Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys.
In my first few weeks as a trainee straight out of college, a supervisor gave me a piece of advice - "You need to have some comment during meetings and conference calls so that people know you are in the room. ‘Visibility’ will define what you will grow to be in the days to come.”
Even after many years, I can still feel the pressure created by the above statement; we are stuck in an imaginary bubble where we feel the need to be visible and recognised. The 'want' to be acknowledged has snowballed into a 'need' - not just in our professional lives, but in our personal lives too.
We often get confused with expectations at work - there is a delicate line between being proactive and minding one's own business. Until a while ago, I could see myself being sucked into situations where I didn't have to. I would spring at the first opportunity to help a colleague, give an opinion of how an implementation should be, fix a defect and the list goes on. There came a point where I complicated my life with unnecessary commitments and deadlines at work. It started taking a toll on my health and peace of mind - and trust me, these were the situations where I had no business to be in the first place.
Our personal lives are no different. Being a part of many groups on social media, I could see the urge and excitement of everyone (including myself) to pitch in and provide advice, solution, and judgment to any problem someone posts about.
Social media today has become a circus where every user wants to be a ringleader, both men and women included.
So, why do we feel the need to be responsible for and take ownership of every situation that comes our way? It took me some self-realisation to arrive at a clear understanding of being a leader and a ringleader. That was the time I understood the importance of practising the golden words – ‘Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys!’
We owe it to ourselves to answer some questions before getting involved in a situation. If taking ownership of a situation means trading work-life balance and adding stress, it’s not worth it in the long run. There is no value in being a part of the problem if you are not a part of the solution. If you don’t tread carefully in such situations, your benevolence may take a ride. We participate in every instance with the hope of gaining acknowledgement and approval or acceptance; chances are that we are involving ourselves in unwanted situations to escape from the realities of our personal lives that require our presence and effort.
So, are we going to be humans without empathy and compassion if we choose to only mind our own business?
I would like to quote an incident here - when my little baby was transitioning from an infant to a toddler, there were milestones to be achieved at each stage. The mamma-bear in me would wait for the moment to pick my baby up without letting her fall as she took her first steps. That was a great learning for me to let my baby make her own mistakes and learn to achieve the milestones herself.
That was a lesson for life - tailgating my kid through every walk of life was not going to teach her how to fight her battles. The caterpillar has to rip itself out of the cocoon to survive as a butterfly; when a human intervenes and tries to help it out of the cocoon, it doesn’t develop the strength to survive.
A lot of times, as parents we get consumed by the desire to raise absolutely perfect kids. Thus, we try to get involved in and control every action of theirs.
It’s okay to raise normal kids who grow up to be a normal human being; they don’t need to become superheroes that we couldn't be. Let’s learn to take a back seat and watch them make their own mistakes. This will help them learn and eventually grow into responsible adults. It is, however, essential to be a guiding force and pitch in only when it is absolutely required.
Growing up in India, it’s common to observe the culture where the eldest kid or the eldest male member is responsible for the entire family -- married siblings included. Of course, one can argue that it’s the very essence of being a family, but is it fair to put the burden of all under the wing of one individual’s shoulder? On the other hand, there are instances where the same individual turns authoritative and becomes the sole decision maker of the family.
In my opinion, the well-being of a family should be a collective responsibility. Same applies to life as well - the minute we start taking control of every situation, ours or not, we inadvertently start living somebody else’s life.
There is an ocean of difference between making someone's life 'better' compared to making someone’s life 'easy'. However, I feel the need to emphasise that it's every individual responsibility to raise their voice against social issues - it's not a battle one can shy away from. Each one has their own circus and monkeys to manage. Does it even make sense to take on someone else’s circus and their monkeys?
Sticking to our business in personal lives will also save us from a lot of pointless drama. Let people fight their own battles.
It’s imperative to practise the same in professional space too. We are often torn by the thoughts of consequences of not being a part of a problem. We feel threatened by the involvement of another co-worker who has no business involved to be a part of that problem. We spend long hours at work just because every other teammate stays back beyond the clock.
The best way to address such scenario would be to ask ourselves these questions –
What will happen if we excuse ourselves from participating in the situation? Do we really add value to the situation by our presence?
These questions would really help us weigh whether our involvement and presence are required in a situation. The answer might save us a lot of stress in many instances that would have turned out otherwise.
A senior at work gave me two sound pieces of advice, which I still hold valuable- firstly, ‘Stop believing that only you can complete a task to perfection. Start trusting people and lean to delegate’ and secondly, ‘At the professional space, there is no room for charity in the assignments. There is no need to involve in situations that you don’t own or are not held accountable for.’
There is every need to get involved only when reached out for help. The magic ultimately lies in knowing when to lead and when to let go. The key is to learn to choose our battles that are worth our time and peace.
The world has plenty of ringleaders, who can fill the vacuum we leave by avoiding a situation, so let’s start saying – ‘Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys!’