Strive For Joy, Not Validation From Others
Welcome to another edition of my Weekly Journal! If you're new to grace + hudson, I use this space to share about my journey from lawyer to jewelry business owner. In this week's journal entry, I am writing about seeking validation. If you're stuck in a job you don't like and you see no way out, this is a big topic to address. First and foremost, you are not alone. I stayed stuck in my job as a lawyer for 11 years even though I hated it from day one. What keeps us stuck? I can only speak from my point of view but I believe it's a view shared by many women - especially high achieving, smart women.
As many of you know, I practiced law for 11 years. I went to an Ivy League college, a top 25 law school, worked at a couple of prestigious law firms, made a high salary, drove a Lexus before the age of 30, and seemed to have it all going on, as they say. But, inside, I was honestly a bit of a mess. Appearances aren't always what they seem! I was always sick (nothing serious thankfully, but I always had a cold, always had a stomachache, and I never felt healthy). The law firms I worked for pretty much owned me - if you are familiar with the legal profession, lawyers have to keep track of their "billable hours" and the law firms I worked at required me to keep track of every 6 minutes. Yes, every 6 minutes. Meaning, if I talked to a client on the phone for a short call that lasted from 9:00 am to 9:12 am, I literally had to write that down and bill 0.2 hours to that client (12 minutes equates to 0.2 of an hour). Talk about feeling absolutely controlled by my employer. And then, on top of that, partners at law firms are ALWAYS cutting your hours, telling you that the legal brief you wrote for court should have taken 7 hours, not the 13 hours it actually took you. So you are constantly being told you aren't fast enough or good enough. Looking back, this is an INSANE way to live and it's literally unbelievable to me that the legal profession still operates like this. As you can imagine, this wrecks your nervous system. And then on top of it all, lawyers are well, lawyers. I'm not going to sugarcoat it - most of them are awful people to work with. Lawyers have a certain reputation for a reason. In part, it's not our fault. Our life is one big argument. Every day. For years on end. And we are taught to always look for the negative. For example, when you're drafting a contract for a client, your job is to think of EVERYTHING that can go wrong and then draft legal provisions in that contract that protect your client if those things happen. Why do I mention all of this? Because a normal person would equate this to a toxic relationship and they would tell you to run the other way. Like, now. Not tomorrow, not the next day. Now. You deserve way better. But yet, I stayed. For 11 years. And I consider myself one of the lucky ones because I eventually escaped. Many do not. So, this brings me to my point - why on earth did I stay? Validation was a huge part of it.
Let me explain. When you are disconnected from your inherent worth and value - you know, good ole self-esteem - you strive for external validation. You look to other people and circumstances to affirm your value. A good job means you're smart. An attractive husband means you're loveable and pretty. You get the idea. Whether it's conscious or not, you're striving to make the outside look "perfect" with the hope that you will feel better about yourself on the inside. But let me tell you, it doesn't work that way. I had many hallmarks of a "successful" life before I even turned age 30 and I was a bit of a mess. Why? These external things are merely quick hits, almost like a drug. Sure, it made me feel good about myself for when someone told me they were impressed by the college I attended, or that I was able to get a job at a prestigious law firm. But that feeling lasted for about 5 minutes. The nice clothes I wore, the nice car I had... they didn't make me feel better about myself on the inside. They didn't make me feel that good, authentic, inherent worth and value that only genuine self-esteem can bring. There came a time when I felt really betrayed. This happened around age 34 where I landed the position I "should" have wanted to remain in for the rest of my life - the pinnacle of my career. And the story in my head went something like this: "I thought that if I strived for all these things, I would be happy. I have them all - why am I not happy?"
I was missing a big piece of the puzzle - I was never taught to work on the inside because what's going on on the inside matters a whole lot more than what you see on the outside. That's not my fault, so the first step was self-compassion for myself. We're taught in school and in society and by our families that we should strive for all these things and we are led to believe we'll be happy when we get them. This is what I mean by external validation. And if you haven't figured this out yet, it is a complete lie. And anyone being honest with themselves will tell you that. But this lie keeps us stuck in jobs we don't like because they pay high salaries. This lie keeps our bank accounts depleted while we try to dress up ourselves with nice clothes to look better than we actually feel inside. This lie keeps us in a bad relationship because we don't want to upset our families by getting a divorce. So the second step - after having self-compassion for yourself - is to examine the areas of your life where you're merely "keeping up appearances." Is there anything in your life that would bring a huge sigh of relief if it were gone? Maybe it's something big like a relationship or maybe it's something smaller like a car payment on a car that's a little too fancy for your income. Are you driving it because you love cars or the particular make and model? Or are you driving it because it impresses upon others that you are successful? These are the kinds of questions we need to be brave enough to ask ourselves. Because when you get rid of the things that aren't serving us - the things that we're doing or being for other people - then we get more into our authentic selves. And that's the path to peace and freedom and joy. So, start this week by thinking about what you have, why you have it, what's weighing you down, and what would feel like a release if you let it go. Those are the first steps on a path to leading the life YOU were meant to live full of things that YOU want and desire -- not merely the things you are taught you "should" want. We aren't all supposed to live the same lives you know... but you would think otherwise from schooling and the culture we live in. We're all meant to be different and serve different purposes. And a joyful life looks different to every single one of us.
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P.S. Are you on Pinterest? I created a Weekly Journal board so you can easily navigate all of my journal entries. You can view and follow the board by clicking here. I've written so much about quitting my lawyer job to start g+h and I want to make it easier for you to access and read the entries that resonate most!
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— Delilah Yu