As a child, did you ever imagine how fun it would be when you could “make all the rules”? When to go to bed (never!)… What to have for dinner (icecream!)… Who to allow in your special secret club (no boys!). Unfortunately, along with growing up comes the dawning realization that “making all the rules” isn’t as fun as it seemed when you were six years old. Here’s what to do when you feel responsible for everything.
When you feel responsible for everything
First things first, let’s get one thing clear: almost every successful woman I meet has struggled with some version of this. You might sometimes feel like you’re the only one who feels she’s responsible for everything – but trust me, you’re not alone.
From coaching team members to “managing upwards” and making sure your boss has all the information they need; keeping track of school holidays to knowing when the car insurance runs out (and finding the best deal); getting your daily steps in to keeping up on social media – there are countless areas that for one reason or another seem to end up on our plates.
And it has an impact.
In a VIP day with a client, she shared how frustrated she felt that she seemed to suddenly be responsible for everything. Her business was going really well – in fact, it was growing. But with success seemed to come an endless list of new responsibilities – tasks to follow up, people to take care of, relationships to nurture.
I could relate. As an oldest child, I’ve been feeling responsible for taking care of those around me ever since I can remember.
And having a partner doesn’t necesarily help lessen the burden.
Studies have shown that in heterosexual partnerships, women tend to take the lion’s share of the household management on top of their other responsibilities. (I read a recent piece of research which showed that women with male partners actually did more housework than single women – how’s that for some extra responsibility?!)
Here’s what to do when you feel responsible for everything
1. Get clear on what responsibility is (and what it isn’t…)
When I’m grappling with a concept in my life, the first thing I do is reach for the dictionary. The history of a word often contains valuable clues as to how we might be misinterpreting it through the lens of our current era.
The word “responsibility”, I discovered, has an original connotation of “being answerable to another for something”.
To be responsible for something, you need to be answerable to someone for it. Simply appreciating that level of specificity brings clarity about how to think about those things you’re responsible for.
Responsibility doesn’t mean “keeping everyone happy”. It means being answerable to someone.
So your responsibility for raising your kids requires you to be answerable to them.
It doesn’t mean your mum, your neighbour or someone on Facebook has any say in your parenting choices.
Responsibility for tending your relationship means you’re answerable to your partner.
So your best friend thinks you’re not getting enough sex? That’s their issue – if things between you and your honey feel good, no one else has a say in the matter.
It doesn’t mean that you have to actually do the thing yourself, either.
You might be answerable for bringing a batch of cakes to the charity bake sale – no one says you need to have baked them yourself from scratch that morning.
2. Recognise when your responsibility level is getting out of hand
If you’re anything like my client, or me, you probably have certain clues when you’re starting to feel your responsibilities as more of a weight than a privilege.
Maybe it’s starting to feel like you’re never any fun to be around. You’re like the class monitor, constantly checking up on things – have you done that? Did I forget this? And never able to let your hair down or relax.
We talk a lot about the Women’s PowerTypes here – the 5 models of female leadership that elicit powerful results without tipping us into burnout. But there are other, less powerful archetypes that come into play from time to time too.
When it comes to responsibility, here are a few to watch out for:
- The martyr – sacrificing herself for everyone else’s good
- The people-pleaser – her one goal is to get everyone to like her and approve of her
- The caretaker – taking care of everyone else’s needs
Notice the thing all of these archetypes have in common? They’re all trying to do something for “everyone”.
And yet, we know that taking responsibility means quite the opposite – it means being answerable to “someone”.
If you notice yourself slipping into one of these archetypes, or beginning to feel that “everyone” is relying on you, stop. It’s time to take a look at what’s going on, and set some boundaries around what’s yours to deal with.
3. Do a “responsibility audit”
I promise this is way easier than the word “audit” sounds – and it’s a powerful way to let go of some of the stuff that really doesn’t need to be stealing your attention right now!
Start by making a list of everything you feel responsible for right now. Just go with whatever comes to mind, and give yourself time – it might be a long list!
Now, next to each item on the list, answer this question: Has someone actually asked you to take responsibility for this?
You might be surprised how many things you’ve “assumed” are your responsibility, without ever being asked.
Next, ask yourself “Do I WANT to be responsible for this?”. Be honest.
If you don’t, is there someone you could delegate to? Or perhaps a way to negotiate sharing responsibility?
Finally, note down who you’re answerable to for that particular area.
Try to write a specific name if you can. If the answer is something like “my team” or “my family”, that could be a clue that you’re taking on an extra area, or that there’s a discussion to be had with the people involved about how and why you answer for that.
Over to you
I’d love to know what your challenges around responsibility are.
Did you discover anything you could delegate?
Or perhaps doing the audit revealed something utterly crazy that you’d added to your list – and you’re ready to just let go of right away? Let us know in the comments!
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