Do you find yourself so busy with work assignments and home tasks that you just collapse at the end of the day, never getting to do what you wanted to do for yourself? Are you meeting everyone else’s needs but your own? Do the demands of your life outweigh the personal energy you have to meet them? Are others pulling at you from all directions?

So many women I know struggle with choices about where to focus their time and energy. They usually end up feeling like they never have enough time. Things that are important to them are relegated to the the back burner where they pile up. This conflict starts with or leads to self doubts about the value of their own needs and wants–let alone their future dreams.

There’s a lot of societal, environmental, and familial training that goes into over-giving. The good news is that because a huge part of this dynamic is learned behavior, it’s possible to unlearn, and train yourself to do it differently. With patience, good commnication and some coach-able skills, it’s possible to train others to make adjustments too.

Self-Talk and Back-Talk

Do a quick self inventory to see where you stand in the balancing act of meeting your needs and others by asking yourself these questions:

  • Am I building up resentment, maybe feeling like no one is working as hard as I am? My head tells me it can’t be so, but it sometimes makes me feel like lashing out, especially with coworkers who don’t seem to stress.
  • I feel like I’m shutting down a part of myself so I can meet everyone’s (boss, partner, children, family) needs? No one else seems to complain but I’m feeling alone, different, a bit depressed as a result.
  • Do I have creative ideas and plans, but no time to make pursue? I’m not sure. It’s been so long, I’ve lost sight and don’t know if those dreams are even important anymore.
  • Am I angry at my mate much of the time because I feel so overworked and underappreciated? I know (he or she) works hard too. Maybe I’m just being unrealistic.
  • Do I inwardly blame others and sometimes feel like a victim? The negative talk in my head is hard to ignore.
  • I feel guilty if I say “No” to those close to me, almost anyone! Maybe they won’t like or love me if I say no? I worry about ending up alone or lonely. I want people to like me.

If you find yourself saying yes to any of these questions, you may be sacrificing yourself unnecessarily. You may be a candidate for resentment, sadness, anxiety, disappointment, depression, and loss of your own self worth.

Rightly or wrongly, many women tend to believe that if they don’t do all the work, meet all the expected needs, take on the next task or assignment offered, no one else will do it. It becomes complex–even confusing–because many of the day to day demands of others comes from people you love (in your home and personal life) or people you are responsible for or to (in your work life.) Because women are good at multitasking, sensing others needs in relationships, and caring for others, they are more likely to see and respond to others’ needs and concerns. Sometimes ignoring their own needs.

How do you change this dynamic to allow room for you in your life?

Move to the Head of the Line

Making yourself a priority doesn’t mean you are going to become selfish. Of course there are needs and wants of others that have to be met: when your boss wants you to do a project or your child needs dinner. Sometimes you even want to give to others because it pleases you, as well as them, to do so.

The dividing line is to not give away your power by surrendering to everyone else at your own expense.

The process of taking yourself back is complex, not always easy, and should not be done in anger. It should be approached in alignment with core values, clarity, good communication, consistency, grace and dignity–oh, and patience!

  • Core Values align your changes with what you hope to achieve in the big picture;
  • Clarity is self-awareness about your specific needs;
  • Consistency means knowing it will require some repeats in messaging;
  • Good Communication means speaking concretely so others understand the specific behavioral changes you are asking for–of yourself and of them;
  • Grace and Dignity refers delivery and behavior that is mature and kind everywhere, professional at the office.
  • Patience is knowing that change takes time. Stand committed to yourself and see where changes emerge to support your newly asserted needs.

Know that some people who are used to you meeting all their needs will not like it if you stop doing for them. Persevere, as you are teaching those who have expectations from you to adjust those expectations. Talk to your boss about a reasonable deadline for the project and the resources you want to use. Ask your mate to be responsible for dinner tonight. Set your boundaries and limits for others, but especially for you, so that you can have some of that energy you give to others left over for yourself.

Here are some symptoms you might identify and tips to help you avoid over-focusing on the needs of others and allow yourself to achieve your own dreams and goals:

If you are OVERWHELMED, it’s time to make some choices, set some goals and stay focused. Everything in your life cannot have the same priority rating, as time expands for no one.

For example, a few years ago I coached Rachel, who set four main goals for herself that year. Each of her choices were measured against those goals. It helped keep her from getting distracted and easily sidetracked. It also gave her a way of “naming” why she agreed or chose to do something–or not.

Pick your priorities, and remember, you can do anything you want but you can’t do everything! Another tip: Give yourself permission to stop doing one thing for a day, that is truly unnecessary. It may be as simple as washing the dishes that day. Not that you stop doing them forever, but maybe your priority is getting a massage, or training your teenager to pick up the slack. Then in a few days, stop two tasks, etc.

If you find yourself saying YES to requests and then having regrets, or what I call the YES (I SHOULDN’T HAVE) it’s time for you to write your letter of resignation. This is a letter only you will see, where you write down all the yes’s you are resigning from. Share it with your coach or a good friend who can help you keep on track.  Resign from everything that is a distraction for you: “I choose to resign from volunteering for every work committee that comes up” or “I choose to resign from always being the leader…” or “I choose to resign from making ALL the decisions.”

If because you are GOOD AT SOMETHING, you always volunteer or get elected to do it, remember that the glow of being asked because you are good will wear off as soon as you have too much to do. If you are in a situation where you can decline and this task doesn’t fit in your goal agenda, then decline. If you can’t decline, then negotiate for some help and delegate. Don’t pick up the slack for slackers, either….. it never pays off.  While it is great to help out a workmate or friend occasionally, be careful you don’t set up expectations you don’t want to meet.

If you are EASILY SWAYED by what others think of you and so willingly take on more than is good for you to please others, try this easy exercise: make a list of what you would do with the energy and the time that you are currently giving away to others. It will help you balance the list of what you say NO to with YESES for yourself. Others will respect you for drawing lines and establishing boundaries. They may even learn from your role-modeling when you tell them why.

If you FEEL LIKE A VICTIM – “I always have to do everything all the time” – then do something special for yourself. Plan and take yourself on your own outing. Love a walk on a trail nearby but never get there because of all your shoulds and oughts? Stop, know that tasks will wait, and go and enjoy. You have the right to give to yourself as well as others. If you don’t recharge your batteries, you will end up with nothing left for yourself or the people you care about.

If you FEEL GUILTY every time you say no or don’t do for others, change your mindset. Guilt is a learned feeling and is often used by others to manipulate you into doing for them. Try this exercise: Ask yourself who taught you this emotion and then ask what would a normal healthy adult behaving with grace and dignity do in this situation? If you believe that normal healthy adult would say no, then do so by being kind, but firm and assertive. Try it on for size and see if you can learn a new way of being.

Bottom line: You are in charge of you, and you can take yourself back to a more contented outlook that includes meeting many of others needs and wants and while meeting many more of your own.

Dr. Jan Hoistad has years of experience helping busy professionals gain clarity, acquire the tools and master the skills, so they are enabled to take strategic action at each stage of their business, career, and personal life to go further, faster.

Business owners, business partners, entrepreneurs, people in career transition, dual career and entrepreneurial couples all rely on partnering with Jan, so they achieve their most important professional and life goals. If you would like more information or would like some help clarifying your direction, please contact me. I am here to help you get the results you are looking for!

Dr. Jan Hoistad