Oh the Spice Girls…they had it right all along! And if you don’t know who the Spice Girls are, or why they were telling the world what they really really wanted, then you might be too young for this article. Kidding, kidding. But sometimes the reality that I’m old enough to have lived through a generation of “music” that younger folks don’t even recognize is a bit scary!
So today I want to write a little bit about wanting. As in…telling people what you want. Sounds pretty easy, right? I thought so too. Turns out, it’s a major problem in my life. In fact, my desire to keep everyone happy and just go along with things has created a serious issue for me. I’m waking up to the fact that I am waiting WAY too long to express my own needs. My business partner, Beth, wrote about this last week in a brilliant post about Delayed Leadership. Not asking for what you want is a giant act of delayed leadership, all wrapped up in a nice bow of social “niceness” and conformity.
The biggest recipient of my delayed leadership is my poor family. Let me give you an example and you can see if it strikes a chord: My kids are home from a long day of school and sports. They’re vegging in front of the television, sprinkling goldfish crumbs all over my sofa. My husband’s not home from work yet. I’m standing at my kitchen counter desperately trying to throw together something we can call dinner. The dogs need to be fed. The cats need to be fed. The horses need to be fed. EVERYONE, it seems, needs to be fed. Also, there’s homework. And the laundry needs to be folded. And the dishwasher needs to be emptied. And the house needs to be picked up. And showers, and reading, and bedtime, and the last bits of work that I haven’t finished because my work day ends at 4:00 when school ends, AND AND AND….Even writing this creates a stress response in my stomach. How will I ever get it all done? Well, I’m not proud to say that I get it all done by turning into a complete crank. I bark. I seethe. I silently curse everyone. By the time we sit down at the dinner table, I’m barely able to sit up straight.
The un-manageability around all of this has been festering for quite a while. Yet, I’ve done nothing about it. At times it feels like this is just the way things have to be. Almost everyone else I know lives the same way. Enter the concept of Delayed Leadership though, and I realize that something else might be a foot. Why is it, when I have two able-bodied children who could help make dinner, set the table, unload the dishwasher, and fold laundry, that I don’t ask for help? Why is it that when I have a husband who would really love to help accommodate my work, I don’t ask for time to myself after dinner? Why do I martyr myself over and over and over again?
DELAYED LEADERSHIP my friends. It’s the cold ugly truth.
The more I’ve reflected on this the more I see that I am not even coming close to asking for what I want. Why? Because I feel guilty doing it. The kids are young, I reason. They’ve had a long day at school. They deserve time to just chill. My husband’s job is busy. He has a long commute. I don’t want to inconvenience him. I couldn’t believe it when I really started paying attention. Essentially all of my excuses boiled down to one thing: everyone else’s needs are more important than mine.
Now look, I know that the needs of my children do often have to come before mine. I’m OK with that. I took that deal along with motherhood. But, do their needs ALWAYS have to come before mine? Do they not have to be contributing members of the household simply because I feel guilty? And what’s more, wouldn’t it actually be better for them to have a mother who wasn’t so tired, so stressed, so resentful every evening? Yes, yes it would.
Everyday over the course of the last week, I’ve been saying aloud to myself many times per day: ASK FOR WHAT YOU REALLY WANT. It’s been an eye-opener and a challenge. But last night my kids helped cook, loaded the dishwasher afterwards, and emptied the trash. With smiles on their faces. Incidentally, I had a smile on my face as well. I’m starting to notice that the minute I am beginning to feel overwhelmed, it’s likely that I need to ask for help. I’ve internalized so many things as being MY responsibility, that really should be shared family responsibilities.
If this story resonates with you, either at home, or at work, or…both (likely) I’d really like to encourage you to start paying attention to what you really want. I think sometimes we get scared that if we ask that question, we’ll see how far off track we really are. But I think that’s the point. What I really, really want is not exotic. It’s not a trip to the spa (although I’d take that too). It’s really just feeling like I’m sharing the burden and responsibilities of our home with the people who partake in our home life. And that is actually completely possible. I just won’t ever know that if I don’t ask.
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Susan McCusker is the co-founder of The Circle Up Experience. She and her partner, Beth Killough, offer people the opportunity to interact with horses in order to learn more about themselves, reconnect with the natural elements of leadership, and transform their human herds.