19 June 2013

I’m the Only One Who Can Do This

Once upon a time I worked with a client named Eva, who lived with her husband, their two preschool children, her mother, and her adult sister, both of whom worked full time.  Her husband had his own service business that he ran from a home office.  

Eva would leave her office daily at 5-ish, pick up the kids at daycare and head home, where she’d prepare dinner, serve it to the whole gang, clean up, and then return to her office for evening hours with clients.  I asked her why, in a household of 4 adults, she was the only one making dinner.  She told me she was the only one who could make dinner.  In her mind, there were no other options, period. 

I worked with her to make the implicit explicit, and she ended up owning this:  “I have high standards for dinner.  It needs to be nutritionally sound.  My children have to like it.   No one else in the household would deliver to that standard except my mother and it’s not her job to make dinner.”

She and I explored the situation, her assumptions, and her beliefs.  The bottom line was that Eva was bone-tired all the time and felt like she never had a break.  She badly needed some breathing room in her schedule.  Getting some nights off from dinner duty without sacrificing quality would feel like a mini-vacation.  What had been stopping her from exploring this, until now? Her underlying beliefs, some of which she didn’t even know that she held.

She initiated conversations with the others, and together, they arrived at some interesting solutions.  Her husband knew how to make a mild chili, which the children liked.  He also knew how to cut up carrots, celery, and apples, which the kids would eat.  She thought this was an acceptable dinner.  He started doing dinner once a week. 

Her sister was willing to pick up pizza and Greek salad on the way home from work once a week.  Eva thought that would an acceptable dinner once a week.  Her mother was a good cook and was willing to take two nights a week. 

In a short time, Eva’s dinner job was cut in half, and she really enjoyed her nights off from dinner duty.  On those nights, she found herself more relaxed, more present with the family at dinner, and more refreshed when she went back to work.

While the other adults in the family had certainly enjoyed the days when Eva made dinner every night, none of them really felt burdened by the new arrangement.  It really worked out very well.  In the days and weeks that followed, Eva saw that the new arrangement really was OK with with the others, and she was able to let go of some of the guilt she felt initially.  Feeling guilty doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing anything wrong.  Sometimes it just means you are doing something new that is still out of your comfort zone. 

These were the particular underlying beliefs that had kept her from getting some very appropriate help:

  • The female head of the household should make dinner for the family.
  • I have to do it all.
  • Others are not as competent as I am.
  • I’m the only one who can do it right.
  • Once you relax your standards, it’s a very slippery slope to having no standards at all.

Do any of these beliefs sound familiar to you?  Is the refrain “I have to do it all” something you hear in your own mind sometimes?  If you answered yes to either of these questions, that is very good news!  Because that means there is great potential in your life for getting more help.  All you need to do is re-frame one of these beliefs into something more flexible, and then look for ways of getting help. 

Here are some examples:

  • Lynne decided that every time she hears herself grousing to herself, “I have to do everything myself,” she would take it as a cue to question how she could get more help with something immediate. 
  • Once he realized he was being held hostage by “Others are not as competent as I am,” Richard invested the time to train one of his direct reports to take over a particular task which had become a boring burden for him. He is thrilled to be rid of the the task.  The new owner of the task, on the other hand, finds it challenging in a good way.
  • Raised as a “good girl,” Carol was afraid that if she relaxed her standards anywhere, she would be punished (somehow), and certainly no good would come from it.  She decided to proceed very cautiously.  She started on the home front.  She allowed herself to leave home in the morning without cleaning up her breakfast dishes.  Nothing bad happened, and the dishes were waiting for her when she came home after work. 

It’s a good idea to start small, like Carol did, where the consequences will impact you and no one else.

If you could use some targeted help in learning how and where you can get more help. contact me and let’s schedule an initial consult. 

Categories: Productivity