Thursday, October 08, 2009

Drawing the Line

The volunteer who gets asked to do just one more thing. The mom whose kid wants another story before going to bed. The person in any relationship (significant other, sibling, co-worker) who for whatever reason has the burden of putting forth more effort and ends up doing more than her share.

Most of us have a basic desire and need to be helpful. To be appreciated and liked. This can lead us to say 'yes' more often than perhaps is to our benefit. And then we end up spending too much time and/or money on projects that need to be done or would be nice to do, may be interesting and even fun, but leave us wondering why we said 'yes' in the first place. Or we give more of our energy or money to someone or to an organization than we're comfortable with, but often we don't speak up and right the balance.

Some people fail to follow through on assignments they've accepted, don't complete them in a timely manner or with the anticipated quality. So those who can and do deliver are usually asked to do more. Often people presume on others' willingness, efficiency and reliability. There's that saying, "If you want something done, ask the busiest person you know."

Sometimes the pushing of boundaries in any relationship is so subtle you don't notice it at first. You think, "I've already done/paid for X, so it's not that big of a deal to also do/buy Y." When does wanting to help and generosity turn into being taken advantage of or becoming a martyr? When does your well run dry...and who refills it? How do you gracefully say "no," or "I've done enough for now?"

For example, I agreed to help a group with some publicity. Next they asked me to write something another volunteer had agreed to do but didn't. Then to coordinate a small task. Then several other small things...which finally added up to more than I was willing to do. I had to say no. I felt bad, knowing they needed the help.

The Mayo Clinic says that saying no can reduce stress, here. The Washington Post's take on why it's often hard to say no is here. Check out more advice here.

Is there something you want to say no to? Will you?


Karen said...

Hi Ruth,

Great post! I just ran across an interesting volunteer opportunity for a literacy organization, but what they need is more than I can give right now, so I'm forcing myself to walk away. Not easy to do, especially for a good cause. I've learned the hard way that when I'm over-committed everything suffers, so there's no point in trying to fit in that one more thing.

EilisFlynn said...

I say no all the time, simply because I know that doing so is better than getting irritated. And my blood pressure's high enough!

I keep seeing this little purse I want to buy for a friend of mine with the words "Stop me before I volunteer again!" Truer words were never spake, Ruth!