Since our childhood, we’ve been preconditioned to believe that a good act isn’t “that good” unless it is acknowledged and awarded. We’ve all, at some point, experienced the joy of winning a medal, hearing our name called to receive a “Perfect Attendance” award or honor roll certificate, ice cream for sharing our toys–the list goes on. These prizes not only provided instant gratification, they validated our actions. They reassured us that our completion of chores, doing homework well, and being the fastest on the team were in fact good things, and that we were on the right track. These were our first experiences with success.
You get into the office early, you stay late, you excel in projects assigned to you, you even help out colleagues and contribute to their success, yet somehow, no one seems to notice. No one seems to get just how hard you work, and when you think the last bit of fantastic work you completed was finally going to get a nod, you get either undesired feedback or get stuck with more work because you have to keep up with the new precedent of great work you just set for yourself. No pause for applause, no medals for you.
What we know, but forget, is that our everyday contributions will seldom receive such accolades, and that is okay. Such acknowledgement and awards are in no way indicative of our worth and what we are bringing to the table.
One of the best ways to become more accepting of the aforementioned notion is to simply remember that the world does not revolve around us, and that our superiors and colleagues have goals and distractions of their own. Of course this does not mean deserved appreciation does not have be to shown, as we are only human and need to feel appreciated to keep going; it is simply a valid reason to look for your “award” or feeling of success, in other places, and the most effective place is within yourself.
The burning desire to be the best, stay number one, and most detrimental of them all–remain “noticed”–had inadvertently become the root of untamable stress in my young adult life. My high was a feeling of success that came from a different kind of drug, and that drug was well-timed praise.
I came back to work after a 12-day vacation, naturally found that I wasn’t number 1 anymore, and quietly lost my mind.
I was coming in 2 hours early and there to turn the office lights on for the day, and leaving when the electrical auto settings of the building turned them off. I had never worked so hard in my life, and the race back to the limelight seemed like a forsaken one, for what seemed like forever. This is a prime example of equating being successful with something as unpredictable as the actions of other human beings.
I was working hard and producing work I was proud of, but felt awful simply because it wasn’t being noticed and awarded. It’s less comfortable confronting a yearn for gold-star sticker acknowledgment as an adult, and so we internalize the deeply-rooted reaction to missing reassurance we’ve been conditioned to feel we need. Feeling underappreciated in your workplace is miserable, and can contribute to the questioning of your abilities, your happiness at a company you once dreamed of getting into, and can be a gateway to a myriad of other foul thoughts if left to others to fix for you. The fact is, and for a variety of reasons, there will always come a time when those you expect acknowledgement and praise from, will not provide you with either. It is up to you, however, to finally bestow that power onto yourself.
The key is to revisit initial motives, reflecting on what skills you’re developing when you complete difficult work and the fact that you’ve completed it successfully. You are not a mindless drone: You were added to your team for several reasons, and these great reasons do not dissipate into thin air when someone forgets to tell you that you are doing a good job. We’ll find that life requires an unequal mix made up of a smaller dose of being shown appreciation by others, and a double serving of validating ourselves by aligning who we are and what we do with standards that are personal to us. It gets rocky when we depend on others in the workplace to have complete understanding of what we put into our work and any emotional ties to our efforts. It’ll just take a bit of unlearning what was more practical in our childhood years; we’re big people now, and have the smarts to know when we’re delivering, and can declare our success when we know we are, based on our personal standards. More emphasis on what you think of you and your output, and less dependence on others telling you they, too, see the magic you know you’re creating.