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.
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.