How big is your circus?

Engineers like to solve problems. If there are no problems handily available, they will create their own problems.
Scott Adams
1957 –

Recently, my daughter introduced me to a wonderful Polish saying that many of us should take to heart. The phrase captures a wealth of wisdom in its few words: “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

The essence of the phrase is simple: the situation at hand isn’t yours to manage; it’s someone else’s problem. But the truth is, a lot of us go out of our way to take on other people’s problems.

So why do we get involved with another person’s circus?

Some of us simply want to help. Others enjoy the feeling of power or control that comes with taking over a project. And of course, there are plenty of cases where we get drafted to solve a problem that isn’t ours to fix.

Unfortunately, once you begin taking on responsibilities that don’t belong to you, it doesn’t take long for you to end up with a very big circus, with all the chaos and drama that implies.

Taking over another person’s circus isn’t without consequences for you or for them. For a start, it demands a share of your limited resources of time and energy — resources that might be better spent on your own responsibilities. It can also damage your relationship with the other person: they may not be satisfied with the results you achieve, and you may feel resentful of the added burden — particularly if it’s one you didn’t willingly accept. What’s more, the other person is robbed of the learning and growth that comes from solving their own problems. If you’re always taking care of someone, they never learn to take care of themselves.

If you’re constantly taking on other people’s problems, it’s high time to cut down the size of your circus.

When you find yourself wanting to step in and take responsibility away from someone else, stop and ask yourself if the situation is really yours to manage. If it’s not, do your best to offer only limited assistance rather than taking control away from the other person. It isn’t easy to stand aside and let someone struggle, but it’s important for both of you that you do. And it will get easier in time. Trust that the other person will get through the situation, and remember that things don’t have to be perfect; even if your solution might be better, it’s likely that their way will be good enough.

Start taking steps today to reduce the size of your circus. Remember, you don’t need to manage everyone’s responsibilities. I’m sure you’ve got enough of your own.

Trust is a core currency of any relationship. Sometimes our need to control and micromanage everything erodes our confidence in ourselves and others. The truth: People are much more capable than we think.
Kris Carr
1971 –

Copyright © 2021 John Chancellor and Cheryl Chancellor

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