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Not My Circus; Not My Monkeys

This phrase is attributed to an old Polish saying. But I love the English translation.

not my monkeysI had never heard this phrase until speaking with my daughter one day. She is a high school math teacher who is not without her share of weird days. That day had apparently been tough for her. As we talked through the events and issues, she closed the discussion with this phrase saying something like:

“But hey, not my circus, not my monkeys”

I was so proud of her resolve. After processing all of the issues swirling around her, she could have easily drawn the conclusion that she needed to fix everything. Rather than doing that, she carved out those things that were truly other people’s issues, placed them in a separate corner, safely away from the things that did matter to her. What a great model!

How often does your day begin with a plan of your own making that quickly gets blown up because of other people’s demands or interactions? Their events, traumas, or challenges somehow become your issues. I know many of us want to help others. We want to be a friendly ear or a warm embrace, but that may not always be the healthy approach for our own well-being. Inviting their circus into your tent could be a bad idea. There is simply no need to take ownership of everyone’s problems.

Here are some ideas on ways to deflect and defend.

  • Practice preparing yourself for the people in your life who want to dump these things. You know the co-worker, the neighbor, or the friend who has a tendency to be this way. Be ready to deflect. In others words, rehearse your response for the next time you get approached. By now you should know the people around you who act this way.
  • Decide on the words you can use to communicate that you do care but that it is not your problem. Use your own words to describe this.
  • New people may go straight to the burden loading. By preparing your thought process in advance, you always have this answer as one of the valid options for excusing yourself from the matter.
  • Be ready to just say NO. That is always an option. And I mean NO, I am not even going to start listening to this.

Many people talk about positive and negative energy in our lives. Without going too deeply into that mindset I have to agree that accepting any load of negative actions and attitudes will seriously impair your ability to succeed. This is true even if just for a day. The minutes and hours in the day are the only things we each have in common. Having to constantly invest your emotional and physical strength to work through some other person’s issues is just not a winner for you.

The reason some people achieve far more successful than others, with those same minutes and hours in the day, could be the ability to properly assess the need to participate in some other circus.

Note: No animals were harmed in the production of this piece.