After working at Solomon Smith Barney for seven years, Wanda Thompson found herself at a crossroad. She wanted to advance her career, but despite assurances that internal candidates would be given priority to any openings, her department consistently hired people from outside the company. Frustrated and feeling out of the loop, Thompson contemplated leaving.
“My family couldn’t understand why I would want to leave the security of my job. Naysayers at work — people who were unhappy with their own jobs — said I wouldn’t find a better position and that I should stay put,” says the fortysomething resident of Bloomfield, New Jersey. “I wanted to make more money, but I couldn’t advance. I wasn’t happy.” After two years of soul-searching, Thompson chose to make the leap and ultimately landed a position at a startup financial services firm.
Thompson exhibited a self-validation that clinical psychologist Barbara Brown defines as the ability to go inside oneself and affirm one’s own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. “Whether anyone else believes in you or affirms your personhood or abilities, you need to believe in yourself,” says Brown, principal of Family Assistance in Coping with Trauma and Stress in Washington, D.C. “It is extremely important to be self-validated. Otherwise, an inferiority complex can ensue and cause you greater problems as you strive to accomplish other things in life.”
E. Carol Webster, a clinical psychologist in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, agrees. “It does not mean do your own thing all the time, thinking it’s your world and you’ll do things your way.” A self-directed attitude, Webster maintains, is not narcissistic. Rather, it “relies on critical analysis of what has worked in the past and what has not, and incorporates other perspectives and feedback,” Webster says. “Being self-validated is about whether you are moving in a direction you intend, and not doing things solely because others say you should.”
Ironically, the startup position Thompson took lasted only a month. Now a purchasing agent for Irvington Housing Authority, she has no regrets. “If I had to do it again, I would,” Thompson maintains. “You can take people’s opinion into consideration but deep down in your heart, you have to do what’s best for you.”
Becoming Your Own Cheerleader
Are you on the proper end of the self-confirmation spectrum? Drs. Brown and Webster suggest adopting and developing the following:
- Trait #1: Introspection: “Strike a balance between going into yourself and filtering external output to make a decision in your best interest,” instructs Brown.
- Trait #3: Independence: “When you are less inner directed, you are more vulnerable to be manipulated. When you are more independent, you know you are still OK, whether you are included in the in group or not,” says Brown.
- Trait #2: Critical analysis and positive thinking: Refer to past successful experiences to help you build the courage to strike out and do things again. Tell yourself, “When I try things, they tend to work out well,” says Webster.
- Trait #4: Self-motivation: “Remind yourself that you have personal power, and that you can make things happen,” says Webster. “Erase