If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?
August 22, 2007 10:27 PM   Subscribe

How to stop feeling like I need to do my own work plus everyone else's?

One of my bad habits is to feel overly-responsible for everything. For example, I might put a lot of effort and dedication into a summer job, even when it's dead-end and I know I only took it to save up some money; I usually end up taking on more responsibility than I need to or find myself mulling at length about a certain problem even at home, trying to resolve it. That's great for my employer, but not so great for me. I do that with people too. I don't micromanage their lives, but I do end up taking on part of their problems and getting preoccupied with them. Sometimes it seems that I think their resolution is more important to me than it is to them.

The world won't stop running if I focus more of my mind on the things that concern me the most or only the most important tasks, and I know I'm usually happier for it. The question is how to do that more frequently (or more efficiently?). Sometimes I almost feel like I'm not doing my "job" (whether it's work or being a good friend/family member/co-worker or whatnot) if I just relax a little, but then I'm not being there for me.
posted by elisynn to Human Relations (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Do have diverse things to do outside of work? If not, get some, learn an instrument, play games whatever, something that you can dedicate your outside time to without trying to fill it up with work stuff.

(Figure out how much you are getting paid per hour to think about and worry about it outside of work)
posted by edgeways at 10:35 PM on August 22, 2007

So you have a work ethic that's so strong it interferes with your personal life? Or do you have an empty personal life that you fill up with work so that it feels like a personal life?

Make that determination first, before you do anything else. I find the easiest way to answer that is to see if you occasionally find yourself with this dilemma:

Argh! I could leave this work thing until tomorrow so I can go to such-and-such's party, but I really hate to leave it unfinished!

If you have those internal conversations, you're a workaholic. Coping skills will be necessary for you to develop.

However, if you find yourself thinking this:

I don't understand why people go to bars after work; it's nicer to use the quiet time to get more work done.

...then you should focus on improving your social life, and your work/life balance should take care of itself.
posted by davejay at 11:38 PM on August 22, 2007

Sounds like you've got a pretty good logical gasp on way worrying about that kind of thing doesn't work out for you. If you want you can add another one that I figured out eventually: Worrying about other people's problems and getting involved makes you appear to be a know-it-all and busybody, and that annoys people.

So, the more you interfere the less likely you are to actually he helpful in any particular situation (meetings at work, personal issues, whatever). When you start to worry about something, ask if it's really worth doing, or if you should save up for something more important. Your job at work, or in life, is to change things, not just to work as much as possible.
posted by JZig at 12:35 AM on August 23, 2007

Happiness really is a choice. Actually it's a hundred choices a day. In any given situation you can stop yourself and say, "What would make me happier right now?" Not less bored, or more active, or whatever, but happier. The more you ask yourself that question, the less you'll feel like doing things that don't make you happy, and it may help you clarify what you really want. Once you start putting that spare energy into things you're passionate about, you might be amazed at where your life starts heading.

Another super important thing to remember is that you aren't responsible for anyone else's happiness. You may have a list of things that you "should" be doing to be a good friend or family member, but I doubt many people would want you to feel obligated to do things that don't make you happy (or if they do, they need to get in touch with why they think it's your responsibility to make them happy). I've discovered that when I get preoccupied with other people's problems, it's because there are things about me I don't really want to face (solving other people's problems is always easier! :D)

It definitely sounds like it's time for you to start directing that extra energy inside instead of outside and you should be encouraged that you're recognizing that.
posted by Kimberly at 12:58 AM on August 23, 2007

Ah....welcome to the wonderful world of codependency where we feel we are responsible for everyone else's happiness while completely subverting our own. This is a "habit", if you will, that can be overcome. It just takes a little time and change of thinking. Be kind to yourself (versus the usual internal dialogue you have in which you beat yourself up over the smallest things). You are not responsible for everything and everyone around you. Again, and this bears repeating, be kind to yourself.
posted by Womanscientist at 3:45 AM on August 23, 2007

What do you think is behind this for you? When I fall into this, I realize it has to do with feeling like I need to earn my place on earth by people liking me or thinking I'm, eg, a hard worker, wanting to be the "good kid" or whatever.

I think Kimberly's comment is right on, and so is Womanscientist's suggestion of setting up a kind internal dialogue. Being observant and respectful of your own emotions is a way of teaching yourself that you deserve to be happy, that you belong here even when you're not "good." Treat yourself with that concern you treat others with.

On a more practical level, would it help to find another obsession? People seem to stop doing this when they find something so important to them that they want to protect that thing from other concerns spilling over (eg, people stop working late when they have a baby; people easily stop worrying about others when something bad happens to them that they need to focus on). Could you nurture some internal desire, something you care about, until it's important enough that it would give you an incentive not to carry around stuff that's important to other people?
posted by salvia at 10:22 AM on August 23, 2007

I have the same problem as the poster. The reason I excelled at my last job was my ability to "White Knight" other people's tasks and get them done. It also created problems when I did more than the remit asked for. I realize that something I do is offer a lot of advice and answers, but rarely give my opinion. I have experimented with doing that more. Meaning, when someone comes to me to ask a favor, instead of going through the problem myself until I come to a solution independent of them, I work with them to figure out what more they could do alone. It's very difficult for me to turn people away. At 27, I am mentoring like four people, but I realized I was not learning anything and instead doing a whole hell of a lot of meaningless networking.

I also have started denying people the opportunity to work through me. This takes a lot of patience on my part, because even if I know i don't have the time, I will still feel compelled to play a part in a solution. But rejecting a friend's problem means they realize you don't want to be used. It really is, I realize, abuse on the part of a boss, colleague, friend, etc, that gets me to do many things I would otherwise think of as meaningless to my existence.

Get over the feeling of compulsion; realize the abuse you are getting; deny the opportunity to those who are trying to transfer their problems to you that don't result in any recognition/accomplishment for you; and ditch the people who cannot stop the behavior. The thing I did was find friends who were not interested in sharing every goddamn thing in their lives. I tend to find these are the people who don't abuse work, friendly or sexual relationships.
posted by parmanparman at 10:51 AM on August 23, 2007

It sounds like you may be a workaholic - and that's definately not a bad thing, you'll just have to be careful not to burn yourself out.

I would try turning your attentions away from work and more towards things that interest you personally - you love to take on responsibility and get things done, why not try co-ordinating some events for friends and family like a big fancy dress party, or a how-to-host-a-murder night.

Or if that's not your cup of tea why not start your own small business on the side, one you can be really passionate about. Who knows, it may even become your full-time income one day and then all that after-hours work would actually be money in your pocket.

Find a way to still utilise the workaholic side of you, as obviously you find that really fun, but find a way to do it so that it's at least relaxing and not work-related. Your brain does need time off or it tends to go splat ;)

All the best!!
posted by katala at 10:27 PM on August 23, 2007

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