"Not my fault, not my problem," I reply. The salesman pauses for a second and looks at me like I just explained quantum physics. Since he didn't seem to get it and didn't have the cajones to ask for an explanation, I told him. "Listen, I told you what needed to happen for you to get the sale. You couldn't find my car without extras? Sucks. I'm paying for what we agreed upon, not more just because you guys have an inventory issue." I got the car and didn't pay a dime for the "extras" ($75 for a trunk liner? Seriously?). Why? Because we're not responsible for anyone's actions or problems but our own. Sometimes we try to take on other people's problems, and sometimes they ask us to take theirs on, but it never ends up way that we want to. We have to learn to step back and say, "Not my fault, not my problem."
1) Stop taking on other people's stuff.
A lot of the time, we're just trying to do the right thing. There's no definition of "the right thing"; it's just something that you know deep down is something that you either should or shouldn't do. See a person struggling to put groceries in his car? Help him out. See a kid asking you to buy beer? Don't. It's not that complicated.
But it's not always that simple, Jason.
Actually, it really is. By helping out everyone else at every turn, are you really doing them any good? If you bought those kids beer, then sure, you're solving their problem. You're also taking time out of your day to buy alcohol for minors. If that kid is a narc, or if you're caught, or if that kid goes and downs that six pack on his own, gets in a car, and kills a few people, then that is your fault, and it's now your problem. If you would have said no or just ignored the kid, then those kids trying to get wasted is on them; it's not your fault, it's not your problem.
The same thing goes with people you know and love. Your kid is getting bad grades because she's just goofing off? Well, that's her choice. You can talk to her and see what's going on, but if she's not going to listen to you, then let her deal with what happens with bad grades. Getting grounded, getting made fun of, and having things go down a path she won't like, those are now her problems. She knows what the consequences are, and even if she doesn't, then she knows that it's her responsibility to think it through and find out what they are. You and I somehow figured it out, and she will, too.
Do you let her fail out of school or just blow it when it comes to her SATs? Of course not. But if you've taught her that doing homework is important, and she doesn't do it just because she would rather be taking selfies and putting them on Instagram, then that's her fault. You're there to parent, not do her homework for her. Plus you'll be shocked as to how little you remember about the process of cell division now that it was 25 or 30 years since you've done it. You don't want to complete or "correct" her homework only to get a big fat F on it. That's just embarrassing.
The basic point to this point is that if you make it your fault, then you make it your problem, and that means that you suffer the consequences. All of the time that you spend taking on menial, questionable, or even downright illegal problems for others that are not your own, the less time that you have to deal with the things that really are your fault. Oh, and you're just encouraging those you think you're helping to do it again. That doesn't sound like you're helping them, that sounds like you're making a decision that ultimately benefits you, and that's actually selfish when you get down to it. Funny how that works.
2) Take on your own stuff.
Sometimes we try to solve other people's problems because it's easier than dealing with our own crap. I know that sounds weird coming from a guy whose job seems to be to solve other people's problems, but there's a difference with my role: I'm not here to solve your problems. I'm here to work with you so that YOU can solve your problems. At the core, your problems are yours; they're not my fault, so I don't let them become my problems. That wouldn't help you in the least.
Anyway, while you're busy taking on the world's issues, who's taking care of you? Are you even trying to help them, or are you just putting off taking care of the things that you need to do? Your boss couldn't care less if you were helping your coworker get his project done if it means that your report isn't in on time. All that matters is that your report is late, and now you've screwed yourself. Sometimes we'll help a coworker because we're dreading our battle with Excel or PowerPoint to just get the font to show up the right way, but that actually is your fault, that actually is your problem.
When it comes to your better half, the same rule applies. You may see him leaving dishes in the sink when he's the one who's supposed to be doing them (something I'm guilty of, too), yes, but you also need to get ready for bed because you're exhausted. It's not going to kill you to let them sit there, and the next time you have dinner, serve everyone except for him. Then when he asks where his is, tell him that there weren't enough clean dishes. It's his fault, so it's his problem, and you need your beauty rest (no offense or anything). Helping others to avoid solving your own issues isn't a form of altruism or doing the right thing; it's selfish and it's idiotic.
Yes, a therapist just said that what you're doing may be idiotic. Don't like it? Then don't do it.
3) Make things that you do for others be genuinely for them, not just to avoid guilt.
So if you're taking care of what you need to take care of, and you're letting other people do the same, then does that mean that you can't help out? Of course not. One of the benefits of living this way is that it actually makes the times that you help out even more valuable, as it means that you're doing it for the right reasons (see how I tied that back to what I was saying before? My 12th grade English teacher would be so proud). You're doing it because you genuinely want to help or make someone else's life better and that you're not just doing the charitable equivalent of sitting on your ass all day or trying to get the Big Man Upstairs to remember that when you're trying to get through those pearly gates.
All in all, I'm saying to do the right thing for the right reasons and let others do the same. You've got enough on your plate, and each person is responsible for his or her own life. Don't take theirs on, because you're just teaching them that someone else will take care of it, and you're ultimately hurting yourself. And when it's all said and done, you've gotta take care of you.
So the next time someone assumes that you're just going to drop everything and help them out, don't. The next time you think that doing someone else's work instead of your own is the right thing to do, don't. The next time you are tempted to watch reruns of Jerry Springer, don't. No, that doesn't have anything to do with anything, that's just really good advice in any situation.
I can give you all of the examples in the world, but the point of working together is to work on how to make things better for you. Get in touch either through this website, via e-mail, or give me a call at (302) 464-0021. Believe me, you encounter situations like this every day and may not even realize it. Once you recognize them and learn a more effective way to make sure that you're not helping others at the cost of yourself, you'll be able to pick it up really quickly and you'll be very happy with all of a sudden how much less stress and how much more time that you have. But again, not time to watch Springer. Just, no.
Remember: Nobody said that it would be easy, but nobody said that you had to do it alone.