The Paralysis of Expectations, Advice, and Judgment

Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree Curves.

This constant judgment over the past few years has been paralyzing.

The Long-Awaited Honest-to-God Secret to Being Happy

My first  session  with  my  new  mentor  to  help  me through this career transition left me in tears on the way home. For as helpful and enlightening as our 2-hour chat had gone, there was one moment towards  the end that was jarringly uncomfortable for me and I recognized it when I was actually in the moment.

She’d asked me to review several areas of my life so that we could look at how they related to my career transition and rate them from 1 to 10. When I saw “career” on the list, I wasn’t sure whether to look backward or for- ward to answer. When I saw “love relationship” on the list, I got that sinking uh-oh feeling. Is it better to be in a bad relationship that’s a 2 out of a 10? Or none at all and be 0? Or an N/A?

Because it was on the list, I instantly considered it as something that was required to be checked off, and if it wasn’t checked off, then it was somehow an area of deficiency. Yes, I know it’s the wrong way to appraise my life and that there wasn’t  even a need to grade myself  but those were the feelings that bubbled up at that moment.

And with those feelings, a strong sense of…judgment. I had that awful fear that I was about to encounter yet another case of someone  being  what  we both thought was supportive and yet…judgment.  Failure to live up to their expectations.

On the way home, the realization hit me of how much judgment has been passed on me over the past few years from people who love me,  though I’m pretty sure none of them would ever see it that way—I didn’t –and never intended it that way. But it’s there. It’s been there. It’s been so easy for people around me to judge me and say who I belonged with and who I didn’t and what I needed out of my relationships  and my career and my dreams. Opinions that seemed validated when I  finally filed for divorce because to them it meant that they’d been right all  along  and  me,  for  not  seeing  things  sooner,  they judged as having  an impaired judgment. Admittedly  , it was, and maybe that set up an  expectation that because I’d  fucked  up  a time  or  two and sold  myself  short,  I couldn’t possibly ever get it right.

There have been so many opinions by so many people,  some  them  little  more  than  strangers,  of  what  I should  be  doing  and  what  I  shouldn’t  be  doing  and what’s best for me. To this day, I have colleagues calling and emailing  me and saying,  hey, let’s get together  for lunch so I can hear all about   . I haven’t returned any of those calls or emails in weeks. While it’s true that they  want  to  know  what’s  going  on  in  my  life,  those lunches at the food court will likely  end as they always have: with them telling me how I need to reshape my life to look more like theirs, even though their lives aren’t exactly pretty  at  the moment. It always amazes me how a woman who’s been married for 20 years to a man she and all the rest of us know constantly cheats on her can tell me unequivocally  what I need in my romantic  life and how it tends to look like the picture she herself lives in so painfully.

I’ve heard it said that, psychologically, people love to watch tabloid  TV so that they can feel superior to the guests du jour. That’s the feeling I get, too, from some of these people. They’re bored out of their minds and interested in what’s going on in my life so they can feel better about  what’s going on—or not going on—in theirs.  A few have even told me that, outright. It’s way too easy for them to pass judgment on me and what’s happening with me when they have yet to power-walk a mile in my sequined moccasins.

But I think this relationship with my new mentor will work out quite well. Something happened at the very end that was truly a wow moment, and another that brought tears of…not judgment but relief…on my way home.

Just before leaving the restaurant where we’d met, I made a  confession to her of something that’s hurt over the past few years. It had to do with how I’ve always had a plan and that plan got shot to hell and  back and I’ve been winging it since May of 2004. I’ve been feeling ungrounded and feeling my way through what I want, and I’m ready to  have a plan again. I like having a plan. Always have.

Yet, I’ve been so heavily criticized for wanting a plan. I’ve been told repeatedly that I’m deficient for wanting a plan and that if I’m somehow spiritually “lesser than” if I don’t simply flow the Universe’s path of least resistance. These attitudes have come most heavily from counselors and  people trained as counselors,  and I’m just realizing how they allowed  their personal  opinions to shape our counseling sessions  and how, while  clearing  out certain shadows, new ones were introduced.

What my mentor and I agreed on was that it’s good for me to have a plan for my life, provided I’m open to new things, too. I was almost giddy with her attitude because it’s so different from what I’ve experienced among counselor types.

In the  2  years  since  my  divorce,  I  have  absolutely overdosed on advice from everyone around me. Friends, family, colleagues, mentors, strangers. Everyone’s had an opinion, everyone’s been happy to tell me what I “need to do,” and everyone’s so easily dispensed  advice. Some have even been angry at me for not taking their advice. Others have  ridiculed  me for not emulating  them.  Still

others have criticized me for not doing what they them- selves have not found the gumption to do.

This  mentor  did  something   amazing,  though.  We talked  through a couple  of issues  related  to my career transition. She listened intently but didn’t tell me what I needed to do to fix my life so I can make this transition. In fact, she didn’t give me any advice at all. Unlike prior counselors  and  work  mentors,  she  didn’t  give  me  answers. Instead, she helped me work through issues to find the answers for myself.

I think one of the things she’s going to help me with, something  we  hadn’t  planned  for,  is  my  shedding  the weight of other people’s judgment and expectations.