Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Weight of Obligation

Obligation. It’s a heavy word that is thrown around fairly frequently to induce guilt.

Picture yourself in this situation:

There is a work event to ‘pat the back’ of some of the better employees. This is a job where you are treated like crap by everyone, from clients to coworkers alike, you often get yelled at for doing things properly, and yelled at to do things that you are already doing. Your boss forces you to agree to drive 2-4 other employees to this event, even though you don’t know some of the people you would be driving. You weren’t going to attend this event, seeing as a pat on the back doesn’t make up for how miserable you feel about your job.

Do you go? Or do you not? If not, how do you break it to your fellow employees that they are not getting a ride?

This is a challenging situation. If you feel obligation towards others for a commitment that you didn’t actually make, it may be time to reconsider your priorities. Especially if it makes you feel like you are disappointing people that you don’t really have any emotional attachment to. In the interest in relatively full disclosure, I will tell you that this situation did not happen to me, but it did happen to someone I know.

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Saying no and meaning it

This comes down to the ability to say “no” and stick to it. It is really hard sometimes, especially when it is someone who is superior to you asking (or telling) you to do something. Whether it’s your mother, aunt, grandfather, or boss at work, there is an automatic sense of obligation towards these people. And it doesn’t seem to matter if they ever do anything for you or not. It tends to actually be worse if the person asking (or telling) you do to something for them doesn’t reciprocate, though I honestly have a hard time understanding why that is.

Personally, I have come a long way in terms of being able to say “no” and I confess fully that it is a very hard thing to learn. Especially if you were never allowed to say “no” growing up. Learning to politely, but firmly, decline requests or orders when you are in your 20’s is a process in itself. It starts with confidence. Confidence in yourself to know what you want to do in life and what you are willing to do in others, and confidence enough to be able to put your foot down in the name of yourself.

When you feel obligated to do something that you really don’t want to do, it’s important to figure out why. Why is it that you feel you have to accomplish or complete this ‘obligation’ in order to feel satisfied? Does the requester hold some power over you? Have you intentionally given them this power, or is the power just by proxy from you not putting your foot down earlier? If this is something you want to overcome, it becomes more important to consider the relationships that you have with those around you and the impact their requests have on you.

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The importance of compromise... on both sides

In the above situation, there ended up being a compromise reached. My friend did end up going to the event, but did not carpool the other employees. Instead, one of the other people who were attending drove a few, and others just took the bus. My friend did have fun, and enjoyed her time there, because the obligation of driving the other individuals was no longer her concern and the car wasn’t going to be used for something that she didn’t want it to be. Close to the middle, and both sides were satisfied because they got something they wanted.

This is often the case when you want to start getting unwanted obligations off your back. Compromise can really work to everyone’s benefit when those on both sides work together. To be able to find a compromise, you need to first assess what you are willing to do in this situation, and how far you are willing to bend your own time to suit the requester’s needs. Then you have to go to that person and talk to them. Tell them your issues and your flexibilities; make sure they understand where the line is that you are saying no more. The only thing left is to find a middle ground.

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Starting small and gaining confidence

Despite the fact that this can seem confrontational and scary, it isn’t really that bad. My personal experience says that if someone is asking something of you, they want something for a reason. They will usually take any small part of that task or request that you offer, because that’s one less thing that they need to do. Start with smaller things, and work your way towards feeling confident in fully denying things that you really don’t want to or don’t feel comfortable doing. Each time you compromise or deny something like this, your level of confidence and faith in yourself will go up. Stick to your guns and feel good about the things that your precious time and energy are put into.
Everything you do should benefit yourself or your relationships somehow. If it isn’t, you will need to decide if it is really that important for you to do. Use your time on things that really matter to you, that move you forward somehow whether it’s emotionally, physically, or interpersonally. Otherwise, it’s just something that will suck up your time and leave you feeling like you haven’t really achieved anything. I’ve been there, and it’s not a happy place. So start making yourself happier by following your heart and sticking to your guns. It is always worth it.

As always,
Peace, love, and wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff

1 comment:

  1. I wish I was able to say no more often. I had a boss that could get you to say yes without speaking. It was creepy.

    You are definitely right. If we can get the confidence to say no at the right times, our lives will be a lot better.