On Being Asked to Do Too Much

Sometimes I feel pulled in all directions. This is, of course, cliché in these modern times; however lately I’ve realized that there are different ways of being pulled in all directions. One way is to be busy with the life you want to live; the other is to never say know and be busy supporting other peoples’ lives.

Is there anything wrong with helping and supporting others? Of course not. However lately I feel like I’ve lost some of my own direction.

This person needs me to check up on something for them and when I’m busy keeps asking if I can get this thing done for them. This person says they’re going to help me out and then doesn’t until I poke and prod and begin to feel guilty. This person is generous and kind but continuously leaves things out for me to trip over. I find myself feeling guilty if I don’t check on that thing, if I get annoyed when someone promises to do something important and then doesn’t, or when I yell at an inanimate object I’ve fallen over. Now don’t get me wrong – just because I’m annoyed and overwhelmed doesn’t mean I should get mean to these people who I have consciously chosen to have in my life. However I do deserve to take a step back and ask: What is “Too Much?”

What is “Too Much?”

I think “too much” might be different for everyone. For me it’s not so much a breaking point, not so much the straw that broke the camel’s back, but instead this nagging feeling that I’m not respecting my own time and values and health because I don’t allow myself to say no.

Now, I’ve convinced myself that I do say no enough – I’m very good at managing my time and tasks at work, I take good care of my plants and my cat, I set up manageable and enjoyable calls with family and time with friends. I am honest with myself about what I can handle. I am not as honest, however, with others about what I can handle for them.

I am honest with myself about what I can handle. I am not as honest, however, with others about what I can handle for them.

Part of this for me of late has been feelings of guilt and a need to address my own privelege. I have plenty that others don’t have, and I am grateful for what I have and for who I am. I am grateful to others and to myself. I want to acknowledge now and continue to acknowledge that there are things I have that I never earned in the way others are forced to earn them or kept always from them. What I also want to acknowledge and continue to acknowledge is that I am not my privelege. No one and nothing is simply equal to where it finds itself in the world, although of course its station affects it. What I mean is simply this: Yes, I have things I did not earn for myself. I am grateful for all that I have, earned or unearned. I do not want to feel guilty for cultivating my own joy and mental health even though others may not be able to do so or may have it worse. I want to care for myself in a way that allows others to be cared for.

Yes, I have things I did not earn for myself. I am grateful for all that I have. I do not want to feel guilty for cultivating my own joy and mental health even though others may not be able to do so or may have it worse. I want to care for myself in a way that allows others to be cared for.

Where I have trouble with this is that I feel the need to do everything others ask of me and carry a lot of extra weight because I feel that I physically, financially, or mentally can. Even if ultimately, it causes me great anxiety or difficulty. Is there anything wrong with this approach necessarily? No! However I have watched my temper shorten, my sleep worsen, and my nerves increase to a breaking point. I have to change my approach because I deserve to cultivate that joy, health, and caring.

Self-Awareness, Values, and Respect

I’ve been told that you teach others how to treat you, and I’m starting to believe it. Of course, that’s conditional. Some people will treat you like shit because they’re shit, and that’s not your fault. But in your consensual, conscious, fruitful relationships you can model what is respectful to you.

I think of it this way. If every time you and a friend go to the ice cream shop, you pay for both ice creams, that friend will probably continue to expect you to pay for both ice creams. If you then only bring money for your own ice cream one day out of the blue, and your friend can’t pay, should you be surprised? Probably not. Should you be annoyed? I don’t know about “should,” but I can tell you that in my current state of (frayed) mind I probably would be.

Now consider these scenarios instead:

Every time you and your friend go out for ice cream, you pay for both of your desserts. One day you buy yourself a nice new jacket and now you can’t afford to buy your friend their ice cream. You let them know that you bought yourself something that you’ve been needing since you get chilly eating ice cream and that you can’t pay for their scoop tonight, but you’d love to go with them anyway.

Every time you and your friend go out for ice cream, you communicate who is going to be paying for who or if you’ll be splitting it. The conversation about pay becomes a regular and easy part of your weekly ice cream trip.

Those two scenarios are the ones I want to have in my life, where there is open communication of what I want, need, and can handle. That starts with awareness of my own values and respect for those values. Then the trick is to effectively communicate what counts as respecting those values to important people in my life.

Communicating tends to be where I struggle because I’m afraid of being too vulnerable or being disliked or being disrespected anyway. Those things are all scary and I’ll never say that they aren’t. However if someone you are honest and vulnerable with takes that and hates you, devalues you, or continues to not listen, is that someone you want to continue spending your energy on? It might be better to find out you don’t want to deal with them anymore sooner rather than later.

Assumptions

Assumptions are like banana peels: Once you slip on one you just keep slipping and can’t get back up. I am very good at assuming others don’t care about me, care to respect me, or care to pay attention to my wants and needs. Then I act and speak from that headspace.

Whether you assume negative or positive intent from others, if you put too much weight into that assumption it’ll be hard to change your mind. Something I’m working on is being conscious of my assumptions and stepping back from them. For example (forgive the meme-like format):

Me: Finds watercolor paintings of mine shoved unkindly into a pile of papers

My brain: Why would they put these here? Clearly they don’t care about your art or your creativity or your hard work! That part of you doesn’t matter to them. Your values don’t matter to them.

My brain to my brain: Let’s step back. They probably weren’t paying attention and didn’t realize that painting was important to you, or didn’t even realize what it was when they were stacking papers. Let’s take a step back, cool our fires, and address them about it.

Would I still be mad in this scenario? Hell yeah! Those paintings were important to me; nurturing creativity is important to me. But stepping back from the assumption allows space for a more successful communication so that others have the chance to understand and respect your values down the line.

Assumptions are like banana peels: Once you slip on one you just keep slipping and can’t get back up.

Now What?

Alright. So now what? If your mind feels frayed, and you feel like you aren’t showing up for yourself or are spread too thin, what do you do. My unprofessional advice is to step back and spend time with yourself. Do things you want to do and offer those things your full attention and spirit. Ask yourself: What’s too much for me right now? How am I/Am I communicating with important people in my life? What assumptions am I carrying?

Get to know yourself a little bit, and respect your own values. Then you can allow others to respect you and shake off those that won’t. ✿


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