Stay in Your Lane

Each month I write about a topic or idea in hopes that it helps the reader think about and make choices to support their self-care. My initial intention for this blog was to focus specifically on educators. However, I now know that other professionals read it and find it beneficial. Even though research tells us that teachers (along with emergency room nurses) are in a career with the highest stress level, that doesn’t mean other professionals don’t also experience stress too.
For those of us who work to help other people learn, grow, advance in their lives, and meet their fullest potential, it is easy to become a “fixer”. There is a lot of good to be said about having a strong problem-solving ability. These professionals often possess a robust sense of compassion and passion for those with whom they work. I see those qualities with many of my colleagues and I see it in myself. I believe that was a primary influencer in my choice to become a social worker. I like to be in the mix, working with others to try to solve problems and make a difference in the world. That all sounds admirable and it is, but can also be tricky if boundaries aren’t established and attended to. Thus, the topic of this month’s blog.
If you are anything like me, because I am wired to be a “fixer”, I default to that mode. Someone around me may happen to mention a situation looking for a solution and I automatically jump in wanting to assist. On occasion this is welcomed and appropriate but there are times it is not. As I have begun to be more present and self-aware, I’m paying attention to my own behavior (as well as others’) in these scenarios. What I am learning is that sometimes, people just want to vent. They aren’t looking for an answer or suggestion on how to resolve the situation. That is also true for me. There are times, I just need a listening ear and not a solution.
So how does this support self-care, you ask? I find that I have spent a lot of time, energy, and/or brain power on offering suggestions or possible solutions to other people’s problems. Sometimes this happens when they haven’t even asked me to do that. I also am realizing that if I jump in to help or even take it over, then I am not allowing that other person an opportunity to grow, learn for themselves, develop a new skill, enhance their problem-solving skills and/or build their confidence in their own efficacy. Sometimes life lessons are there for a purpose and why should I prevent someone else from growing and evolving because I want to feel important or needed. I am learning to stay in my lane.
New car technology now includes beep alerts if you start to cross over into the other lane without signaling. There are also notifications if a car is coming along beside you on the side mirrors. Plus, some cars now even have cameras to indicate if it is clear to change lanes. Unfortunately, we aren’t automatically equipped with those types of warning systems. Therefore, we have to be self-aware and pay attention to (or even develop?) our own internal signals to show us when we are over extending or inserting ourselves unnecessarily.
In an effort to stay in my lane, I’ve begun to check in with myself in a couple of ways. My new rule of thumb is to consider if this person asked me for help or to get involved, in the first place? If not, perhaps they just need a supportive ear. Then that is the role I play. I listen and support. No need to offer my opinion about the situation or extend myself more than required or desired. The next question I ask myself is, does this involve me? Is it any of my business? Sometimes various circumstances can surface around me that really don’t concern me and yet I am tempted to (and at times have) inserted myself. This can also be draining and is an unnecessary use of my time and energy. I’m learning that if I’m not invited to the “party” that is ok. I can use my time elsewhere. I don’t have to be in the know or at the table with all things, all the time. Being able to let go of the need to control and/or have influence has been freeing. Being able to intentionally select what I focus on is liberating. I’ve also found that as I release the need to be included or have a say in “everything”, that different more invigorating uses of my time present themselves.
As always, I encourage you to try this approach for yourself. Feel free to borrow my two “check-in with yourself” questions, if you’d like. Or perhaps you have some of your own that work well for you. Regardless of what notification system you engage, my hope is that you will stay healthy, safe and in your own lane.