“We think our job as humans is to avoid pain, our job as parents is to protect our children from pain, and our job as a friend is to fix each other’s pain. Maybe that’s why we feel like failures so often—because we have the wrong job description of love. People who are hurting don’t need Avoiders, Protectors, or Fixers. What we need are patient, loving witnesses. People who sit quietly and hold space for us. People to stand in helpless vigil to our pain.”—Glennon Doyle
I encountered this quote one day while mindlessly surfing the internet, and a couple of themes seemed important: our supposed need to save, fix, or protect others from pain in order to be a successful parent or friend, as well as the human need for witness to our genuine experience. However, the theme this quote left me contemplating the most was that of a “job description” in our roles in life. If we were to examine the job description we have in our heads, what could we learn we are overvaluing or undervaluing, possibly without even realizing it? Are we holding ourselves to unfair standards with these job descriptions? How much more present would we find ourselves amidst our (or others’) distress, if we simply change them?
By becoming aware of the role definitions and expectations we place on ourselves, we can become better equipped to discern their validity in our life. This can be a big task for several reasons. One challenge is that our roles tend to change over time, which can be confusing. Also, our definition of our roles will differ from others’ definitions, and we constantly must consider countless unpredictable variables and events. It’s no wonder we might all be confused about our roles, expectations, and what our job is. The good news is that examining these issues is highly worthwhile, as can increase our awareness of how we’re living and cause us to either make peace with or change these things to set ourselves up for a better, more fulfilling life.
As an example, a common theme for many is the desire to be happy. While this is indeed a great goal, have you perhaps written the wrong job description? Do you tell yourself that this job means never feeling sad or angry, never losing your temper, never being unreasonable, and never staying away from your emotional baseline? Is perfection one of your job duties? Do you tell yourself that if you’re struggling, you are failing? Or…conversely, do you choose to measure your happiness in moments throughout the day that make you smile, feel connected, and grateful? Maybe that is how you define the job.
Notice how a change in job description can reduce the unrealistic expectations we place on yourself. If we embrace the first job description, the likelihood of happiness is far less than if we follow the second one, even if our situations and experiences are otherwise completely identical.
We tend to automatically accept our current ways of doing things without ever questioning the validity of how we define our roles. We hold ourselves to unrealistic expectations without even realizing that we are functioning off of a flawed job description. Counseling can help us rewrite our job descriptions so that we function more in line with our values and personal goals, allowing us to be more fulfilled, content, and successful in meeting the challenges of life.