A co-worker recently slipped a sign under my door with an old Polish proverb that reads, "Not my circus, not my monkeys."
I got a really good chuckle out of it and hung it up in my office in a spot where only I can see it.
Later that day, another co-worker came to me with a problem. I jumped into "fix it mode," which is what I always do, and found myself getting terribly involved in everything that was happening. When the exchange ended, I reached for a file and saw the sign hanging there. In that moment, I got it! I realized exactly what the sign meant and I knew that one of the biggest causes of stress in my life was my need to become the ringleader of every circus in town.
Why do I feel the need to fix everything and everyone in my path? To answer this question, I did what any self-respecting woman would do: I poured a glass of wine, broke out the dark chocolate, and sat down with my journal. As I looked back at the pages that are my life, I realized that Olivia Pope has nothing on me; I've been "the fixer" my whole life!
What's wrong with that? I'm glad you asked!
It's not a bad thing to be there for people, however, sometimes the best way to help people is to let them help themselves! It's like the "teach a man to fish" philosophy. If you always swoop in and fix everything, you deny people an opportunity to be independent and learn those important coping skills that they need to get by.
Springing into "fix it mode" may also signal to your friends and family that you don't have faith in their ability to take of themselves; and it can cause a lot of undue stress in your own life.
And finally, if you're not careful, some unscrupulous folks will try to take advantage of your kindness!
Over the years I have found myself being sucked in to all kinds of drama that I had no business being in. There were so many times when I caused myself unnecessary stress by worrying about something that didn't concern me. It takes a lot of strength to pull back from things that are going on around you, but I urge you to try!
When you find yourself getting sucked in to another person's circus, stop and ask yourself this:
1. Does this situation really involve me?
2. If the situation doesn't really involve me, what is my motivation for getting involved?
3. What will it cost me to get involved? We're talking time, money, stress, etc.
4. Can I really bring something to the table that will help all parties get to a better resolution?
5. What will happen if I decline to participate in this situation?
If the situation doesn't really involve you, it's wise to think about why you are considering getting involved. If your motivation is to be in on the latest gossip or to get the upper hand in a situation, back away! If your motivation is anything less than for the good of everyone involved, you don't need to be a participant.
If getting involved is going to cost you time that you don't have, sleepless nights, or strained relationships, don't get involved! It is not selfish to look out for yourself. There are some things that come with a cost too high to justify your involvement.
If you aren't going to be part of the solution, don't be part of the problem. Only get involved if you are able to be helpful. Jumping onto the pile when you can bring no added value just muddies the water.
At one of the last marathons I ran, an older gentleman had fallen and was pretty badly cut up. At least 30 people were just standing around him. I'm not entirely sure what everyone was doing, but upon seeing such a mob, I continued to run. Does that make me a bad person? I don't think so. Had I stumbled on the man and he was alone, I would have surely stopped and offered my assistance, but at that moment, with so many people there, I didn't feel there was anything else I could add to the situation.
In the end, as you go through these questions, it's a good idea to play out what will happen if you decline to participate. Will my absence create an even bigger situation? Will not participating hurt me or hurt someone else? This still doesn't mean that you have to get involved, it's just helpful to know what the consequences will be.
The main point here is that, if you're anything like me, you've already got a lot of things on your plate in your own life. I'm sure each of you is managing your own circus, and your own monkeys, so the question then becomes: Do you really have the capacity to take on someone else's circus and someone else's monkeys?
If getting involved causes you to lose your peace of mind, step away. I guarantee you there are other ringleaders out there who would be happy to jump in and take your place.
Follow Karen Ann Kennedy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/caringcoaching