Approval needed

For the last month I have had additional responsibilities at work, due to a co-worker having been “let go.” I had long made it clear I had time to work on more than what I had so far been given to do, so I readily agreed to take over a large portion of the work my former co-worker had done.

I make a point of saying nothing on this blog about the company I work for (so that I don’t have to decide “Is this particular comment OK to make or not?”), so I’ll say nothing about the details of my work, other than that this new work involves processing requests, but of a different kind than the software change requests that are at the center of my “regular” job.

If they keep me doing this work long enough, I will try to put together a flowchart to guide me (or anyone else) through the process. Who has to approve, and what constitutes evidence of approval, depends on what is being requested, and what company/division/department is making the request. There are also forms that have to be filled out in certain cases but not others, and remembering to check the location of the requestor, as this affects how it is fulfilled.

And that’s on top of figuring out what it is that is wanted. Some requests are very specific. More often, the request is vague on one or two points, and I have to figure out the right questions to ask in order to figure out what is actually needed. To make my life more difficult (from my perspective), the manager of this area sometimes disagrees with the requestor about what they really need.

Due to the volume of work (for a month I have been unable to come even close to getting everything done on both this job and my “real” job), I try not to go to the manager with questions on everything. Unless I am really unsure, I try to use my best judgment. Unfortunately, my best judgment seems to be rather faulty from her perspective.

Since I don’t actually report to her, I’m not sure why her criticism bothers me quite so much. I generally think of myself as being pretty good at accepting criticism without getting all defensive. In fact, I barely say anything; I just nod my understanding and willingness to follow her wishes. Once she has left my desk, however, I feel a terrible sinking feeling, a sea of despair I want to sink into so I can stop feeling so bad.

I’m sure it doesn’t help that I ran out of one of my antidepressant medicines about the time this all started. I didn’t think much of it at first; a few days shouldn’t make a difference (though it ended up being more like two weeks by the time the renewal had been processed and filled). I had just read comments on other blogs by people who think it is better to face the depression head-on without medication. And anyway, I wasn’t feeling depressed, just somewhat disinterested in doing anything besides getting through my daily routine.

By now I’ve been back on the medication for a week or two, and I think I’m slowly returning to normal – whatever that is. But the stress of trying to do a job that seemed too much for me has been obvious to people around me. Except, perhaps, to the manager I’m doing this work for. A couple of days ago, I finally felt desperate enough to talk to my own manager (which I had thought about many times but had been too busy to make time for).

Then the other manager surprised me by asking if I was stressed out. All the anxiety that I had kept in check over the weeks suddenly burst to the surface, and I think my voice cracked a bit as I said that I was. She assured me – two or three times within the next couple hours – that she didn’t want me to be, and she took some of the requests I hadn’t gotten to yet, and then even some that I had been working on.

In part, this was because she needed me to get some month-end paperwork done by the end of the month, which is tomorrow (our fiscal months all end on a Saturday). But perhaps my stress level had been more visible than I had realized, as yesterday another co-worker told me to “Smile!” When I had to stop and breathe deeply before being able to comply, she told me to just do what I could and not worry about the rest.

If it were just the volume of work I think I’d be OK. But I have a habit of trying to explain why there are delays, or why something can’t be done as expected. One time, just a few days into this new role, I made the mistake of telling our internal customer “I don’t know” in response to a question, rather than the more appropriate “I’ll check this out and get back to you.” After being told by the manager never to let the outside world know that our department doesn’t know what it’s doing, I have been more careful in my communications.

But not careful enough. This week I was told that I should not talk about how we go about processing requests. That’s not for the “outside world” to know – even though that “outside world” is our own co-workers in other departments. This morning I spent several minutes trying to craft an acceptable response to someone, finally realized that I was most likely saying more than would be considered appropriate, and went to the manager and got a very terse answer to use in my response.

I’m surprised to find how much I care what this manager thinks of me. I have always cared a great deal what other people think of me, but I thought I was getting better about it not being so important. One reason I would never want to be twenty or thirty years younger is that I have learned – or thought I had – not to feel so vulnerable to other people’s opinions of me.

I’ve never felt a need for people in general to approve, but there have always been some people whose approval I craved. As a child, that was primarily my teachers – and as I was a very good student (both academically and in terms of behavior) I generally got a good deal of praise (though never enough to satisfy my desire for it). One of the big challenges of adulthood was no longer having the regular positive feedback on my work.

I’ve also noticed that the people whose approval matters to me most tend to be those whose approval seems hardest to earn. If people are satisfied with only a modest amount of effort, their praise means little. If I have to work really hard to be told I am doing well, the praise means a great deal more – though there are times I’m not sure I’ll ever achieve it.

Like me, this particular manager is a member of Toastmasters. I haven’t seen her at meetings during the brief time that I have been a member (and unfortunately our club is disbanding next month due to no one having time/interest in continuing), but I know from the membership roster that she earned the Competent Toastmaster award (currently called Competent Communicator).

So I figure she must be familiar with the idea of the “feedback sandwich” used in evaluating one another’s speeches at Toastmasters meetings. You are expected to provide constructive criticism, but to surround the criticism with praise both before and after. I think I could take her criticism more easily if she would at least one time tell me I was doing something right. I assume most of what I do has been acceptable, or I’d hear a lot more about what’s wrong. But it would be nice to hear that all my hard work learning this job has been appreciated, even if I don’t get it right all the time.

Perhaps I don’t look as though I need any reassurance. I remember when I went on the Walk to Emmaus several years ago, chatting with other women at my table on the third day, when we’d had some time to get to know each other. The subject of needing encouragement and reassurance came up, and I commented on how much I felt the need of that. The other women were very surprised – they said I seemed to self-assured. I was in turn very surprised that they could have gotten such a mistaken impression.

My mother went through life feeling desperately needy of love, encouragement, and someone to make decisions that she did not feel competent to make. I do my best to be a competent and confident adult, and sometimes I convince myself that I am – and probably I have others convinced also. But inside I sometimes feel like a scared child, and I can understand why my mother wanted someone to turn to for support.

Today was somewhat better. I made up my mind I would tackle the backlog of paperwork that has been piling up. The new requests have higher priority, but unless I stop jumping on every one of them I can’t make a dent in that pile of paper. The dent I made wasn’t a very big one, in the end, but it was something. Of course, it may not be a coincidence that my spirits started lifting shortly after the manager sent an email saying she was leaving early for the long weekend.

So far as I know, I didn’t make any mistakes today. And I wasn’t notified of any mistakes I had made previously that had just been noticed. (Though I did have to spend time fixing one I had discovered yesterday.) Maybe I’m finally getting the hang of this. Or maybe it was just that it was a slow day for requests because so many people were using vacation to have a four-day weekend.


3 Responses to Approval needed

  1. Margaret says:

    Pauline, you say that you’ve “never felt the need for people in general to approve.” I have always felt that need, but feel that as a Christian I need to somehow overcome it. So how do you keep from feeling that way?

    • Pauline says:

      I grew up caring very little about the opinions of most people, perhaps because that was how Mother seemed to be. She dressed and talked and walked and believed in ways that lots of people would disapprove of. I don’t know how she really felt about their disapproval, but it didn’t seem to affect her behavior.

      I also was used to being one of the smartest people around, so I figured the opinions of not-as-smart people weren’t all that important. As I grew up, I realized that in order to get along with people I needed to care what they thought, even if I didn’t agree with them, and that in some cases it was wise to go along with their opinions, because there was no good reason to be a nonconformist like Mother just for the sake of being nonconformist.

      Once I get to know someone well, I care what they think of me, and with those who are in some kind of authority over me (teacher, pastor, supervisor, etc.) I usually care intensely. But with the majority of the people whom I cross paths with in the course of a week (co-workers, acquaintances, etc.) I have little idea what they think of me, and don’t spend any time thinking about it.

      If I act in ways that merit the approval of the people whose opinions of me do matter, then I’m probably not doing things that would result in disapproval of anyone whose opinion of me would matter if I knew about it. And those who do disapprove, probably have values so different from mine that I wouldn’t care what they think (if they think I should be wearing the latest fashions, for instance, or if they think Christianity is stupid).

  2. Karen O says:

    I relate very much to your statement of sometimes feeling like a scared child.

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