Many of us end up living our lives like we’re employees–and it does not have to be that way if you know how to change the game
Adulthood is full of lots of amazing things, including responsibility. But it is a double-edged sword that can lead you down a path of all the Have To’s like paying bills, cooking, cleaning, running errands and more. If you are not careful, pretty soon your life outside work becomes another job, full of tasks you have to complete.
What is the alternative? These things do need to be done, and if you do not do them, who will, right?
The alternative is living your life.
It sounds hokey and maybe a bit idealistic. But it is possible.
As an adult, I too have lots of responsibilities. A few years ago, my wife became chronically ill, so the responsibilities on me increased substantially, as did the cost of not handling those responsibilities. I very quickly got into a pattern of doing to the point that I was miserable to be around because every distraction from the list of things on my shoulders just felt like it would add to this mountain of growing responsibilities that was crushing me.
The way I describe it to people is that my wife and son were the family, and I was working there. That’s not on them at all. They did not do anything to make it this way. It was completely because of my perceptions and priorities.
And the biggest problem with the situation was that it was a vicious circle–the more I just did tasks, the more pressure I felt to do tasks because my role as the doer was getting more and more entrenched. I could not see how anyone else could do any of what I did, and I kept telling myself that over and over.
Until I had a wake-up moment. I realized while I was provided the things my family needed, I was also robbing them and myself in the enjoyment of those things. I decided to make a change.
Do I still have a lot of responsibility and things to do? Of course. But I also learned to step back at times, and that if some things wait, the world somehow will keep turning.
So how can you make this change to stop being an employee of your life and start participating in it? Here are three steps:
1. Find and Focus on Your True Motivation
I wrote about this in depth before, so I will give you the short-hand version of it here. Take some time to stop and ask yourself what you really care about. What matters to you above all else? Why are you doing all these things you keep doing?
And whatever answer you give yourself, ask why. For example, if you say, “If I do not do these things, then X will happen,” ask yourself why X happen matters to you. Get down to the deepest level of what you really care about.
And focus on that when the whirlwind of life seems to be asking too much of you (and only you).
2. Talk to Those You Are Doing For
One major mistake I was making is that I was not prioritizing my needs. I knew I was struggling, but if I stopped to take care of me, then everything else would fall apart.
What I failed to understand at the time is that if I did not stop to care for me, then I would fall apart. And if I fell apart, then other things (and people) would definitely suffer.
With a bit of fear in my voice, I decided to talk to my wife about needing to take some time to work on myself. I was afraid she would not see how we could make that work because of how much was going on and how limited our time already was. Shockingly to me, she was unbelievably supportive. She just looked at me in the eyes and said, “I am so glad you finally see how important this is. We will make it work because we have to.”
Everyone I coach has been through this dance where they think they cannot put time into their own needs only to find that their family has been trying to get them to do that for a while and totally supports it.
Working on you could mean talking to a therapist, meditating, working out, going on a short solo vacation, making time to read or anything else that gives you time for you. The only thing I would advise against is making it about finding the money to spoil yourself. Material rewards are great in the short term, but the emotional lift you get from them fades quickly, leaving you in the same spot as before (only now with more financial pressure from having spent on something you stopped valuing).
So sit down and have that conversation. You will be surprised.
3. Learn from Each Success
One of the best ways to grow is to learn from doing. As you make a bit of time for you, and see that everything did not come crashing down around you as a result, pause and take that in. The more you can do that, the easier it will be to stop yourself when you get in the Life Employee pattern and need to break free because you will know that it is possible.
This post is inspired by my best-selling book, “Do a Day: How to Live a Better Life Every Day” available in print, eBook and audio book formats. It originally appeared in my Inc.com column on November 8th, 2017.