Living on Purpose: Changing ‘ deeply ingrained patterns
VAIL, Colorado ” “Our house has been really stressful,” Sienna began. “I’ve been working a lot; my husband is in school and with finals approaching, our relationship is reaching a boiling point. I’m completely overwhelmed!”
“What’s going on with Kerry?” I said.
“Kerry includes me in his school work. At first I liked being involved. I thought it brought us closer,” Sienna explained. “But recently, I’ve noticed that he thinks of me as one of his classmates. I find myself helping him with his projects, research, ideas, etc. I like to be included, but feel like I am carrying half of the weight. It’s like he’s put his books in my backpack! HE is the student, not me!”
Sienna continued, “It’s gotten worse with Kerry because I have been really busy at work, putting in longer hours, which makes me less available for him. I’ve been irritated and moody and yet Kerry still expects me to be there for him … but right now I need to be here for me.”
“What’s making your backpack weigh so much?” I asked.
“I see a couple of things. First, I need to make my time at work more productive. One of my co-workers is going through a divorce and frequently parks herself in my office talking about it. These conversations extend my work day at least an hour every day. That’s five hours a week!”
“What needs to happen here?” I asked.
“I’ll talk to her tomorrow to tell her that I care, but that I need to get my work done. I’ll suggest that we go to lunch once a month so we can talk. I think she’ll understand once I explain it to her.”
“It sounds like that may relieve some pressure at work. What about at home?” I asked.
“By working less, I’ll have more time to help Kerry, but I’m not sure that is a good pattern. He is the one in school, not me,” Sienna said. “I don’t want him to think I don’t care, but I can’t continue to feel responsible for his schooling. Some of the weight in my backpack is me carrying his books. It’s time to hand them back to him.”
“How will you do this?” I asked.
“I’m not ready for this conversation yet,” Sienna confided. “This is a deeply ingrained pattern. I’m not sure if the ‘cold turkey’ approach is best. It’s not THAT bad.”
“What would THAT bad look like? On a scale from one to ten, where are you?” I asked.
“I’m at a six. It’s bad now, but maybe it will pass after finals,” she paused. “I am probably minimizing how much this impacts me, but the thought of talking to Kerry feels overwhelming. I’m not sure I need to do it now, especially with finals looming. I’ll talk to him after this semester so we can avoid it next semester.”
“It sounds like talking to your co-worker is a good first step. Is there a way for you to feel the impact of carrying the additional responsibility with Kerry? What if you were to completely fill a backpack with books and carry it around for a couple of hours and then empty out part or all of the contents to notice the difference?” I suggested.
“That would probably give me an idea of how much extra weight I’m carrying. I’ll do it for two hours this weekend while Kerry is gone. I’ll e-mail you that evening to let you know how much my back hurts,” she said, smiling. “Who knows? It might motivate me enough to talk to Kerry now. I’ll let you know.”
Coaching Challenge: If you think of your level of responsibility like a backpack, what is in your backpack? What do you carry around needlessly or carry for someone else? What could be removed? It’s easy to add one more thing into a backpack until the weight of the backpack becomes overwhelming. If you feel irritated or frustrated, it may be time to sort through your backpack to see what needs to be removed.
Sheri Fisher is a Life Coach who lives in Grand Junction. Her practice, Living On Purpose, focuses on personal and professional coaching. The situations and characters in her column are fictional to maintain client confidentiality. If you have topic suggestions, e-mail or comment on Sheri’s blog, http://www.coachwithsheri.com/blog. Sheri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.