Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It's Tempting to Work in Someone Else's Garden

I have a really big yard. I spend a lot of time working in it every spring and summer. There is an endless stream of tasks that I need to be working on in my garden. It simply never ends!

I was taking a walk in my neighborhood the other day and I walked past a landscaped entry to a neighboring housing development. I noticed that there were 7 day lilly plants that had old, dead stalks from last summer's flowers sticking out of them. I looked at those plants and had an overwhelming urge to pull out those dead flower stalks.

"It would take me 5 minutes to take care of that," I thought to myself. I knew that it would feel super satisfying to take that little section of this garden and 'whip it in to shape!' I was really tempted to step in and handle it.

Then, I started smiling to myself. I thought about all the garden chores that were waiting for me, at home, in my very own garden. I have plenty of '5 minute tasks' but none of those seem to be calling out to me the way that small section of someone else's garden did.

The task in someone else's garden somehow seemed less overwhelming. It seemed easier, and therefore more appealing than my own garden's chores.


That sums up some of my most tenacious personality traits! I love 'fixing' other people's problems for them. I'm pretty much always ready and willing to jump in and help someone else with their problems and circumstances. It seems I always have some relevant experience or knowledge than can make their way easier. In some cases, I spend so much time helping those other folks, that I have little time and energy left over for my own work!

It is so easy and so tempting to jump into other people's business! Our problems or responsibilities always seem more daunting, or more boring than someone else's! We just know we can swoop in and get someone else's problems "handled" whereas we sometimes hesitate to dig in to our own stuff. It's fascinating really.

Along a similar line of thinking, I used to truly hate cleaning my own house. I wouldn't say I hate it anymore, but I certainly don't enjoy it. The interesting point here is that I used to clean other people's houses (for money) when I was in college. It was one of the many jobs I had that enabled me to put myself through school. I actually enjoyed cleaning other people's houses. It was fun for me to transform the chaos and the mess into calm, clean order. I didn't get the same satisfaction from doing my own housework that I received from doing other peoples'! Interesting.

Many of us struggle with this issue. It is sometimes called co-dependency: Being overly involved in the lives of those around us, and not paying full attention to our own responsibilities, challenges and issues as a result.

Being too involved in other people's "gardens" is a way of distracting ourselves from our own uncomfortable situations and issues. It is a way to refocus ourselves and ignore things that somehow trouble or scare us. It's a defense mechanism.

In our culture, unfortunately, this is very socially acceptable behavior. We can look like great wives, husbands, mothers or fathers by focusing solely on the needs and responsibilities of those around us. Other people might praise and value us for the 'over involvement' that we exercise in the lives of people we care about. Positive accolades does not necessarily make it healthy.

In many cases, it is decidedly unhealthy. When we do things for others that they can, and should, be doing for themselves, we cripple them. We cripple ourselves at the same time because we exhaust our inner and outer resources in the service of handling things for others, when we should be facing ourselves squarely and doing our own work!

I'm not saying we should never help others, or practice healthy giving. Of course, these are positive and desirable traits that we should all aspire to have. It only becomes a problem, when we feel 'compelled' to be involved in other people's business, and neglect our own. This can be tricky. As I said, this is a 'tactic' or a defense mechanism that we utilize to protect ourselves from facing hard truths in our own selves and lives. We can be pretty tricky about making that look virtuous to ourselves and to those around us.

If you are someone who feels drawn to 'working in someone else's garden' even though you have plenty of weeds of your own... put the brakes on that behavior, and see what's lurking underneath it. Something needs your attention and your energy. Everyone will be better off if you focus your resources there first!

Stay focused and rooted in your own garden!