I don’t like to reinvent the wheel, so if something works I tend to keep doing it. Well, in the case of this post about validation and catchprases, saying it.
Not a catchphrase in an ANTM Camille “This will make me famous” way. Rather, it is a go-to, situation-specific phrase that I always say and it always works… and by “works”, I mean elicits a positive, validating response that makes the person I’m talking to feel better.
When I was a high school counselor, the phrase was “It’s okay to not be okay.” This usually came in response to a student who was trying to downplay the emotional effects of a tragic or traumatic situation, and usually came after the student saying something like “I’m okay” while nonverbally saying something like “I’m hanging by a thread.” Since I knew that 1) they weren’t okay, 2) keeping in these feelings and emotions was far worse than letting them out in the safety of my office, and 3) they probably felt a social responsibility to ‘keep it together’ (especially the guys), telling a student that feeling sad was perfectly fine was usually the cue to opening the floodgates. Literally.
These days, I’m a career advisor and adjunct professor at a community college, so I tend to not have the same stories come my way. Still, the emotions and anxiety that my students face is about the future is very real. Will my major get me a job? What if I don’t like what I’m doing? How can I be sure that I’ll always be employed? My colleagues and I get bombarded with questions like this every day, and it definitely makes sense. Too many kids internalize the idea that their college major has to lead directly to a job or else it’s a waste of time. Their parents say go to college so that you can get a good job. Their K-12 teachers say that the only good jobs are in STEM. So why would someone who loves History major in it? To them (and often their parents), this seems like an idea that will doom them to unemployment.
At least, that’s how it was for my parents. While they never told me what to major in or what to do with my life, when I decided that it would be Comparative Ethnic Studies and Creative Writing there were definitely some questions. (TBH, ten years and 3 degrees later, there are probably still plenty of questions.)
Over the past semester, I taught a Major & Career Exploration course. Most of my students were in the beginning semesters of college and had no idea what direction to take. At least, that was the purported reason for enrolling in my 1-credit elective. In reality, most of them had a very good idea about what they wanted to do, they just wanted to make sure. I saw this as the semester moved along. As we went through various career development and self-exploration activities, the students grew more confident in the paths that they had intuitively chosen for themselves. Class conversations went from “I don’t know what I want” to “I think I like this” to “I like this and now I know why”, which was pretty fun for me to watch.
Essentially, these students took my course because they wanted validation.
Now, I can spot someone who wants validation in almost any situation, and usually it’s super annoying. At work, it’s the person throws in an additional five cents when no one responds to their initial two. Online, it’s the person who posts a thirst trap selfie with a self-deprecating caption. These people need to be stopped.
But when it’s a 19 year old kid who is sitting in my class or in my office trying to make sure they are about to make the right choices, it’s not annoying at all. And once this kid laid out multiple what-if scenarios of the next few years of their life, and after they ask me “What should I do?” I am always happy to say “Well, it sounds like you have already made a decision.” Boom. Catchphrase. Because usually they have. Usually, the student already knows the best course of action to take, they just needed to make sure that they could trust their instincts. All they wanted was validation that they know themselves well enough to know what is best.
And really, that’s what we all want. It may sound totally cheesy and after school special-y, but it’s true. Deep down, I think that most people get comfort in knowing that they are on the right track. Whether it’s with a college major or career path or what to eat for dinner, people like to know that their decisions will be the right ones. I know I do. At times when I’m stressed beyond belief, I am comforted when my husband, friends, and other loved ones remind me that I’m on the right path. No matter how circuitous my path has been, this is what I’m supposed to do. Does it makes the mountains of work go away? Of course not. Does it make me love every second of every day? Nope. But the validation of my work definitely makes it all worth while.