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I don't want to grow up (a word on responsibility)

One of my first coaches once said something to me that will stay with me forever:

“Responsibility is a finite resource. You can only allocate it once."

This stopped me in my tracks. I realised in that moment that I was trying to take responsibility for EVERYTHING in my life. Not just things that belonged to me, and things that were shared, but things that belonged wholly to others. I even considered other peoples’ emotions to be my responsibility.

Boy, was this exhausting!

Now of course our responsibilities can shift over time. Responsibility is not fixed in place. However, we are limited in the amount we can allocate at any one time. When I had this pattern of over-responsibility reflected to me, I felt confronted, but also inspired. Now that I could see what I was doing, I could consciously hand back some of this responsibility so that I could more deeply commit to what was truly mine. This is not a one time thing, it’s a practice that we need to engage in daily so that we stay on track and remain dynamic.

Interesting to note, it’s only when you have a sense of the boundary between you and another person that you can start this process of discernment and rebalancing responsibilities (boundaries is another topic entirely–I’ll save that for another article).

The idea of responsibility is connected to that of independence in that the latter often grows from the former. When we learn early on in life that we are responsible for creating our own safety on a physical, emotional and/or mental level, this can drive us to gather more control of the things going on around us so that we can secure our safety. We might create a belief that says “if I don’t do it, no one will”. This belief sits snug with another close relative - “it needs to be done by me so that I know it’s done right”.

Another set of twins in this family of beliefs are “if I can’t do this then it must mean I am not good/not enough/incapable/not worthy/different” and “I must do this so that I prove that I am good/enough/accepted/valuable”.

These are unconscious beliefs. We generally don’t know they are driving us. We just feel the push. So we take on everything, alone. Even things that don’t really belong to us.

If you recognise in yourself a bone-deep resistance to asking people for help, or accepting it when it’s offered, then this awareness might be worth some deeper exploration.

Perhaps the darkest side of this shadow is that if we never let people in, and simply endure any pain that comes along with attempting to hold so much responsibility and going it alone, something will likely stop us. It could be a health concern, a career interruption or some other event beyond our control.

Before I make a suggestion for what you might be able to do to interrupt this pattern, it's important to touch on the gift of being the independent one.

You’re probably highly capable.

You are probably multi-talented.

You are probably trusted among your family and friends to get things done.

As they say, if you want something done, give it to a busy person! Your independence has forced you to become a highly effective operator. That’s a great clue that you can trust yourself to take care of yourself. And now, just imagine what life can look like if you shift from in-dependent to inter-dependent. Imagine knowing that you’re highly capable, and that you’re allowed to receive support so that you can take space to dedicate to leisure, joy and creativity!

Here's a desktop exercise that might inspire some action for you:

Make a list of all the things that you are taking responsibility for managing–at home, at work, within your personal relationships, in the community. Review your list and sense-check whether all of the things on the list actually belong to you, and, whether it's serving you to be doing them. For those that don’t, seek to hand them back to their rightful owner. For those that do, consider what opportunities are available for you to ask for some support... and do it!

Bonus: consider which activities you are carrying out are due for revision and improvement. One of the blind spots for the lone wolf is being stuck in the do-ing and not creating time to improve the process and make it more effective. Sometimes all it takes to reclaim some effort and energy in our lives is to take a little distance from the task so it can be seen from a new perspective.

Double bonus: if you're up for maximum self-reflection... look for places in your life where you're harbouring some form of resentment. It's usually a giveaway for where you're taking too much responsibility and get to set things "right".

Are you up for the challenge? If you'd like to share any reflections on this edition of the newsletter, you can drop me a note here.

Celebrating you for your commitment to be honest with yourself.

P.S. If your inner teenage rebel is feeling inspired by this invitation to let go just a little, then you might like to give yourself a few minutes to rock out to this one: I don't want to grow up.

P.P.S. This newsletter was adapted from a larger article I published last year about plugging up your energy leaks. You can read the full article here: The top 5 energy leaks you might be ignoring.


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