
power of speech, which he found so exhilarating in meetings
He had got on so well with his old boss, Craig. Even when sales
were flat in the second quarter last year, Craig had remained
uncritical. He had certainly, privately, pointed out some improve-
ments Steve could make to his methods, but he did it so encour-
agingly that Steve had found it uplifting. His old boss had real
Craig would remind him that he remained a good salesman – and
insisted that if he continued to believe in Steve, the least Steve
could do was to agree.
Dave was silent as he walked out to leave his Regional Sales Direc-
tor alone with his thoughts in the conference room.
Steve stared at the wall, playing the conversation over again in
The sharpness of Dave’s tone reminded him of just one person.
Steve had produced great work at school in his early teens. A
stunning 91% in English in his second year.
And what did his dad say?
‘Where did you drop the 9%?’
He felt so deflated, after looking forward to receiving his dad’s
warm approval. His mother said it was just his dad’s way. But it
made no difference to young Steven.
Even when he’d pointed out that he was second in the class, his
father had demanded to know who had beaten him.
‘Gary Wilson?’ his father had sneered. ‘Didn’t think you’d be
Then there was the embarrassment of Saturdays. Sure, his dad
came to the school football matches, but he always ended up
arguing with the ref – when he wasn’t yelling at his son to ‘run
with the ball – don’t just kick it away, Steven.’
‘All I needed in the pouring rain, 3–0 down and already being
screamed at by my captain,’ Steve recollected, ‘was for my dad
to join the commentary team!’
His dad had reacted even more discouragingly as Steve started to
act as the class joker in response to being called a ‘swot’. Ironically,
he became more popular at school – and less popular with his
dad at home.
Despite reasonable leaving certificate grades, his dad had by that
stage repeatedly branded his son as ‘not the sharpest knife in the
One of Steve’s female sales team broke the silence when entering
the room to inform him there was a call.
‘Tell them I’ll call back,’ he snapped.
‘Don’t you want to take it,’ suggested Fiona. ‘It’s …’
‘I don’t care if it’s the Prime Minister. Tell him I’ll call back!’
Steve could barely look in Dave’s direction as he marched to the
car park to drive to his first call of the day. He caught sight of his
silver Ford Mondeo and felt another shiver of disgust.
His pride and joy – the 5-series BMW – was demanded back at
the end of the previous month as he was awarded the car that
reflected his success.
‘A bloody Mondeo,’ he muttered to nobody in particular.
Sitting on the passenger seat was a copy of the morning paper,
the back page dominated by just one word: ‘Superflops!’
The ‘Superflops’ in question were his beloved United, whose ex-
pensive players had gone down 2–0 the previous evening to Ful-
ham. He always felt bad even the day after a United defeat, but
this season they were winning only one game in four.
Loyally, he would turn up every second Saturday as a season ticket
holder, if only to hurl abuse at the players he idolized.
Still, these guys were paid a fortune to take the knocks when they
deserved it. And they deserved it right now.
Steve had a sneaking feeling that he also deserved the criticism.
But then, he felt that even when there was none.
He flicked through the paper from the back, dwelling for a mo-
ment on the recruitment section, before speeding out the car
park and on to the dual carriageway.
Steve deserves better!
How highly we rate ourselves as people affects our day-to-day
sense of happiness and satisfaction with ourselves and our lives.
But just how well and how accurately we carry out this self-rating
depends on our inner sense of self-worth.
This is important because our sense of self-worth influences our
choices, our outlook on life and our attitude towards ourselves and
others. In other words, our happiness.
Some people rate themselves so poorly that they simply feel ‘not
good enough’ for life itself. They go about their daily lives harbour-
ing a deep sense of inner unworthiness and hoping that no one will
find out how awful they really feel inside.
Many successful individuals who are held in high regard by their
colleagues and friends inwardly hide a painful sense of inadequacy
The true value we place on ourselves is deeply connected to what
we feel about ourselves on the inside and less to do with how oth-
ers see us from the outside.
This inner rating of our personal value is the judgement we pass on
ourselves – rather than what other people think of us.
We live our lives with the sentence we pass on ourselves.
Good enough for life
Outwardly, Steve is a successful man. He is very good at his job.
After all, last year he was awarded the title of Regional Sales Direc-
tor of the Year. His ex-boss valued him highly and Lynn clearly sees
him as a success and tells him so openly.
But here is the problem.
Steve believes that he is a failure.
He’s dissatisfied with his achievements and continues to strive after
‘more success’, as he puts it, so that he can ‘relax’. He believes that
only then will he be satisfied with his life.
But the reality is that he will never find ‘enough success’ because
deep down he does not feel ‘good enough’ about himself.
Although he has always been a high achiever, his sense of self-
worth remains poor.
An active man, always on the move, he has become a fugitive from
himself, ‘on the run’ from his inner sense of inadequacy.
This is the case with so many over-achievers who drive themselves
on to higher and higher levels of personal accomplishment in an
unconscious attempt to discover a satisfactory level of self-worth.
The stamp of approval
For most of us, our sense of self-worth is nurtured to a great extent
by our parents.
The experience of being loved unconditionally by them as chil-
dren, simply for being alive, lies at the very heart of healthy self-
Often without realizing it, parents lay the foundation stone for our
opinion of ourselves.
If we feel loved and valued by them in our own right, we absorb
this emotional nectar and use it to feed our developing sense of self
– of who we are.
In this way, as we grow up, we begin to develop a sense of being
‘good enough for life’.
This includes feeling loved, loveable, of value and of significance.
The possession of such a sense of basic self-worth is an inner gold-
mine as we face the challenges of life.
Steve felt as if he had to earn his father’s approval, constantly.
And that his father’s love and acceptance were conditional on his
He never felt that his best was ever really ‘good enough’ for his
Steve also experienced his father as being very critical. He felt that,
however hard he might try, he could never please him.
As a result, he never felt validated by his father as his ‘worthy
Steve never fully experienced his father’s stamp of approval.
Heading for a crisis
Steve’s self-worth is based too heavily on the outside world in
order to compensate for the fact that deep down inside he rates
himself so poorly.
Currently Steve measures his worth in terms of his:
• Football team, and
He feels only as good as his last sale, the size and make of his car,
the success of his football team and his ability to charm the op-
Superficially confident, Steve can behave like the life and soul of
the party, flirting excessively with female colleagues.
He works and plays hard, driving both himself and his car fast.
And this strategy for boosting his poor sense of self-worth works.
But here’s the catch – only for as long as the outside world plays
And in real life, it rarely does.
He’s recently experienced a change of boss. Currently, Dave is less
supportive and openly critical. He may even be trying to bring
him down, perhaps because he is threatened by Steve’s successful
reputation and good relationship with his predecessor.
In addition, female colleagues in the sales team, whom Steve has
charmed so effectively in the past, are now talking about leaving
the company because he has recently become much more unrea-
sonable and demanding.
United, the football team he has supported so faithfully for many
years, is now ‘letting him down’ and beginning to fail.
And to top it all, his pride and joy, his company car, the BMW, has
been downgraded to what he views as a lesser set of wheels, a Ford
His outer world is coming apart at the seams and, as a result, his
inner world is beginning to crumble.
Without realizing it, Steve is moving rapidly towards a personal
Steve straightened his shoulders and strode confidently into his
customer’s office. Despite feeling fed up, he certainly wasn’t
going to show it.
The customer, however, was running late, so Steve returned to his
car to browse the paper for 15 minutes.
His phone bleeped and a message lit the screen:
Are you good enough?
Steve found Lynn’s message untimely and unhelpful. He pressed
‘reply’ to tell her as much, but nothing happened. He tried several
more times, but the message remained on screen.
Attempts to find out where it came from ended in failure.
Further annoyed that he’d jumped to conclusions about Lynn, he
threw down the phone in frustration and lifted the paper.
A small advert in the bottom left-hand corner of the recruitment
page caught his eye with the question it posed:
‘Are you good enough to lead our small but dedicated sales
‘Good question!’ he told himself.
A couple of pints took the edge off his stress on the way home
that night, after what had been an awful day.
His calls had been, at best, unpromising and the morning’s public
humiliation was still on his mind.
He chatted with the barmaid at the Jug and Claret about nothing
in particular. She seemed to like his style, his quick-fire humour
and his smile. At least he hadn’t lost his touch with the girls.
‘Hi, Gorgeous!’ he greeted his wife on the hands-free from the
car. ‘It’s motorway mayhem, as ever. I’ll try to be home by eight.’
Nicky was in bed when Steve returned, Lynn having had enough
of her son’s teatime tantrums.
Over a steak and kidney pie, Steve volunteered that he’d received
one of Lynn’s text scams:
‘What – are you hungry for love?’ enquired Lynn.
‘No. Are you good enough?’ replied Steve.
‘Good enough?’ said Lynn. ‘At what?’
‘God knows. I thought I was doing OK – but my boss disagrees.
Craig was so different. We got on so well – my figures were ter-
rific – he was happy. But even when sales were lower, he was
never on my back like Dave. He was encouraging, optimistic. He
reminded me I was good at my job and with hard work, we’d
‘You’re still good at your job, Steve,’ said Lynn.
‘Doesn’t feel like it,’ Steve replied, ‘especially with Dave breath-
ing down my neck. But, you know, even last year when we were
flying high, I just knew it was going to come to an end. I stood
there in Disneyworld enjoying the fruits of my labour, and what
do you think I was thinking?’
‘What? Wish I could go on Thunder Mountain again?’
‘No. Be serious. I was thinking: this is as good as it gets – and it’s
all downhill from here.’
‘Steve, you’re never happy!’
‘No Lynn, I just want to succeed.’
‘But you are a success. How much success do you want?’
‘More than this.’
‘So I can relax.’
‘But you’ve just said that in Disneyworld, when Nicky and I were
having the holiday of a lifetime, you were dreading the future.’
Steve had no answer.