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Beaver/Retriever Syndrome: Work really hard, and get a pat on the head?

How to get your needs met without unnecessary suffering.

A friend of mine recently introduced me to a concept that she calls “Beaver-Retriever.” This special animal hybrid works really hard (Beaver), and then hopes for a pat on the head (Retriever).

So many of us suffer from Beaver-Retriever syndrome. We think that hard work will earn us a special acknowledgment, outcome, or result. And sometimes it does! Thus further enhancing the wiring of Beaver-Retriever into our neural network (our patterned ways of being).

But more often than not, acting from that Beaver-Retriever part of yourself can have a clingy quality or a desperate tinge, and it often doesn’t get you what you were hoping for.

Maybe you do all the work but don’t get the pat. Or you do all the work and get a pat from the wrong person (not the person you were hoping would acknowledge you). Or you do all the work and get…..even more work.

So what to do if you’re suffering as a result of this Beaver-Retriever style of living?

The first step is acknowledging it. Only by knowing that you’re in a Beaver-Retriever pattern can you begin to break the cycle.

The second step is to acknowledge your need for recognition, acknowledgment, accomplishment, celebration—for whatever particular satisfaction that pat on the head brings you.

Once you connect with your need for recognition (or whatever quality you’re craving), you can ask yourself how else you can get that need met. Asking one person to meet a particular need in a particular way often just results in frustration, especially when you haven’t even asked that person if they’re willing to help you get that need met.

Here’s an example:

You work really hard on a presentation for work, pull extra hours, feel really proud of the end product, and just can’t wait to get that praise you’re so desperately wanting from your boss.

You’re pretty sure that this it; this will be your big break! This presentation is SO great, she’ll just HAVE to let you know how valued you are.

The presentation itself feels solid to you. You can feel that you’re in your groove, and you’re sure that you rocked it. Your colleagues congratulate you, and you end up with an audience receiving line, people just milling about to let you know how much they appreciate you and your work.

But even after all that, you don’t get so much as a “good job” from your boss.

You feel crushed. The audience praise and your colleague’s sincere congratulations quickly fade away as if they never even happened. You had all of your eggs in the basket of pleasing your boss and receiving that acknowledgement.

There are several ways to handle this disappointment. You can try either of these two approaches independently or you can combine elements of both.

1. Request feedback.

The first approach is to be direct and ask your boss for feedback. You could ask to schedule time to review your presentation with her and receive feedback. Be clear about what you are asking for and be open to hearing an honest assessment of your work.

This approach sets you up to have a conversation that helps you understand what your boss is actually thinking about your presentation. You’ve assumed that her silence or lack of enthusiasm are a condemnation of your work, but until you have an honest conversation with her, you really have no idea what her thoughts are.

Some questions you might want to explore with her include: Did the presentation meet her needs or expectations? What worked well for her? What could be improved?

Here are some examples about how to phrase these questions.

“I would like to hear your thoughts on my presentation….. Was my presentation what you hoped for?…. Did it address the key points you wanted me to cover?”

“I would like to hear what worked well for you in my presentation?”

“Could you help me understand what I could do differently in the future?”

Though this process can be incredibly uncomfortable, stay strong in yourself and be willing to receive a critique. You might discover that your boss actually DOES appreciate your work. But maybe she’s too busy or scattered to take the time out to acknowledge you. Or maybe she’s just not really the type to lavish others with praise.

It’s also possible that you will learn that the way she offers praise is more subtle than what you’re accustomed to. If your past experiences of acknowledgment have been over-the-top or very direct, you may be misreading her and are thereby feeling unnecessarily confused. Maybe she thinks she has praised you, but somehow you didn’t quite receive it.

Or maybe you learn that your assessment of the presentation doesn’t match hers. Maybe she had been hoping for a different style or approach. This might be painful or uncomfortable for you to hear, and possibly even painful for her to share with you, but that’s great feedback too, as it will set you up for the future.

2. Get your need met in a different context.

The second approach is to really connect with your need for praise, rather than trying to push it away. Praise and appreciation are basic human needs. We all like to be told from time to time that we are talented, smart, funny, compelling. We all want to shine.

Take a few minutes to sit quietly with yourself and take inventory of the things you like about yourself. Go ahead and connect with the parts of yourself that are proud of your presentation. Review and celebrate what worked well. Soak in and sit with this appreciation of yourself. Let yourself celebrate and cherish all that went well.

Another possibility is to connect with the fact that you did have other colleagues (just not your boss) congratulate you on your presentation. Give yourself permission to soak in the admiration that you’re already receiving.

Since you know that several colleagues waited around to congratulate you, you have an excellent opportunity to follow-up with those persons and ask them for specific feedback about what they enjoyed about your presentation. Receiving very specific praise will help you seal the deal and drink in the appreciation.

Turning to a trusted friend who naturally appreciates you is another powerful approach. Let them know that you’re feeling a bit tender and bruised and are in need of some praise. Then ask if they would be willing to share a few specific things that they love about you.

So often in life, hedging your bets on one specific outcome can cause you so much pain. When you don’t receive that much-hoped-for result, this lack can cast a shadow over all of the other ways you are appreciated, at work and in your life.

Take a deep breath and a step back. You may still be feeling hurt by your boss’ lack of direct admiration for your work, but you can have a direct conversation with her and learn how to improve. And you can find other sources of admiration to connect to in your life to get that need met.

If you can begin to separate the motivation for acknowledgement from a specific outcome, or a specific person, you can begin to seek out and connect with other opportunities to be acknowledged.

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