Kicking Deserving Out

This seems like it should be an easy one for me.  I firmly don’t believe in the concept of “deserve”. I think it’s toxic in relationships and irrelevant at work. I think yes, we work to earn things; but deserving is different somehow, some kind of entitlement feeling, and so generally I stay pretty far away from the concept. There is, yes, a revulsion against wanting anything to do with entitlement rolled up in here; I am repulsed by it in others and work hard not to feel those feelings myself.  The thing is, it goes beyond that. I feel like “deserving” is an unnatural attitude, at best a social construct. Feudal kings felt like they “deserved” their lands, deserved to own people, were owed fealty by people, and I don’t feel like we’ve come too far past those ideas today, and so best just to leave it quietly be, like ideas of a flat Earth and the universe revolving around us.

Another reason I’m uncomfortable with it is because it implies both arbitrariness and a second half to the feeling: “I deserve <fill in the blank here> because <fill in the second blank here>.” Who is to say that my second blank is any less or more worthy than anyone else’s? I’m setting an arbitrary reference point and then casting myself on the winning side of it. How arbitrary can you get? It is distasteful to the large portion of me that prides itself on being rationality-driven.

Yet another reason I’m not a fan of it is because it goes against the Buddhist credo of nonattachment. While I am not Buddhist myself, I find that a lot of the Buddhist ways of thinking about things makes sense to me, and this is one of those. “Deserving” implies attachment to thinking about myself in a particular way and attachment to what the result of me being or doing that particular thing should be, resulting in either validation (the result I wanted happened, which increases my value as a person!) or disappointment (the result that I wanted didn’t happen, which makes me sad/angry/frustrated!). While one response feels better than the other one, they’re both incorrect and inherently unstable, and so I work to stay away from any ideas of deserving, and instead just try to work hard and get lucky.

These ideas are all long-standing, deeply ingrained in my thought and feeling pathways… So why did I get my nose so bent out of shape recently when I felt I didn’t get the credit I’d deserved for some work I did??

I asked some friends about this. One said, “I think ‘deserve’ deserves a little more credit. If you had been recognized for the effort you wouldn’t reject it and say you were undeserving, would you? I think it’s more of an issue where we confuse being deserving with being owed something. Of course, often people think they are deserving or owed something they really are not, which is a different problem.”

Here’s what happened.

I had been working on a project up to two years ago when I was informed that my performance was suboptimal. Ever since then I’ve worked continuously and conscientiously to improve my performance. I responded to specific criticisms by adjusting my work accordingly. I accomplished the objectives of the program and stayed very sensitive to feedback, maybe sometimes overcompensating, but trying to show that I was paying attention to input.

The final input that I got was that my work for the past two years had gone almost entirely unseen.  As you can imagine, I felt crushed.  The huge, extended quantities of time and effort and stress and anxiousness at promptness had not been seen by the people to whom it mattered. “Not getting the credit I deserved” came down to the fact that it felt invalidating to that mountain of effort (sadness about the past) and frustrating in not wanting to continue the same high level of effort and responsiveness (sadness about the future).

I validate those two responses in myself. They are merited. So, validating them, and understanding that my feelings are real even though they do not reconcile with my intellectual philosophical beliefs, it is time to look for the next steps:

For the past: I will remind myself that just because my efforts were invalidated by the person to whom they mattered most, does not mean that I did not work very hard. It was not as effective as I would have wanted, obviously; not by a long shot. But I worked hard to understand what had been asked of me and worked just as hard to respond to those requests. It did not have the effect that I wanted, but I am proud of my efforts.

For the present: I will breathe and lean into a slow, calm acceptance of everything that this moment is.

For the future: I will be much more mindful of opportunities to communicate better. If my efforts were not seen, then I did not do a good enough job at communicating that I was making them, and definitely not a good enough job at checking in to make sure that they were appropriate, and enough. I should have shared more, asked more, and relied on my own internal expectations less.

I still feel the same way I always have about “deserving”. I am glad to understand about myself that I have a strong visceral reaction to having work invalidated; sometimes I forget how closely I associate who I am with what I do. It’s good to be aware of this so that I don’t dump my hard-negative reaction on anybody’s head…including my own! All I can do now is high-five my past self for efforts, shrug, and take the lessons I learned into the future and act accordingly.

— Posted on 20 July 2015 at 10:18am by

Comments (2)

  1. Viscouse Reply

    24 July 2015 at 10:49am

    I enjoy having to re-read your articles a couple times in order to get the full effect.

    I have a similar situation I shall quickly share. My project was 24 years long, and accelerated into vast difficulty in the last 5 years. For me, I waxed & waned into a concept of learned helplessness. Only in the very end was I able to recognize myself for the work that was done, because it did in fact turn me into a better person.

    I think, after reading your article, that “deservedness’ is as wildly subjective as faith. A king deserves his land because he feels his reasons are valid. It’s the justification we use that’s important. My work obviously wasn’t up to par with my audience, but I justified that it was.

    I think a better way of going about it to find an arena or audience that has similar reasons (validation?) and thus work is valued. Or, keep it all internal regardless of any audience. This is the path of a truly independent voice.

    1. jessicaletaw Reply

      24 July 2015 at 11:58am

      Thanks for your reflections! It’s always interesting to me to hear how others grapple with the same knotty problems I wrestle. In many ways just knowing that is as relieving as actually solving any of these problems!

      I am joyful you found peace with yourself and your project. Well done.

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