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 Â session Â with Â my Â new Â mentor Â to Â help Â 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 Â the end that was jarringly uncomfortable for me and I recognized it when I was actually in the moment.
Sheâ€™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 â€œcareerâ€ on the list, I wasnâ€™t sure whether to look backward or for- ward to answer. When I saw â€œlove relationshipâ€ on the list, I got that sinking uh-oh feeling. Is it better to be in a bad relationship thatâ€™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 wasnâ€™t checked off, then it was somehow an area of deficiency. Yes, I know itâ€™s the wrong way to appraise my life and that there wasnâ€™t Â even a need to grade myself Â but those were the feelings that bubbled up at that moment.
And with those feelings, a strong sense ofâ€¦judgment. I had that awful fear that I was about to encounter yet another case of someone Â being Â what Â we both thought was supportive and yetâ€¦judgment. Â 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, Â though Iâ€™m pretty sure none of them would ever see it that wayâ€”I didnâ€™t â€“and never intended it that way. But itâ€™s there. Itâ€™s been there. Itâ€™s been so easy for people around me to judge me and say who I belonged with and who I didnâ€™t and what I needed out of my relationships Â and my career and my dreams. Opinions that seemed validated when I Â finally filed for divorce because to them it meant that theyâ€™d been right all Â along Â and Â me, Â for Â not Â seeing Â things Â sooner, Â they judged as having Â an impaired judgment. Admittedly Â , it was, and maybe that set up an Â expectation that because Iâ€™d Â fucked Â up Â a time Â or Â two and sold Â myself Â short, Â I couldnâ€™t possibly ever get it right.
There have been so many opinions by so many people, Â some Â them Â little Â more Â than Â strangers, Â of Â what Â I should Â be Â doing Â and Â what Â I Â shouldnâ€™t Â be Â doing Â and whatâ€™s best for me. To this day, I have colleagues calling and emailing Â me and saying, Â hey, letâ€™s get together Â for lunch so I can hear all about Â . I havenâ€™t returned any of those calls or emails in weeks. While itâ€™s true that they Â want Â to Â know Â whatâ€™s Â going Â on Â in Â my Â life, Â those lunches at the food court will likely Â 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 arenâ€™t exactly pretty Â at Â the moment. It always amazes me how a woman whoâ€™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 Â what I need in my romantic Â life and how it tends to look like the picture she herself lives in so painfully.
Iâ€™ve heard it said that, psychologically, people love to watch tabloid Â TV so that they can feel superior to the guests du jour. Thatâ€™s the feeling I get, too, from some of these people. Theyâ€™re bored out of their minds and interested in whatâ€™s going on in my life so they can feel better about Â whatâ€™s going onâ€”or not going onâ€”in theirs. Â A few have even told me that, outright. Itâ€™s way too easy for them to pass judgment on me and whatâ€™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 reliefâ€¦on my way home.
Just before leaving the restaurant where weâ€™d met, I made a Â confession to her of something thatâ€™s hurt over the past few years. It had to do with how Iâ€™ve always had a plan and that plan got shot to hell and Â back and Iâ€™ve been winging it since May of 2004. Iâ€™ve been feeling ungrounded and feeling my way through what I want, and Iâ€™m ready to Â have a plan again. I like having a plan. Always have.
Yet, Iâ€™ve been so heavily criticized for wanting a plan. Iâ€™ve been told repeatedly that Iâ€™m deficient for wanting a plan and that if Iâ€™m somehow spiritually â€œlesser thanâ€ if I donâ€™t simply flow the Universeâ€™s path of least resistance. These attitudes have come most heavily from counselors and Â people trained as counselors, Â and Iâ€™m just realizing how they allowed Â their personal Â opinions to shape our counseling sessions Â and how, while Â clearing Â out certain shadows, new ones were introduced.
What my mentor and I agreed on was that itâ€™s good for me to have a plan for my life, provided Iâ€™m open to new things, too. I was almost giddy with her attitude because itâ€™s so different from what Iâ€™ve experienced among counselor types.
In the Â 2 Â years Â since Â my Â divorce, Â I Â have Â absolutely overdosed on advice from everyone around me. Friends, family, colleagues, mentors, strangers. Everyoneâ€™s had an opinion, everyoneâ€™s been happy to tell me what I â€œneed to do,â€ and everyoneâ€™s so easily dispensed Â advice. Some have even been angry at me for not taking their advice. Others have Â ridiculedÂ me for not emulating Â them.Â Still
others have criticized me for not doing what they them- selves have not found the gumption to do.
This Â mentor Â did Â somethingÂ Â amazing, Â though. Â We talked Â through a couple Â of issues Â related Â to my career transition. She listened intently but didnâ€™t tell me what I needed to do to fix my life so I can make this transition. In fact, she didnâ€™t give me any advice at all. Unlike prior counselors Â and Â work Â mentors, Â she Â didnâ€™t Â give Â me Â answers. Instead, she helped me work through issues to find the answers for myself.
I think one of the things sheâ€™s going to help me with, something Â we Â hadnâ€™t Â planned Â for, Â is Â my Â shedding Â the weight of other peopleâ€™s judgment and expectations.