Saturday, February 3, 2018

Validation: Bringing Confidence to Insecurities Everywhere

Everyone has insecurities. I don't care if you are the most successful, most confident, luckiest, most blessed person in the world - you have insecurities.

Ever. Just pretend.
Be a cyborg. 
They're considered weaknesses, insecurities are. It's not sexy to have them. You're not going to land the corner office with insecurities. You're not going to get a chance with that awesome man or woman of your dreams by listing your insecurities in your dating profile. And you certainly don't want people memorializing you at your funeral by saying, "I remember her as being so insecure."

In looking for some quotes for this blog, I was surprised to find that most of them treated insecurity like a horrible vice. "Insecurity kills all that is beautiful." "Nothing holds you back more than your own insecurities." "Insecurity kills more dreams than failure ever will." Wow. Now not only do I feel insecure, I feel HORRIBLE about it.

But I'm going to put that aside, because I'm pretty sure that even the people who were so secure as to pen those quotes have insecurities. My question is, what separates those who rise above them with those who feel like they're going down with the ship? I'm not sure. Maybe it's their personalities, or how they were raised, or what they've been through, or even just their DNA. But I do know what helps in some cases: validation.
Well if that doesn't make you feel
insecure, nothing will. 

There are few worse things you can say to an insecure person than "You're wrong." I don't mean in those words exactly, but how many times have we refuted something someone has said instead of validating it? When you're angry at your spouse, does he or she say, "Oh, honey, don't be angry."? When your child tells you he's worried about an upcoming event or test, how many times do parents say, "Don't worry."? Or how about when you finally tell a friend what's really been bothering you and they reply with, "Oh, get over it!"?

At that moment, it doesn't matter if what that person has said to you is right or wrong in your eyes. They're expressing a feeling that is valid to them, and the appropriate, compassionate response is not to completely negate what they just said. I learned this firsthand when my son once told me he was worried. My knee-jerk response was, of course, "Oh, honey, don't worry!" He looked at me and said, "Mom, you telling me not to worry doesn't make me not worry. It just makes me feel bad about myself for worrying."

It's human for us to want to fix things - or at least to make uncomfortable things go away. It's human for many people to not want to have awkward conversations that involve tender subjects related to anger, worry or controversy. But when someone conveys a feeling to you and you tell them not to feel that way - intentional or not - you've just completely invalidated what to them WAS a completely valid feeling, which can - and does - lead to insecurity. And over time, if that person feels invalidated long enough, his or her insecurities can get the best of them and they can start second-guessing their own feelings. "Why do I always worry so much?" "What am I getting so angry about?" "Why can't I get over this?" to the point where that person can't even validate their own feelings anymore.

That's one way to become insecure, right?

Validation also comes in the form of what I call "getting a win." We all need to have a win every once in a while. That can come in a physical or emotional form. My son is on a track team, which is of course very competitive. He's good, but he's never been the best (except, of course, in my eyes.) There's always been someone faster, with a better time, or on a better relay team. I try to remind him that a win can also be besting his own time, but I know (validation) that what he really wants is to beat his competitors. Now, he's bested his time on many an occasion, but there is NOTHING like the look on his face when he's won a race. 

Pretty sure even the Virgin Mary
had insecurities. 
But what if wins aren't quite as obvious? What if you work in an office day after day? In my case, I write - primarily for other people on subjects that for the most part are not of my choosing. Not uncommon. I'm also edited - unceasingly, unendingly, and sometimes mercilessly. Again, most of the time the final product of what goes out under my pen isn't under my name, so it has to be perfect in order to have that other person's stamp on it. And as in many people's jobs, others are quick to criticize when they find something wrong and slow to praise. (In my case, people love to find typos in my work - like they've beat me at my own game.)

Though I understand that what I write has to live up to a high standard, it wears on me at times. I work hard at what I do, and an "i" left undotted or a "t" uncrossed weighs more heavily on me than most - sometimes like a pair of concrete shoes. And I think to myself, every once in awhile, it would be awesome if someone would tell me that I'm doing a good job. Even if it's, "Thank you for making me look good!" or "I appreciate you making my job easier." Sometimes it gets to the point where my challenge is less about my craft and more about this unending quest to send out a product that will get an unexpected email response of "Well done" than the incessant "I made some changes..."

Valid point. But not the only reason.
I understand it's nobody's job to make me feel good about mine, but it is people's job to make sure I do mine well. But every once in a while, I'm sure we would all like to feel a little validated that that we're doing well in our careers. In my case, I fear that my insecurities about my writing are starting to be reflected IN my writing. In short, I need a win. And I'd venture to guess that there are a lot of people out there who feel the same way.

Insecurities aren't something people are proud of. I'm not sure why they seem to terrorize some people, like me, and how others are less affected, or able to at least mask appearing affected so well. I'm sure people who struggle with insecurities are way more sensitive to a lack of validation - to them, it's just one more brick in the wall, and the taller it gets, the tougher it is to break down. And it doesn't help that insecurities are seen as a sign of weakness. You shouldn't be penalized because you want and need validation. Some people are in positions to receive it more than others. If your kid has a 4.0 GPA and is going to an Ivy League school, you're probably feeling pretty validated as a parent. If you've been with a company for 10 years and were just appointed a vice president, you're probably feeling pretty validated in your career. If your husband or wife lets you know in no uncertain terms that you are the best thing that's ever happened to him or her, you're probably feeling pretty validated in your marriage. Sure, everyone has areas of their lives that make them insecure, but lack of validation in any part of your life that is important to you is bound to touch off uncertainty and self-doubt. 

My point here is that we all need to know that who we are, what we do and how we feel has meaning, and in many ways, validation is a key player, no matter how much any internet quote says otherwise. So just think about it. When someone tells you how they're feeling, whether you think they're being insecure or not, validate their feeling. If you're in a position to tell someone they've done a good job, validate what they've done. And if you're one of those insecure people out there, try and look at something in your life that at which you're doing the very best you can to do - regardless of how it turned out for anyone else. Sometimes the key to overcoming some of your insecurities is giving yourself a break - and validating yourself.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Visual Proof: Brotherly Love

Recently, I found out a friend of mine's son had the capabilities to convert all those tiny videocassettes that had been gathering dust in my TV stand to electronic files. I jumped at the chance, thinking back to all the times I grabbed that monstrous camera and recorded every burp, fart and poop my kids did, usually narrated by me saying something brilliant like, "HONEY, LOOK AT THE CAMERA!!!!!"

I can't remember when we finally ditched the video recorder in favor of the cell phone, but I'm guessing it was around 2008, since that's the last little cassette I could find. Either that or I was just so damn tired I stopped chronicling anything at all.

Regardless, my friend's son soon sent me a link to gigabytes and gigabytes of precious memories, now firmly entrenched in some mega folder probably floating on the Cloud somewhere.

The files have just been sitting there in interweb space until the other day, when my younger son mentioned to me that he had been texting his older brother and waxing nostalgic about some good times he remembered them having together when they were younger. Apparently my oldest wasn't recalling the same sweet memories, and my youngest was understandably upset about it.

I knew there had to be some pretty awesome visual proof in those video files of mine, so this past weekend I took some time to start watching them.

You know when you start cleaning out a drawer or going through old files and it turns into a marathon of "Oh, I remember this!" or "Wow I had forgotten about that!"? Yep, that was me ... being sucked back in time for hours to a whole other life that I hadn't forgotten about, but just hadn't thought about in a long time. It was like video crack ... I just couldn't stop watching. 

I'm not going to say "they grow up so fast," because I distinctly remember at the time there being many days that I was sure went on much longer than the 24-hour allotment. I remember sometimes wishing they'd hurry out of one stage or another ... naps, potty training, the terrible twos, the terrible threes, the terrible fours .... kidding ... sort of. 

But looking at these videos, all that wistfulness for time to go by is gone. For so long, I've wondered if I was a good mom; if my kids had a good childhood; if I did things right and gave them what they needed when they needed it. In looking at these videos, I was validated. They were free-spirited, for-the-most-part happy kids doing regular stuff that free-spirited, for-the-most-part-happy kids do - nothing fancy. Giggling through the cold water of the sprinkler. Screaming "Watch me, Mom!" a thousand times as they raced their bikes down the sidewalk and over a ramp. Seeing who could go highest on the swings in the backyard. Chasing each other with water guns almost as big as they were.

This is the stuff my boys need to see. These are the memories I want them to have locked in their heads and hearts forever. Though they may not be close right now, they are bonded by brotherhood, and they were inseparable and partners in crime for many years. I want my younger son to see what an incredible big brother he has, who almost hovered over him to help him read a birthday card, work a water gun or build a Lego set. I want my oldest to see what a great influence he was on his younger brother, and how much good he taught him along the way. They were and are both very lucky to have each other, whether now, at 16 and 20 years old, they realize it or not.

I want both of them to see that they were raised with no frills - most of the fun they had was in their own backyard, with things like a slip 'n slide made out of an old paint tarp, a bike race track traced with sidewalk chalk and games that came simply from their imagination.

I also want them to know that their mom was right there with them - capturing these moments even though there were times when my youngest would yell, "DON'T PUT THE CAMERA ON ME!" I was actually struck by how calm my voice sounded on the videotape sometimes ... maybe it's because I knew I was documenting or maybe I had it together more than I gave myself credit for. I hear myself saying things like, "Now, Buddy, wait for your brother - that's the nice thing to do," or "Be a good example and let your little brother have a turn." My patience on the outside could not have possibly mirrored the parenting chaos that was taking place on the inside.

I guess I'm going to renege on what I said earlier and tell all you younger moms that while they may not grow up so fast, it does all go by so fast. It may not seem like it at the time, but I swear to God I look at these videos and I'm sure it was just the other day they were sledding down the neighbor's driveway like it was the steepest and fastest in the world. I look at all the close-ups I did of these cherubic little faces - their innocence as they sweetly answered questions like, "What's your name? How old are you? Can you count to ten?" How they sought me out when they were up on the stage for their spring program - singing all those songs and doing all those hand motions while looking slightly embarrassed but proud at the same time, then finally spotting me with a look of relief and happiness all rolled up into one sweet face.

Sure, I'm well aware that probably 90 percent of the videos are of the good times - and that's OK. There were plenty of bad times that are locked into my brain forever. I think sometimes those are the easier things to remember and we somehow forget how wonderful some of everyday life can really be to a kid.

In looking at those videos, my heart of course swells with love for them, but it also swells with pride, for them and for myself. I raised some good kids - I really did. I needed to see that, and so do they. I hope they already know how much I love them, and how much they love each other. But if "video evidence" helps, so be it. I know what we'll be doing over the Christmas break.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Fifty was a bit shifty, but 51 might be fun?

Well, it looks like I'm officially on the other side of 50 now. I don't mind at all; when I look back on as many years as I can remember, I'm not too impressed, other than looking at my kids and marveling that I kept them alive for as long as I did. That in itself will continue to boggle my mind.

It must be common for people around "my age" to start bucket lists. Maybe it's because 50 is such a definitive number - it does sound kind of old - half century, five decades, halfway to 100 .... whatever you want to call it. Not to mention I have AARP rolling out the welcome mat for me and tantalizing me with a free tote bag just for joining.

I had a bucket list there for awhile, but already it's changed. I think I did a lot of growing during my 50th year - growing that I would have like to have accomplished in my 30s or 40s, but alas, I am and always have been a late bloomer. Shit, I'm still waiting for boobs.

One of my biggest problems with myself is finding the right balance between what I want to do and what I should do (as "expected" by society, family, social circle, etc.) I managed to work on this quite a bit this past year and am slowly finding a happy medium. I've bowed out of dating situations because they didn't seem right to me, even though they may have looked good on paper (or to other people.) I've stopped forcing myself to be social when I don't feel like it - I've come to the comfortable realization that I am a person who needs alone time - solitude. Alone and lonely are two very different things, and lonely comes less and less now, which is a good thing.

I've stopped caring so much about what other people think, and realizing that really, they're not thinking about me at all. I danced in public this summer. I can't remember the last time I did that. And I didn't care. And I had fun. No one whispered about me the next day (to my knowledge, anyway.) The world didn't end, and instead of being mortified, I have some great memories of dancing like no one was watching - and they probably weren't.

I got two tattoos. It's weird, I never had any desire to get one, and had strongly prohibited my sons from getting any. Hypocrite? Meh. They're old enough to have an opinion about them and I'm old enough to know I didn't do anything rash. Both have very significant meaning to me: "I am the storm" is from the quote, "The devil whispered to me, 'You cannot withstand the storm', and I whispered back to the devil, 'I am the storm.'" I love this quote and I have it on my fridge and my bathroom mirror. I look at it more than I've ever referenced any quote. When I'm feeling like I'm a failure or I'm about to get swallowed by life, I look at my wrist and it makes me feel powerful. And no, I don't care what anyone thinks about it.

The other is a typewriter with the words, "be curious". This was the answer to a question I posed to a wilderness guide in 2014 in Durango, Colorado. I was getting ready to see my son for the first time in months and had so many questions, but didn't want to interrogate him. I'll never forget her simple answer of "Be curious." I think about it all the time and it's helped me in a number of situations - kids, work, interviews - it applies to a lot of things in life. It extends toward my fingers since that's where all my words seem to come from (the good ones, anyway.)

Another thing that happened this year is my kids grew up. Right before my eyes. I say this with trepidation, but I'll reach into my 12-step bag and say they are doing well TODAY. I have what I consider incredible relationships with both my boys and I am so freaking proud of them right now I could just burst. And I'm not proud of them for some fancy job they got or how much money they make or the 4.0 GPA they have ... I'm proud of them because they're damn good young men. I'm proud of them because they're making progress. They're moving forward. They love me and they tell me so. I don't know when I've ever been able to say that, but it makes me smile just typing it.

I learned a lot about myself this past year - more than I probably ever have in a year. Maybe "accepted" is a better word than "learned." I accepted the fact that I'm in my head a LOT, and that's a blessing and a curse. I think about things on a different level than maybe a lot of people do. Not a higher level - no, I've also come to the conclusion that I am not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Not at all. In fact, places like work are where I feel my dumbest. Anyway, I know I overanalyze things, but not in a "chick, you're overanalyzing things" way, but a "I'm seeing all sides of this and really trying to understand" overanalyzing. It's hard to explain, but regardless, it has helped me feel a little more comfortable in my own skin - this quirky, slightly eccentric skin. But that's OK.

I'm slowly figuring out relationships and how they fit into my world. I've stopped dating because I should date or people tell me to date or I think I want a date when I really just fucking hate dating. It just sucks the life out of me - and the confidence, and the hope. I've learned what is really important in a relationship - to me, anyway - and what isn't worth throwing one away. That's a huge step for me, and once again, it's taken me 34 years, if you count from the time I had my first date. That's a long time to figure out what works for you when it comes to the opposite sex. But again, I'm a bit of a slow starter.

I'm not going to say 50 was nifty - it definitely had its ups and downs, like any year has with any person. But good and bad, I used every experience as a learning one, which makes me feel a lot more prepared as I dive headfirst into this new decade.

I'm juggling a lot of balls in the air here, as we all are. When I drop one, it's hard for me to keep the others in play - they all seem to fall. I need to work on that this year, too - and learn that if somebody or something throws another ball at me that I can just add it to the mix and keep on juggling.

So, my words of wisdom for anyone out there still trying to make sense of it all? First of all, you'll always be trying to make sense of it all. Second, sometimes things have a way of figuring themselves out - you just need to be open to the answers coming and don't ignore them or push them away. Third, your gut will never be wrong. Seriously. It won't. Fourth, you're worthy. You're worthy of the answers. You deserve the answers. Don't think that you are asking for too much if you really want them. What you do with them is up to you - just remember your worth when you're figuring that part out.

Finally, if you need answers, don't be afraid to ask questions - to anyone, to yourself, about anything. That's how you learn. That's how you grow. Take it from someone who has lived her life taking everything at face value, hasn't wanted to rock the boat (intentionally) and has always played by the rules. Be curious, and base your life decisions on what you learn from that curiosity, what you feel in your heart and what you know is best for your soul.

Be curious - and don't wait as long as I did.