“Nothing in this world can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Thank you, Ben Franklin.
Said another way, according to Ben, there is nothing we are obliged to do but die and pay taxes. I would beg to differ because I also believe that we are obliged to be good citizens of the Earth, including following the golden rule of doing unto others…
Yet I hear many complaints about guilt trips and feeling pressured, so it appears that we have a far longer list of obligations—or perceived obligations—that are drowning us in overwhelm.
We have just finished the season of false obligations—holiday cards to send to family and friends…excessive gifts to purchase…and perfect holiday dinners to plan and serve. We also take on much greater and bigger presumed obligations throughout the year—like protecting our children from any physical or emotional hurts…financial pressures to own a certain type of home…participating in activities because friends or coworkers expect us to…even living in a location because we don’t want to “desert” our family.
I have given this a lot of thought this past year when it comes to both business and home because I have become increasingly aware of the many obligations I put upon myself as a parent, a child, a wife, a mother, a sibling and a boss.
Because Bottom Line Inc. is a family-owned business, we have made many choices through the years that prioritize our employees over what some might deem more fiscally prudent decisions. Most recently, in spite of the ever-increasing cost of health insurance, we decided to sacrifice some corporate profits so that the company could continue to pay health insurance premiums for our employees. As a thoughtful and responsible boss, I constantly ask myself, What is the “appropriate” level of obligation when balancing a caring organization with an effectively run, profitable business?
One of the most complicated series of personal obligations involves family relationships. When children are young, parents and children are a continuum of each other—parents manage their children’s every need and decision…and children feel lost without their parental safety nets. But once children are adults, what is the appropriate level of commitment for both the parents and the children?
I have a friend who is an only child. His parents became ill when he was in his 30s, and he suspended his own life for several years to take care of them. Another friend who is the devoted live-in caregiver for his parents has sacrificed his own life to compensate for his siblings’ lack of involvement. Did my friends’ parents pressure their offspring? Or did the children bring the perceived obligation on themselves? Radio therapist, Dr. Laura Schlessinger feels strongly—and I agree—that once you are married, your first priority is to your spouse. I would add that the change occurs not only when you’re married but once you’re an independent adult. It’s not that you don’t still honor your parents, but instead it’s a level of mutual respect that both parties have independent lives to lead.
I faced this myself after my older daughter graduated from college and was living on her own. She was no longer my “pet child” available when I wanted her to be. Her priorities shifted to her career, friends and serious boyfriend. Her vacation time was now limited, and I could no longer expect her to always join us for family dinners or holiday vacations on my schedule. It has been an emotional adjustment, but I am not hurt by her “abandonment.” Yet, like my friends mentioned above, there are many grown children who live their lives feeling obliged to take care of their parents, struggling siblings, etc. And it leaves them with grand emotional conflicts.
I know you may be thinking…Sarah, families stick together and support each other. How selfish when children turn their backs on aging parents or siblings in need and leave them to fend for themselves. How selfish when kids think only about their own needs and desires without consideration to the parents who raised them. How uncaring of bosses who are only about the profit and not about the culture or the people.
That’s not my point.
The opportunity for all of us is to find that compromise between obligation and personal choice…to have mature conversations that acknowledge the changing relationships and what the expectations are for all involved…to clearly identify boundaries that allow everyone involved to connect and yet function individually. We are a guilt-ridden society that takes on feelings of failure and judgment if we do not perform to the standards of “them.”
How do you break free of these obligations without feeling like you are disappointing the people you love or being accused of being selfish? Somewhere in the middle is a powerful choice—one that you make thoughtfully and confidently…and once you’ve chosen, you own without guilt or regret.
When I attended the Landmark Forum, we learned about making choices. We learned to think through the options…weigh the pros and cons…understand the risks and rewards of the options…and then to choose. And we learned to own that choice with confidence and without apology. You make that choice because you make that choice. You don’t make the choice out of obligation or fear or any of the other reasons that we use to shift the responsibility to someone else. We choose because we choose.
Yes, I still drive myself crazy with holiday cards and perfect gifts—not because I feel obliged to send them. I drive myself crazy because I have powerfully chosen that those things are important to me. I have many friends and family who I am not regularly in touch with, so the cards provide that touch of connection. And 363 days a year is all about practicality and productivity, so I do like to make birthdays and Christmas magical for my family.
Freeing yourself from the burden of obligation is a huge gift you can give yourself this year. Make choices—loving, caring, mature choices.