There was a time in my life when I tried to do everything.
If someone asked a favor. Or if someone had an odd job. Or maybe someone thought I’d be good for a task. If someone asked, I complied. I thought I had to say “yes.”
I thought saying yes to everything was how adults worked.
Maybe I did this because of my time in high school, the one stretch of time when we have the opportunity and are encouraged to do as much as possible.
Whenever someone asked me to do something, I had even trained myself to think of the request, not as a task or a burden, but an opportunity.
I felt I had to do this, not just to do things for people, but to be things for people. I thought I had to be the guy who always showed up, always pitched in, always carried the load. If I did that long enough, then people would appreciate me, would respect me, even love me.
The problem with those “opportunities” is that most of them do not lead anywhere. They do not get you ahead. The people asking are usually not really thinking about your time or talents. When they say you’d be “good” for a task, what they really mean is that you could be useful to help them get a task off of their plate. And helping people with their little tasks never bought me appreciation, respect or love.
These days, I have become well practiced at a new discipline of saying no.
And it’s such a relief.
I don’t always show up. I don’t always help out. I don’t help with things that are not in my wheelhouse.
I have started to see “opportunities” for what they are. I now see the time-wasters and dead-ends. And that’s a good thing.
It’s a good thing because I can’t be everything to everyone. I have to choose to be someone for the people who are really counting on me.
So I can’t take care of some menial task this week. I have to be a teacher today.
No, I’m sorry I can’t make it to your little event. I have to be a husband.
Sorry, I can’t take care of that for you. I have to be a dad tonight.
That is plenty. And I think we might all be a lot happier if we structured our lives more in that way. Taking fewer “opportunities” from the people on the periphery of our lives, and investing more in the people who need us most.