Monday, March 18, 2013

Do You Feel That You Matter? ... Why? Why Not?

 What makes you feel validated?
Is it work? With pay or without?
Is it just making someone smile?
Do you need others to praise you, appreciate you, pat you on the back? 
Or do you have the ability to feel good about yourself, all on your own?
And then there’s guilt. Do you ever sit down to read a book in daylight?
Feeling validated was the topic at the third meeting of our
Project Renewment group —career women getting together to talk about our transition out of jobs.
This time, 15 of us  gathered in Sue’s living room. Listen in to what happened. Because the conversation was personal and candid, I’m just using first names.
But first,  a concluding observation from Jean:

I go to my book group and we have an agenda about the book, and I go to my French group and we have an agenda about speaking French… Here our agenda is our next step in life, our view of life, our perspective on things and it’s incredibly important.  These conversations will resonate with me.

On validation through work: 
This, of course, is the no brainer. It’s why we keep working, especially if we don’t need the money. And why it can be so hard to step away.

Dotty (former newspaper editor and writer of this blog): I had a lot of respect in my job and people would come to me and thank me all the time for the editing I did with them and the time I spent with them. And now I don’t really have that. And I knew when I was leaving my job that I wouldn’t have that. And I knew it would be hard to find the validation --maybe I’m needy that way.

Essie (works with children with hearing loss): Dotty, when you were talking about the validation, it made me think … I don’t think of needing validation but yet what I do is very fulfilling. Maybe it is validation. It’s not that somebody has to say you’re doing a good job.

Dotty: But you know you’re doing a good job. Your work environment is one in which kids and patients are thrilled that you’re helping them, and you know that. It’s not the words. It’s being in a situation where you know you’re doing the right thing….I think most jobs are that way. It’s when you leave the job and do the next thing...

Carol K. (former businesswoman): I had lunch with a woman who used to be my secretary…. How does she like retirement? She’s fulltime volunteering. She has a schedule the same as when she worked for us but now she’s volunteering.  I said, “So now you’re working fulltime and you don’t get paid?”

Cheryl S. (former librarian; volunteer): I was never a workaholic. I don’t know how you do it all. I wouldn’t want to work that much because then something has to give. I like my house looking a certain way. Cooking is like an artistic outlet. I like to cook meals cause I’m kind of old fashioned, too…

Sue (former breast feeding consultant, now studying to be yoga instructor):  I haven’t worked in awhile. … In certain circles I feel judged. I feel I have to say "but I’m doing this and I’m doing this and I’m doing this." Or I might have to say, "My five year plan. ... "I have to justify my time. That’s one piece of me that has to do that. 
There are other things that I give thanks for. Because I have time, I’m not chained to a position. I’ve been able to help people one on one. People that are sick, having chemo. I was able to help my mother for six months straight because I didn’t have a job I had to go to.
 I find people need something and I often get called and I’m able to say yes.  I say yes so often…. and I don’t have to consult with anyone. On the other hand, I was offered a job part time, the salary was ridiculously high, more than I would ever dream of being paid per hour, and I didn’t really want to do it because it wasn’t about the dollar. If I looked at my finances… they’d say you’re crazy that I retired. Nobody thinks I have enough. But it’s all about what is enough and what you want to do with your time. And it’s really hard sometimes when you’re feeling judged and you have to justify your time. Sometimes you really have to take that breath and stand tall and be yourself. And it’s hard. It is hard.

Betsy (psychologist): You want to feel valued. No matter what it is that you do.

On finding validation in yourself 

Renee (teacher): You have to do a lot of talking to yourself to validate yourself and say this was a good day.

Marlyn (psychologist): You have to get up every day, whether you’re working or not, and say, “What do I value in life? “ and set an intention of what you’re going to do. …You need your own set of
 priorities and to remember what they are and set an intention that “today I’m going to help somebody” or “I’m going to do my yoga today because that’s what I value.” If [doing nothing] is what you value that day, then that’s what you’re setting out to do. You have to say what’s important to me and live your day according to that.

Jean (college instructor and volunteer English teacher): I teach English to Russians. I have been doing it for 16 years and it is as rewarding and gratifying as the much more prestigious teaching that I do. If I go somewhere and say I teach … these old people from Russia, it’s going to sound like, what are you doing there? … But  I love these people. They get a lot from me. I get a lot from them. It is totally gratifying, rewarding, satisfying. And I get more out of it than they do, I’m sure. But that is not the prestige job.

Dotty: There are tasks I do all day long that make me feel good about myself. Even researching what products should go on my deck and spending weeks putting it on. And then going around and saying, ‘Doesn’t the deck look great? … and that’s one of the reasons I can’t relax because reading a book isn’t validating to me. Sitting there fooling around and having fun isn’t validating. So it’s not that I don’t do that once in a while, but it’s not what’s driving me.

Sue: Why is it that the eye of others looking at us becomes our judgment of ourselves? …Why does somebody else have to validate what we do?

Marlyn: Or the question is more, Who do you want to have validate what you do?

Carol K. : I need validation from others much less than I used to. I got exhausted. Trying to be … is exhausting. Plus, it’s not always rewarding. ... I realized one day that I should do for my grandchildren only what brings me pleasure. If I’m having fun with them, then that’s why I should do it. Because if I’m doing it so they’ll love me more, or if I’m doing it so they’ll appreciate it, or I’m doing it because I’ll be the favorite grandmother, it’s not going to work. ... Now if I want to be with them, I’m with them and I have a terrific time with them. And I know they love me and I love them, but my motive is shifted. It’s different now. And it feels better; it’s more authentic. And that way I’m not disappointed because I have no expectations anymore.

Sue: Is it not a gift to walk down the street and smile and to get one back? Did I not just do something? And if I look at my day -- I walked around smiling -- did I do any more or less than the doctor who sat in his office all day and saw 22 patients and asked the same questions?

 About feeling guilty

Carole S. (former teacher): I want to feel validated that I retired. I still feel a little guilty about that. …I didn’t retire on my own terms because I had a health issue. But it was time. … I still feel a bit badly. It took the longest time for me to get used to my clock. I’d go by the school calendar. … It took a long time for me to get over that. Now I just want to know if I’m doing the right thing. I think I am.

Betsy: I found that as I mature or age or however you want to put it, self-validation is more important … making my own decisions and not feeling guilty when I’m at work because I’m not with my family and not feeling guilty with my family because I’m not doing more work, which had been the pattern in younger years. I like going to the office because I get gratification from it for the positive effects for others I’m involved with. But also, I like being able to say I’m going to spend a week or two with my kids and grandchildren and just enjoy it and not feel terrible that I don’t have billable hours. And I do feel fortunate that I don’t feel pressure to bring in the paycheck…. I’m not counting on it to buy groceries. Most people in this world don’t have that choice. And I’m grateful.

Essie: I’m working part time -- working full time. When I had a full time job, I worked all weekend. Now I have a part time job and I work all week. … Why is it always my job that has more work than I can handle? This is me, not the job.

Renee:  I talk to friends and a lot of us are hard on ourselves. One friend retired and she said it was such a difficult year. She might want to read a book but she didn’t feel that she could. After a lot of head work,
she got to a point where she’s more at peace now. For a lot of us, if we’re used to producing and then we’re not … you feel you should be doing that. … We make ourselves feel bad. We’re hard on ourselves.

Sue: Most people say that when you retire,  plan on two years before you get your mojo. It’s a whole process of a year or two or three to kind of get your feet into that new life and reinvent yourself and figure out where you’re going. I think you’re hard on you, in the sense of expecting to know it.

Carol K. : You start to become aware that you have less time left. If I don’t start taking care of me now, when am I going to do it?

On Overcoming Parental Disapproval

Marlyn: There are some old habit patterns that most of us were brought up with. We were the first generation of women thinking that you could go out and work. At the same time, we were still the generation to please those in authority and being the good girl. I think some of those patterns are hard to break, so that’s why I said: “Who are you trying to get validation from?”
I still think we have in the back of our minds somewhere: Am I pleasing my father? Am I keeping everybody happy? Am I taking care of everybody? And how guilty should I feel if someone’s displeased or if I’ve said no to somebody?
 I just think our generation --we were on the cusp of those '50s, '60s -- and that’s wired into us. To be productive and keep people happy. You don’t want to rock the boat. You want to make sure that you keep your parents happy. That was the model that we saw.

Anne (former administrative assistant): It’s hard to relax … and some of it has to do with feeling valued. I grew up with a very critical mother and never could wear the right clothes, ever. Still I was over there the other day and she commented, “That would look so much better with a scarf.” I’m in my 60s! [She’s 92.]
It’s affected so many areas of my being. If someone asks me an opinion on something, I hardly know what to say. Some people are very clear on what they like. It’s easy. I’ve never been one of those people. So, to say what I really value ... it sometimes feels I’ll get shot down if I say it. That’s a struggle. I think that’s part of the clutter. I have to make space for myself.

Carole S: I want to feel validated, that I’m doing the right thing. I still need to hear it. I’m still waiting for my parents to chime in. I would have liked to have had that.

Shellie (former school counselor): I was such a good student in school. I did everything people told me to do. I worked 39 years. I worked hard. I gave my 100 percent and this is my time and I just enjoy it. I don’t feel any guilt.
I love to be able to read what I want to read and go take a bike ride if I want to take a bike ride. Or go to my book club. … If they have a book I don’t like, I don’t read it. I just go and eat and talk and have a good time. …Volunteering is still on my list but I haven’t gotten to it yet.  I don’t have time for it but maybe some day I will.  And my house is a mess. You’d think I’m home every day I could have  a clean house. And I don’t feel guilty about it. Of course, I don’t invite anybody over. That’s how I feel. I don’t know where I’ve been lucky enough to get this from. I just feel very grateful.

Cece (college counselor): I remember studying Albert Ellis who said it’s about the messages we give ourselves. So why are you able to give yourself a good message about what you’re doing? …
It’s all about how we ourselves process what we’re doing.

Anne: Being single, I’m really constructing my own life. I’m really free. Whatever restrictions there are are from the old tapes. I’m working to get rid of them.

Betsy: I was happy to hear about the … choices that all of you are making and appreciating the ability to make choices, whether you want to continue to work full time or not. … I think the value of that is just appreciating the moment, living the moment you are choosing to live right now and not worrying that you’re not doing something else and feeling guilty or nonproductive.
 I know that I’m not ready to completely stop working.  And I don’t know what that means in terms of identity and fearing not being able to say, “I work as a psychologist.”   But I feel I’m moving there slowly, and I did hear movement almost from everybody in terms of more acceptance of where they are now. It’s a process. There’s more acceptance and self-understanding, perhaps.

You can read the blog about our first meeting, and also the second, at which Project Renewment founder Helen Dennis spoke.

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