"Why can't I be happy with a steady job year after year, like they are?" I longed for stability, routine, security. For meaningful work that fulfilled me, yet had to be left at the office when I went home. But I needed work that allowed me to teach, lead and support. That's where my passion lived. Even though it was stressful, I got filled up by the challenges of managing our department's environment so that employees were supported in doing their jobs and had opportunities to grow, and customers could count on stellar service. I lit up as we fumbled together to develop our communication and teamwork skills. I felt joy when employees grew in ways they valued. Yet I longed to be fulfilled by steady, predictable, fairly drama-free desk work - thinking my stress would be less if I could just be happy with that.
I had almost endless energy for one-on-one conversations with people. Those conversations quickly turned personal and it was common for people to say, "I can't believe I'm telling you this, but..." I didn't always understand why what we were talking about felt intimate to them, because it was so normal and natural for me. I now recognize that part of my contribution is to have conversations in which people get to be seen and heard, and why that is valuable.
I found it far more energizing to implement changes, especially those involving a change in perspective, with my team of supervisors and trainers. They would delight me with their creativity and accomplishments as we encouraged employees to embrace those changes throughout our department. Yet, I was stressed in my job much of the time. I thought, if I could just be happy with jobs like my foundation-employees had, my life would be better.
I now realize that wasn't true. That my needs, which put me into leadership roles, were not the problem. It was my attitude towards my needs. I considered them to be burdens and problems.
Sometimes I would stress about how to meet his needs. But I knew I was really feeling inadequate, and my stress wasn't actually about him or his needs. Mostly, I felt energized, excited, eager for the challenge and perfectly at ease asking others for help on his behalf. (Yep. I've been keenly aware that I could feel that same way about my own needs.)
My son told me that we were "partners in growing him up." Partnerships spark growth. I found it a fun challenge to help him find ways to meet his needs. We both found ourselves in interesting activities and communities because we followed the lead of his needs. Doors opened. He thrived and grew in leaps and bounds as each newly recognized need was accepted and he took steps to meet it. Everywhere that his needs took him, I watched his impact on the people he met and interacted with there. It was obvious to me that he was filling some of their needs, too. Bottom line: nothing bad happened because of his needs, and lots of good did.
So here I am, at 57, just figuring out that my own needs are clues divinely designed to lead me in directions that hold fulfillment for me and allow me to benefit others. Not just "when I get there." During the entire journey. I'm beginning to get that I can have tailor-made adventures, instead of envy.
Thankfully my foundation-employees' needs were met by doing work that I literally couldn't do on a sustained basis. And my need to lead and support served to benefit them.
My main need that I have resisted is this: I need to interact regularly with people who are growth focused and actively working on developing their spiritual awareness and interpersonal skills. (The only reason I've resisted that need is because it's MY need.) Put me in any group and I'll end up in a corner having a deep, authentic one-on-one conversation with someone. Or if that's not possible, I'll leave early and unfulfilled. I thought my problem was that I'm just not satisfied with what others enjoy. Things like chitchat, sporting events, conversations about problems we're not going to do anything about, knitting, museums, fashion, etc. I thought if only I could be happy with those interests, then my life would be better.
Here's what I now realize:
- Every need can easily be met, as long as we acknowledge and accept the need. There are no bad or unlucky needs.
- Needs lead us in the direction of our fulfillment. Our fulfillment always (yes, always) results in some benefit to others. Our personal needs propel us in our right direction, so that we will grow and express ourselves creatively and authentically in the world. Our needs are a necessary and vital part of the path for contributing to the world in the ways we are designed to do. Yes, we're all humans. But, like plants, humans come in an amazing variety of expression. When we accept and respect our personal needs, we express ourselves authentically, thrive and contribute meaningfully.
- We humans suck at this. We need to learn to identify and talk about our needs in a neutral way. I'm taking a class called Compassionate Communication (through Unity Church) that is based on the book by Marshall Rosenberg called NonViolent Communication. The neutralizing effect I feel as I practice this method is surprising and rewarding! Finally I am finding a way to move beyond fighting my needs or wishing them away, to letting my needs fulfill me.
My personal needs never did go away. They're a part of my unique design. How could I meet those needs and let my body relax, while I continually told myself that I shouldn't need what I needed? Cancer forced the issue. "Look," it said, "you're gonna have to quit judging yourself and look at what you need with acceptance and trust."
Getting there... By taking this class, I certainly feel more relaxed about my needs now. I'm becoming curious and optimistic about how my needs can be met. Life is able to surprise and gift me. I know "the Universe" is real (that story is for another blog post). I'll just say that I had a real, visceral, 3-day experience where I'd think about something I needed or wanted, and miraculously that thing would show up in delightful ways. I felt the Universe listening to my thoughts and delighting in giving to me.
I've noticed a side-perk, too: I agree with the idea of abstaining from complaining. My son models this, and his reasons for doing it make sense. But I've had to use will power to abstain, and eventually my will power gets exhausted. I'm now discovering that, as I acknowledge and accept my needs, and view them as partners in my life to guide me in fulfilling ways, I naturally abstain from complaining. I complained from a place of powerlessness, from not accepting my own needs and backing myself up. Life is more fun as I make peace with my needs.
Self-care is a hot topic these days. Partly because we suck at recognizing, accepting and meeting our needs. My hope is that this post encourages you to view your needs as clues for what you need to thrive and contribute. That you have fun being led by your needs. That you enjoy the journey and share your beautiful, authentic self with us. We need you, living your own unique expression, just as much as we need the flowers and squirrels. Even if that means you have to be watered every day or you compulsively bury more nuts than you'll ever eat.
® Vicki Nelson. Text and photos. If you found this helpful, please pass it along to those you feel would benefit from it.