Have you ever considered how much more smoothly life would run if everyone just did their job? If the cable guy would actually show up around the estimated time, if my kicker in Fantasy Football would just get the ball through the uprights on his field goal attempts, and if the guy at the bagel place would put only a few jalapenos on my egg sandwich when I ask for only a few jalapenos – I would have a lot less to complain about. This happens in almost all areas of life because even the most independent of us are still dependent on someone for something. That’s the beauty (and the inevitable inconvenience) of the human race: we all contribute something different, something unique, and something important – and together we make a functioning society. The inconvenience surfaces when one person drops the ball or is unable to hold up his end, and it impacts someone else. One of the greatest representations of this dynamic is in team sports. Each member of the team has a specific responsibility that the rest of the group is dependent upon them to uphold. When one player has an off-night or makes a bad play it can have significant consequences on the rest of the team. It’s difficult in these instances to refrain from blaming, judging, and becoming frustrated at that person – the one who has a job, a role, a responsibility, but fails to fulfill it.
Similar to this critical, grudge-holding, judgmental teammate, I’ve realized that, all too often, I get caught up in what everyone else is doing (or supposed to be doing) and forget to put myself under that same unforgiving microscope of evaluation. Am I following through on what I’m supposed to be doing? Is my job getting done? Who might be impacted if I’m not, and if it isn’t? The more time that I spend focusing on whether or not the responsibilities of others are being fulfilled, the less time that I have to commit to my own.
If you, like me, find yourself taking years off of your life by stressing over the unfulfilled tasks of others, perhaps it’s time to redirect your attention to things that you can control – namely, you. There are two steps to this process which I expand on below, and it’s a “rinse & repeat” type of deal. When I notice myself becoming frustrated at someone else for failing to “do their job” I try to pull back, regroup, identify my role, and make a plan for how I will fulfill that role.
Find your role – chances are you have multiple. Start by sitting down and making a list of the different roles with which you identify in each area of your life (a co-worker, a sister, an uncle, a team captain, an assistant coach, a customer, a choir director, etc.). Picture your day-to-day life – the people you come into contact with, the things on your to-do list, the places you typically spend your time. What role(s) do you play, and where? Which ones are voluntary and which are not? Do some bring you more joy than others? The list could be endless, so focus on the ones that are the most important to you; rank them, if it helps. By now you should be looking at a fairly thorough diagram of you – your life, your role(s). Dwell on that for a moment. Take pride in each of these roles because they are what make you, you.
Fulfill that role. Consider each of these identities, keeping your focus on the ones that occupy the greatest amount of your time and attention. What specific responsibilities do your various roles bring? For example, I identify with the role of a cat-mom, and my responsibilities include keeping said cat alive, catering to her every need, and defending her from all non-cat-people. Whatever your role might be, clarify the scope of your responsibility within that role. Once you identify what it looks like to successfully fulfill your role(s), then go do it! Focus on that. Remind yourself of it. And when your teammate misses a layup, or your significant other neglects to refill the toilet paper roll after using the last of it, rather than allowing yourself to let out that big sigh that you've gotten so good at, use it as a reminder to check-in on your own responsibilities. Are all of your roles being fulfilled? What can you be doing better to ensure the satisfaction of those who might be depending upon you?
It's not easy, let me tell you; it can be a definite challenge. But it's one, should you accept it, that will make you more reliable, that will allow you to 'control the controllable', and that will result in less daily stress. Go ahead, give it a try.