Not My Problem: A Mantra for Those Who Take on Too Much

 

Popcorn
Popcorn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This morning I received an exasperating email from a dear friend. She volunteered to help with her children’s school popcorn fundraiser. Her initial commitment involved collecting and counting money but quickly evolved to managing every aspect of this endeavor. She repeatedly reached out to other parents for assistance, including the PTA president. . .Crickets. . .Instead she received phone calls and email inquiries about when and where to pick up the popcorn. She felt tempted to reply, “go pop your own f’ing popcorn. I’m done!” Knowing my friend, she likely replied with something kinder after she concocted a revenge fantasy of pelting apathetic parents with popcorn.

Several years ago I received a lucrative contract to help an agency complete assessments which had spent several months piling up in a file cabinet. When I pulled the drawer open, I noticed some were already out of compliance and others would soon follow. I quickly realized I could not dig this agency out of the hole it created. I instantly felt anxious and worried. I contacted my supervisor who replied, “Amelia, this is not your problem. Go to work on time. Work hard while you’re there and leave on time. The fact that they need additional staff will quickly rise to the top. If you try to save them, they won’t take the needed steps to address their problem.”

I’ve carried this sage advice into subsequent work environments. Transferring it into my personal relationships poses a tougher challenge. I think women are particularly susceptible to rescuing others. Maybe it goes back to deep evolutionary wiring telling us if a tribe member is struggling the tribe will die! Regardless, the tribe will not perish if we do not assume others’ problems. I try to enlist people in my life to remind me of this fact. For example, I called my sweet sister a few weeks ago and before I even recounted my dilemma, I told her, “I need you to remind me this is NOT my problem. . .I can’t save everyone. I’m not Jesus.” To each compassionate, yet irrational point I made, she lovingly replied, “not your problem.”

Where in your life do you need to remind yourself, “Not my problem”? If you run around placing oxygen masks on everyone else, and pass out because you forgot to put on yours, THEN you have a problem!

Imperfectly,

Amelia

Hands Off

During the 1940’s, many pilots perished trying to break the sound barrier. Sadly, the jets handled differently in the outer atmosphere and would frequently spin. In order to regain control, pilots would jerk the controls in every possible direction in hopes of righting the jet. Tragically, this approach often resulted in crashing and burning. As Chuck Yeager’s rocket-propelled jet transcended the edge of the atmosphere the powerful G-forces rendered him unconscious  during a spin. When he came to, his hands were off the controls, and the forces of the universe righted the jet. He communicated this experience to the other test pilots, and letting go of the controls became part of their training. On October 14, 1947, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1. Pretty awesome, right?

As a recovering perfectionist, letting go of the controls is incredibly counter-intuitive and frickin’ hard. My mind tries to protect me by rehearsing for tragedy, putting up armor, and getting ready to run. Regrettably, it loves to do this procedure at night when I would much rather be sleeping. Many years ago I served as a fact witness in a legal hearing. I was selected for this “honor,” because my employer felt my skills and speaking ability were well-suited to this task. I performed well; however, the opposite party was not pleased with the outcome and threatened to sue everyone involved, including me. While I knew I had nothing to fear regarding be negligible, I was in the process of applying for another, and very important, position. I feared losing this opportunity. I castrophized and thought of the worst case scenarios, one which resulted in my being homeless. I lost sleep, my appetite, and at times my sanity. I wish I could tell you I let go of the controls and found my peace. Nope, I learned all my worrying did not ward off or produce a particular outcome. Fortunately, the lawsuit never came to fruition, and I was able to secure the job I desired. This outcome still would have happened without my ruminating . . .

Yesterday, I went to a new carwash which required pulling the car onto a platform, shifting it into neutral AND taking my hands off the steering wheel. A warning sign specifically said, “DO NOT try to steer.” I thought, “Humph, universe you’re really testing me on this letting go of control thing, even in a carwash!” I took my hands off the steering wheel, and the conveyer belt pulled my car forward into the washers and suds. Initially, my heart rate increased, and I thought, “I don’t like this.” Then, I took a deep breath and thought, “This is pretty awesome. My car is getting washed, and I don’t have to do anything but sit here and breathe.” What controls do you need to let go of today?

Imperfectly,

Amelia

My splendidly imperfect dog's version of letting go.

My splendidly imperfect dog’s version of letting go.

Own Your Power: Channeling Your Inner Beyoncé

A couple of weeks ago, I nearly sustained a concussion while pulling items off my closet shelf. Ok, this declaration is somewhat dramatic. The cardboard tube housing my Master’s degree (earned in route to my doctorate) fell and bonked me on the head. Yes, I did not bother framing it. I already had a terminal master’s degree and a doctoral degree adorning my office wall. I thought hanging this degree would appear excessively pretentious, “too much.” When I theatrically recounted my tube-clobbering story to a friend, he expressed shock that I let my degree hibernate in the depths of my closet for eight years. He said, “You earned it. Put it up!”

Why do girls and women fear being “too much”? Maybe it’s because we tell little girls, “keep your voice down . . .cross your legs . . . don’t get fat. . .don’t make a man look stupid . . . be nice . . . be sweet.” Simply put – “don’t take up space . . . don’t be too much.” For the longest time I feared anger – others’ and my own.  I did everything I could to avoid it; and if I felt anger, I questioned its validity. The messages of “good girls are nice” and “angry women are bitches” deeply rooted themselves in my young cerebral cortex. Now, I realize the value of my voice and anger. When I confided my relationship with anger to a friend, he encouraged me to channel my inner Beyoncé.  In 2008 Beyoncé released her album I am Sasha Fierce. During an interview, she explained her persona of Sasha Fierce allowed her to own her power in her performances and dealings in the music industry.

Today, I am making a vow to let my light shine and to channel my inner Beyoncé. I hung up my master’s degree. I give myself permission to be outraged about. . .

  1. My male advisor in college telling me not to pursue a doctorate because it was “too hard”

  2. Equally qualified women earning 78% of what men make

  3. Being verbally harassed by a male security guard, filing a complaint, being told I would be informed of the outcome and never hearing a thing

  4. One in five women being sexually assaulted at some point in their lives

  5. Having dates thinking a good night kiss entitled them to be human octopuses. Too many times I squirmed my way out of these situations and said, “I have to go.” I was nice, and I should have yelled, “Get your f*&ing hands off me!”

  6. Thongs being marketed to elementary school-aged girls

  7. Having an unfamiliar woman at a baby shower ask me if I was going to freeze my eggs since I was in my late 30’s and not married

  8. Young women being told to “be sexy” but don’t have sex

  9. People telling my amazing friend, who suffered a heart-breaking miscarriage, that she was “lucky to conceive”

  10. Growing up in a culture that tells girls they must be thin, heterosexual, married and mothers in order to have value

To all my amazing readers out there, I encourage you to speak up, speak out and let your imperfectly, beautiful light shine! Please feel free to add comments about injustices you no longer wish to be silent about.

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson

Imperfectly,

Amelia

What I Learned from Selling Girl Scout Cookies

While munching from a box of Tagalong Girl Scout cookies, I recalled my Girl Scout cookie-selling days. Notice I did not use the word “fondly” to describe this recollection. I had a short stint in the Girl Scouts. I entered in fifth grade and exited in sixth. The cookie-selling requirement and a budding interest in boys likely contributed to my short-lived career. I’m sure the cookie-selling experience was designed to instill confidence in pre-adolescent girls. All it infused in me was terror.

Let’s step back to my fifth grade year – very bad haircut (mullet-esque), massive overbite, and a growth spurt that left my legs disproportionally longer than my arms. Oh, did I mention I was shy? Hence, I lacked the Girl Scout cuteness and gregarious that equated to high cookie sales. My mother and father were both introverted; hence, they had no desire to assist me with door-to-door sales. Fortunately, my extraverted and cute best friend down the street agreed to accompany me while I pedaled my wares. The sales transactions went something like this . . .

Me: (knock, knock)

Scary Adult: What do you want?

Me: My name is . . . um . . . . Amelia. I am a Girl Scout from Troupe 2818, would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies?

Scary Adult: What kinds do you have and how much are they?

Me: I have Thin Mints, Trefoils and . . . (with a quivering hand, I unfolded and displayed my order form).

Scary Adult: You mean I have to order and pay for the cookies before they arrive?

Me: Um . . . yes.

Scary Adult: No, thanks. (Door slam)

Me: (Tears start pouring down my cheeks).

Heather: Don’t let her bother you. She’s mean and stupid. Let me do the next one.

Me: (Sniffle, sniffle, wiping snot on my shirt sleeves) Ok.

Heather: (Knock, knock)

Nice Adult Lady: Hello, can I help you?

Heather: Hi, my name is Heather, and this is my friend Amelia, who is a Girl Scout. I’m helping her sell her delicious cookies. She has all types of yummy flavors, and she is selling out fast. We want to ensure you get some too. How many would you like to order?

Nice Adult Lady: Which one is the best?

Heather: All of them are delicious mam. I recommend one of each. (Flashes big toothy grin).

Me: (Gives big buck-toothy grin and holds up the order form).

Nice Adult Lady: Well, then I guess I will order one of each!

Heather: Thank you mam. We very much appreciate your business. You won’t be disappointed!

Me: How did you do that?

Heather: You just have to act confident and people will believe you!

Thanks to Heather I actually earned a Girl Scout cookie patch and a little dose of confidence that year. I also went on to get a better haircut, braces and a growth spurt which allowed my arms to catch up with my legs. I also made a vow that when approached by gaggle of Girl Scouts at the grocery store, I will always buy from the shy one in the corner. Then, tell her that she’s going to grow up to do wonderful things.

For better or worse, we live up to the expectations that we and others set for ourselves. Whenever the doubt of my Girl Scout cookie days creeps in, I remember Heather’s words of wisdom, “just be confident.” Eventually, my thoughts and behavior align with this intention. Where in your life do you need to remind yourself to “be confident”? Who can you enlist for support if knocking on the door alone seems too scary?

Imperfectly,

Amelia

I think this face could sell some boxes of Girl Scout cookies.

I think this face could sell some boxes of Girl Scout cookies