Posts Tagged ‘empathy’

Since the pleasures and perils of the comfort zone seems to be the theme for the week, I suppose it should come as no surprise that I got an email yesterday from a 28 year-old Undecided reader we’ll call Jane, stuck in one hell of a pickle. Jane’s problem? She finally has a job that she loves. She actually wrote “I wake up every morning excited to go to work!” (Actually, she wrote “EXCITED.” I swear.) This, of course, is not the problem. The problem is that, after several rounds of interviews she went on motivated primarily by a little healthy What The Hell?, a friend who doubles as the president of a wildly successful start-up offered Jane a job.

Jane consulted with everyone from her current boss (who told her she was planning on retiring in 5 years… and turning the company over to Jane) to her dad, her mom, her aunt, her boyfriend, her ex-coworker, and all of her friends. She wrote:

I’ve been 100% in and 100% out about 6 times each way. I have a 3-page pro-con list. Literally… And now I’m here. With probably the most difficult “who are you?” decision I’ll face for awhile (ever?). And you know how I feel? Like I’d rather take a swan dive off the Golden Gate bridge than make this decision. What if I’m wrong? What if I hurt someone? In the middle of a recession, when most of my friends are struggling to find and keep jobs-I have two absolutely amazing opportunities, and instead of seeing that, high-fiving myself and getting to the decision, I want to cry. Or throw-up. And I want to take back ever going to that first interview.

What should Jane do? I had no idea. But I did pick up on something in the email: What if I hurt someone? To wit:

It’s so odd how emotional and relationship-driven this is for me, in addition to the fear of making the actual decision. A huge factor on my list involves hurting people. Instead of being proud, I feel like a selfish, sneaky, ungrateful turncoat.

And that stuck out to me because I relate. Oh, do I relate. And don’t we all? It’s funny–and it’s unfair; girls are raised to be sensitive to others’ feelings, to be empathetic, to be sweet. And it’s not just the sugar-and-spice nurture that’s to blame here; nature has us hard-wired for it, too. After all, back in the loincloth days, we had to keep the babies–the very tribe–safe and sound, anticipating and taking care of everyone’s needs, while the menfolk were off bringing home the buffalo. Here’s a little more from Jane, on that front:

When I ask my male peers what they think, I get a resounding “Hell yeah! Take it. Tell your boss ‘see ya.'” And when I ask my female peers, they say, “Wow, that is a very difficult decision. Can I help you? Want to meet to talk about it?”

The trouble is that, some of us become so good at empathizing, such experts at feeling others’ feelings, we have no idea how to parse them out from our own. “I don’t care; what do you want to do?” becomes a mantra. And when we’re deciding where to go for dinner, hey, we’re the perfect, easygoing companion. We even convince ourselves that we really don’t care–never mind that we’ve had Indian twice this week already. (After all, who doesn’t love a good curry?) But that can become a habit–a comfort zone. And then what happens when we face a choice like Jane’s, where we’re the only one who can make the decision, and we’re the only one who’s going to have to live with the consequences? I’ll quote her again:

If I could really figure out the answer to everyone’s question “What do YOU want?” – I’d do that! But how do I know what I want…?

And that is one hell of a good question.

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