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Am I responsible for this?

It’s been observed by myself and others that I have a history of taking responsibility for things when it’s not necessary. It can be simple things like apologizing to store mannequins when I carelessly whack them with my bag, and more serious situations such as feeling like if I could have been articulate, I would have made my ex-boyfriend see that getting arrested for being blackout drunk and starting a fight in a restaurant is not a “quirk” as he called it, but a drinking problem. If only I had language he could understand.

My four years taking care of animals was a certainly time of thickening my skin and spotting red flags. One woman hired me to watch her cat Xena, who was about 5000 years old and quite sick. The cat needed ointment applied to her ears twice a day and pills crushed and mixed in with her food. The owner went over all the details, but neglected to mention she was too cheap to pay me for the entire time and a friend would be taking over halfway through her time away.

Six days after I had stopped caring for the cat, I get a call from the owner explaining that the cat’s ears were burned and she was barely alive (I refrained from pointing out that was the state she was in when the owner left). The vet assured her it didn’t happen in the last 5 days while her friend was caring for the cat. Since it was my fault, she felt it was only fair that the money she would have paid me should go toward the vet bills.

Another client booked me to stay with her dogs overnight and at the last minute she tried to pawn her 11-year-old son on me as well. This happened surprisingly often. When I responded that I don’t babysit, the caller would usually take umbrage, and I could hear them thinking, “Well, I guess she doesn’t like children.”

While not a parent myself, I know the professions of dog walking and babysitting are no more interchangeable than plumbing and carpentry. Surely, they don’t call a groomer when their kids need a haircut.

After crazy pet owners, a self-destructive roommate and two alcoholic boyfriends, I spent more than a year going inward trying to figure out where I needed to draw the line. I became very wary of saying yes and getting involved with something or someone if I didn’t have an exit strategy.

It took lots of therapy and journaling and calls to my best friend, but I am happy to report that I have reached a new enlightened state of being able to recognize when someone is delegating responsibility to me. I’m better at giving myself time to decide whether to accept it or not. From this higher plain it is less of a battleground and more like a game. In fact, it’s a lot like being at the batting cages and choosing which balls to swing at. I’m certainly not batting 1000, but I’m getting better.

I feel fortunate to be living in a time when so many people are eager to shell out responsibility to others because it gives me a lot of practice.

My Outspoken Friend says, “Oh you are in charge of events at the library? You need to call me when there is something good happening, so I don’t miss it.” (Ball)

Mrs. Hot Mess demands “I need you to help me find an assistant. I need someone who is savvy and doesn’t ask stupid questions.” (Ball)

Debbie Domeafavor asks, “Will you come over and help me move a few things?” (Swing) “By the way, it’s a 4 boxes and sleeper sofa.” (Strike).

Amazing Boss inquires, “Would you be interested in taking on more hours? We can offer you full-benefits.” (Homerun!)

The trick is to get clear on what you want/need to take responsibility for and what is not your problem. Or as a friend liked to put it: Not your circus, not your monkeys.

The next step is the learn to say “no” and set boundaries. If this is something you could use some support with, consider joining this month’s 30-Day Challenge.

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