When I was young, I was taught that obedience was a good thing. If a teacher or one of my parents asked me to do something, I knew without a doubt that I was supposed to actually do it. Life was better when I did what was expected of me, and failure to comply often brought unpleasant repercussions. So I learned early on to complete those classroom assignments, to do my chores at home, and in general, and to help out when I was asked to do so. And to one degree or another, that lesson has stuck with me throughout my life.
In most ways, it’s been a good thing. I had no problem accepting assignments from my bosses or my editors, and never felt any resentment at being “told what to do,” especially in situations where I was being paid to do it. I believe it also instilled a sense of responsibility to others, which meant donating my time and money to worthy causes and helping people (and animals) as much as I possibly could. It gave me a sense of duty, and I’m thankful for that.
But there’s a downside to being so quick to accept tasks and shoulder responsibility, and it’s called burn-out. I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m feeling particularly stressed and overburdened, it’s usually because I have said “yes” when I really should have said “no,” or at the very least, “maybe later.” And that usually happens when I forget that the only person who truly knows exactly how much I can and cannot do is me.
All too often, I find myself taking on far more than I can reasonably handle. And when it finally does sink in that I’ve bitten off way more than I can chew, I actually find myself getting angry with the people who have asked me to do the items on my to-do list that are stressing me out. I act as if it was someone else’s fault that I didn’t have the good sense to recognize and respect my own limits, which is just plain silly.
The fact is that it’s up to me to set my own personal boundaries and to make good decisions about how I spend my time. I’m the one who knows what my daily obligations are, and I’m the one who knows how much free time I have to devote to other causes. Which means I’m the one whose job it is to make sure I’m not freaking out because I’ve over-committed my time, or forgotten that there are only twenty-four hours in a day.
Knowing where to draw the line between taking care of ourselves and meeting other people’s expectations and needs is a difficult thing. It can take us a long time to learn how to establish our own personal boundaries. But I think it’s important to remember that a big part of being a responsible adult is realizing that we can’t take care of anyone else if we don’t take care of ourselves while we’re at it.