Ever feel like the world is chock full of problems? There’s a problem here, a problem there, and every problem screams for a solution. Ever consider how your life change if you knew, in your very marrow, that you are not responsible for fixing every problem in the world?
An emotional sponge takes on problems like a city bus takes on passengers — and ends up feeling overloaded. Plenty of these good folk become my clients because they just can’t cope with their burdens.
You know the type. They’re the resilient, strong person who has faced plenty of adversity and has developed a sense that there’s nothing they can’t solve. Their shoulders are broad, and they can carry a huge load. So they keep taking on one tangled situation after another. They carry their kid’s problems, their co-worker’s problems, their mother’s problems, their neighbor’s problems and the problems of the woman in front of them in the checkout line. Her biggest complaint? Never enough time.
The emotional sponge can also be the person who defines himself by a willingness to “help”. They want to lend a hand, pitch in, offer support. As a result, they say yes to everything. They organize every charity drive, political leafletting effort and recycling program in a hundred mile radius. And they’re frazzled.
One more type of emotional sponge — the person who’s so uncertain about her own feelings so she takes on the emotions of those around her. If everyone else is worried about the price of tea in China, she adopts that worry as her own. Like a pinball, she bounces from feeling to feeling, and ends up drained and exhausted.
I was blessed to have a son who had no interest in tying his own shoes — especially if I was limitlessly willing to get down on my knees and tie them for him. One day I realized that if he didn’t learn to tie his shoes himself I might have to visit his college campus daily (not in my plan for 2012, honestly). When I stopped solving his problem for him, he learned to tie his shoes.
And so it is. Maybe we solve other people’s problems because it makes us feel useful, or needed, or — maybe we can admit this — slightly superior. Regardless, when you take on the problems of others you prevent them from learning the skills to prioritize and solve their own problems.
Your “help” may actually make the problem persist.
Becoming real — being comfortable in your own skin with who you are — absolutely requires coming to terms with the idea that you are not responsible for fixing every problem in the world.
In fact, not every problem can be solved. (Death is permanent, for instance.)
Not every problem should be solved. (Because time alone may resolve it.)
And not every problem is really a problem. (We just make it so to satisfy our own needs.)
If you plant a seed in dirt, and water it, you don’t know whether it’s growing until a sprout shoots up. If you’re worried about its progress and dig up the seed, you’ll kill the plant.
The best course of action is to wait. Leave it alone. And trust.
Which is exactly what you do when you step back from the responsibility for fixing every problem. Wait. Watch. Trust.
And, chances are, when you stop solving the problems of the world, you’ll have the time you need to focus on the problems that really matter — your own.