What will people say?
Saturday, March 20, 2010
This is what I was always told when I was growing up. When I was little, I didn't need to wonder because I was told whether or not I was OK, and more often than not I heard about it when I wasn't OK. But the message was clear that others had the power to dictate whether or not I was all right.
My mother is once again in my head telling me what I can and cannot do. I haven't been able to silence her : it's a little harder because she's no longer real. And yes, we had it out several times while she was alive, and I was fine for a long time. For years I didn't even think about what she might think about me, about my life, about my actions. Her illness changed the balance, because I didn't recognize that it was the illness I was interacting with and not my mother. And that last year was rough. Knowing that this was likely the last interactions I might have with her made it all the worse. And I started doubting myself again. And now there's no chance she will ever validate me, so I need to rid myself of my need for outside validation.
I've been doing the same thing at work lately ; in fact at the moment it's worse. For years I felt good about my abilities, about my contributions at work, even without any outside validation. I worked for bosses who seemed incapable of providing any positive feedback, so I had to rely on myself and I did so quite well. But now I can't for the life of me see my value to my employer. I feel that everything that I can do is also easily done by others, and I focus on the things others know that I don't and use that to put myself down. I haven't always felt this way at work, just in the last few years. What precipitated this in the workplace was being laid off . There I was, 55 years old, having worked for the same employer for fifteen years, and having to start all over yet again in a world that favors the young. I found a job right away in the same industry (insurance) but the other side of the fence: I'd always been employed by either an insurance company, or as a risk manager for a corporation, the one buying the insurance. And now I was an insurance broker. They weren't sure how they would use me, and neither was I. But I quickly found myself very useful to them in doing due diligence work, in part because of my analytical skills, in part because of my writing skills.
Fast forward to last year when the economy really started to affect us. We're losing business and the principals are increasingly nervous. And as they feel pressure, you know what rolls downhill. Coworkers are added to my teams, and doubt is expressed about my ability to handle my accounts. And I buy it, and believe that I'm worthless.
What comes to mind is that I fall prey to this need for outside validation when other things in my life are falling apart. And I've had my share over the last five years. First I lost my job although as noted I found another. One child dropped out of high school. My husband quit his job. My other daughter dropped out of college. My husband decided he didn't have any feelings about anything, and wanted out - no more responsibility. I told him to go, and I took care of the divorce. I was left to deal with two daughters who had lost their way, and were having trouble growing up. Maybe I felt the universe was telling me I was worthless, or perhaps I was just too exhausted by life and let it beat me down.
After my mother died I decided I'd had enough. But how to reclaim my life?
Hence my desire to become fierce - I blogged about it earlier in the year. Fierce as in passionate about the desire to feel good about myself, to know that I'm fine, to be free of the fear of what others will say or think, to demand of life what's mine to have. And while this is still a huge shadow over me, I'm making strides.
I pushed back when one of my superiors tried to blame me for the loss of part of an account. I pushed back when a coworker tried to take over one of my accounts. I went to my boss for support in dealing with another coworker - something I couldn't have done if I hadn't felt strong about my value. And just yesterday I noticed how good I felt about my interactions with a client. So I know I can still provide my own validation.
But I'm still very vulnerable. The last five years have depleted my store of strength. How to rebuild?