Whose problem is it?

One of the easiest traps to fall into is to allow other people to control your schedule. Their priorities become more important than yours.

Now there are times when reality forces us to make decisions around others needs. When you have school-aged children in your home you need to orient your day, at least parts of it, around their school schedules.

When there are medical appointments on the calendar they take priority over sitting down to read a good book – or writing your own good book.

I’m talking about the trap that has been part of my life for as long as I can remember. I grew up as a middle child who was also the oldest child in the home for many years with an alcoholic mother and a father who worked a different schedule every week.

I became very skilled at looking around and seeing things that needed to be done. It didn’t matter if it was my responsibility or not. I would just start doing whatever needed to be done because I knew it would help keep peace in the house.

As I grew older I would do the same thing at school or in a job or at church. If I saw something that needed doing, my default action would be to take care of it rather than check to see if it was actually someone else’s responsibility.

I felt productive, although not always appreciated. After a while there were times when I felt that others were taking advantage of me but I didn’t know how to change things. When I tried to get others to help I heard a whine in my voice. (I don’t know if it was really there or not, I just heard it.) And not wanting to be known as a whiner or complainer I would go back to doing things myself.

Eventually I realized that if I wanted to achieve my own goals, I had to stop making everything my responsibility.

In some circles this is referred to as setting boundaries – taking on only that which is yours to do.

My husband was a clinical social worker for years. One of his favorite questions for his patients was “Whose problem is it?” The answer to this question can help you regain control over your own life and time.

The owner of the problem is the one who should be coming up with the solution and implementing it. There are times when the problem belongs to more than one person and the solution should involve the whole group.

Just because you can see the problem and can see a possible solution doesn’t mean it is up to you to act on it. Even when you have the knowledge and skill to solve it, that doesn’t mean it is your problem.

As you review your to do list, ask yourself with each item, Is this mine to do? As you go through the day and see something that needs doing that isn’t on your list, don’t assume you should put it there. Ask that question once again. Is this mine to do?

It may be enough to just let someone else know about the problem. I will frequently let the staff know at a favorite restaurant with self-serve beverages when they are out of fresh lemon slices or ice tea. But I don’t go back into the kitchen to fix more. That’s clearly their responsibility.

When you see litter on the floor and you’re not dressed “to the nines” it may be appropriate to pick it up. Just because you know where the broom and dustpan are doesn’t mean you should go get them and sweep up.

The same is true when it comes to working on your personal and business goals. Don’t let yourself constantly put off working on your writing because you can see something else that needs doing. Maintaining the discipline of working on it regularly will give you a sense of accomplishment as well as giving you the raw, and later edited, material to complete that book you have been wanting to write.

*   *  *  *  *  *

Do you need help keeping yourself on task when it is for yourself? For many of us it takes having an accountability partner – someone whom we check in with regularly who can give us sound advice on our project – to keep our personal priorities from falling to the bottom of the list and staying there.

I frequently serve in that role for writers. Use this link to set up your own Enchanted Book Session so we can explore the opportunities that are out there for you.

Leave a reply