Overthink. Overanalyze. Fixate. Perfect. Critique. Question.
Constant self reflection and disparagement is something I do early and often. It is a routine I know. One I’m comfortable in. One I thrive (or drown?) in. Because it is easy to be my worst (best?) critic. If I am hard on me, it will soften the blow of some one else pointing out my shortcomings. Always prepared to take myself down a notch.
Every now and then I break from this routine when I am forced to see myself differently.
Two weeks ago I attended a meeting for a new program I’ll be working with (at my current place of employ). Just before this meeting, I had been asked by one of the directors to work with the program because when she thought of one of the main things needed to make the program a success (research mentorship), she thought of me. She said I was the first person she considered, and after she thought on it some more she knew I was the perfect person for the job. When I sent her an email confirming that I was committed to giving 25% of my time to the program, she thanked me and said how glad she was I accepted her offer. When I sat in this meeting two weeks ago, where I was meeting many of the program’s directors and coordinators for the first time, I was introduced with such joy and excitement to be part of the time, and with an assertion that I was valuable and welcome, my skills and knowledge appreciated.
A few weeks before this meeting, I attended a dinner that was held in honor of a researcher recruitment program I direct, held at the home of my boss (the principle investigator of the program). A program that has at times been a source of much of my work frustrations. The dinner was to celebrate the 3 early career researchers we had recruited to formally welcome them to the program, the university, and the city. As my boss gave remarks, he mentioned my role in the program and how he believed the program wouldn’t have been funded or successful without the work I put into it. For perhaps the first time, he acknowledged me directly and gave me kudos for a job well done. It was unexpected and so satisfying to know that my toils and troubles hadn’t gone unnoticed and that I make a difference.
Last week I talked to a dear friend who said perhaps the most unexpected, touching, thoughtful, uplifting, and affirming things anyone has ever said to me (outside of my mother and my brother). He offered to give me a pep talk since I was feeling a bit blue, and I graciously accepted – expecting the usual niceties to be pulled from the “You can do it! You’re awesome!” grab bag. But what he said to me was so much more than I antipated or could have thought to request. He spoke to more than just my blues-inducing situation, but spoke to the wholeness of who he perceived me to be. “…people tell other people all the time that they can do/be anything they want to be. but it’s rarely actually true. it’s true with you…”
Being affirmed is a funny thing. I relish in it, I crave it. But rarely do I believe I deserve it, nor do I actively seek it – not in a self gratifying way, anyway. But I need it. Desire it. It makes me feel good. It motivates me to keep moving forward.
In each of the instances above – and countless others I don’t have the space to mention here, but are no less important to me – I was truly honored to be considered in such a positive light by different people who know me to varying degrees. To be acknowledged and appreciated and held in high regard by people I hold in high regard. Each instance was uplifting, sustaining. I felt good about myself in a way I haven’t in a long time. I felt restored.
I strive to do great work, to reach my highest potential in all things I do, to give only the best I have to offer to the things and people I care about. Because it matters to me that I am worthy of the favor of others. I’d like to say only the favor of the people whose opinions I care about, the people I love who are closest to me. But truthfully I want to earn the favor of anyone whose path I cross.
This is undoubtedly an unreasonable expectation that is impossible to achieve. I will never be good enough, kind enough, smart enough, successful enough, dedicated enough. But the inclination to be recognized by others still lingers.
And perhaps there has never been a time more than now where that longing to hear that I am enough and I do a job well done. Just a bit of affirmation to encourage me to believe in myself, to love myself. And maybe even let me know I’m on the right track, to being better than the moment before.