Taking (too much) responsibility 

“Could I talk to you about something?”

I think this is one of the worst sentences ever created. 

It’s a close run thing with, “Do you have time for a chat?” and “When you have a minute, can I talk to you?”

They’re often followed by “But it’s nothing urgent, don’t worry.” Don’t worry? Don’t worry?? Now all I’m doing is worrying. Of course if it’s not followed by that sentence then you can amplify the worry by several sweaty palm moments and a heart racing like the Epsom Derby. 

My mind speeds through the options. 

Have I said something to someone that I shouldn’t have? 

Have I done something I wasn’t meant to do? 

Oh my word, having a tab open on Facebook at work last week has been uncovered and I have committed the cardinal sin. 

I’m going to be told off. 

No, I’m going to be fired. 

I’ll certainly be shouted at. 

I am a natural born worrier. I’m not pleased about this, it’s a burden I carry through life. My Mum refers to it as my ‘over-developed sense of responsibility’, and it’s true. 

When my brothers were little, I would be practically in tears, convinced they were going to go over the yellow line, fall on the track and be hit by an oncoming train. I still don’t feel it was an entirely unjustified thought, as you might appreciate if you’ve met brother #2. Even this week at the football, I was increasingly concerned whenever the goalie stepped away from the goal. ‘Get back in there…’ I muttered under my breath. Or out loud…but seriously, what if someone got the ball? It can change in an instant! It will all come undone! (Calm down Ruth…)

My ‘what if’ Giants (read about them here) have come back to haunt me. Except this time I’m just going with the worst case scenario. 

Why do I assume the worst?

Assuming the worst is safe. It’s not fun. It’s not helpful. It’s not healthy – that much anxiety can’t be good for anyone. But if I assume the worst maybe I’m prepared? I’ve steeled myself for a nightmare possibility, just in case. I’ve got ways and means to get out of it, an excuse ready prepared – even though there’s nothing to excuse.

But how often does the worst actually happen? Do I need to be this worried about a possibility? 

I don’t think my aching shoulders, blood pressure and the one grey hair (sob, sob) I have found are appreciating it. If I’m happy I’m doing the right thing thing, I should just keep doing the right thing. A constant feeling of playing catch-up in teaching has in part lead me to this point. I was always waiting to find out the next thing I hadn’t done. I’ve left that behind, yet I am still hauling around the burden with me, applying the same assumptions to other situations.

My over-developed sense of responsibility also leads me into the rocky path of taking responsibility for other’s people’s actions. I do this at work where, despite a pass that lets me through doors and into almost sacrosanct environments, I’m still terrified we shouldn’t be there. That we’ll get into trouble. Even when the security officer has said it’s fine, do go and take a wander. Not only do I worry about myself, I’m now worrying about others and what they’re doing too. 

What I must learn to carry in my head is that I can only be responsible for myself. If nothing else, being in a broken marriage taught me that, but I seem to need reminding. I can only take responsibility for all that I can do, any other person’s decision, no matter if they’re a spouse, child or friend, is their decision. We can guide children of course, but their choices are their choices. As we grow hopefully we make less mistakes, by learning from the ones before. I am responsible for my actions and choices. No one else’s. When my marriage ended I was able to say, with complete truthfulness, that I had done all I could. I wasn’t responsible for his decisions. 

And I’m going to do what I can in other instances too. When someone asks for a chat, I’m going to ask them what they want to talk to me about. If someone wants to meet me for a coffee, I’m going to assume that they want the pleasure of my company in Costa. I going to choose not to worry when I could do something about it. 

I’m going to take responsibility for the things I should, and relinquish those that aren’t mine in the first place. Otherwise I’m going to be spending a lot more on shoulder massage and hair dye…

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