Obligation Overload

Obligation Overload

Obligation - something that you must do (social, legal, moral) because of a law, rule, promise, contract, etc.

While obligation(s) are inherent in our society, there is no doubt that “obligation” has grossly pushed outside the boundaries of human mental, physical, and emotional capacities.  

Truth be told - It would appear that the boundaries have been removed altogether, all in the name of productivity and accomplishment.  But, what is that costing us?  What price are we paying?

Without boundaries, the obligations have no stopping point.  It takes no time at all to fill your day with dozens of obligations – obligations that, for many, end up unfulfilled.  And what happens next? Do the obligations, simply go away?  No.  They are routinely carried over to the next day where they are added to another new set of tasks to do.  

For most, every new day is instantly greeted with a litany of “must-do’s”, and it doesn't take long before we experience the damaging effects of unchecked and unmanaged obligations.  

We simply burn out. There is no more wax to burn on our mental, physical, and emotional candles.  At this point – What does life look like?  What does life feel like?

Why Is It So Hard To Say No?

For most of us, we end up falling into a life of “survival” and before we know it, we're not laughing anymore, we’re not socializing anymore, we’re not discovering new places and things anymore, and quite frankly – we’re just not happy anymore.  

Why?  Because of too many obligations and little to no boundaries.  So, what is it that whispers into our ears that says: “I must say yes” -  “I cannot say no to this or that – or to him or her”?  What is it that keeps telling us that we must do more and more and more – even though we know we cannot? 

I think the most popular answers to these questions are: “I’m afraid I will look weak or incapable”  - “I’m afraid I’ll be fired (lose my job or my position)” or perhaps, even worse: “I won’t be liked, accepted, or loved” – which – if the latter is the case, that generates a whole other series of questions, but we’ll save that for another blog.  

Regardless, there is no good answer.  No answer will ever justify the mental, physical, and emotional abuse – yes, I said: abuse – that you will endure.  And worst of all – it’s self-inflicted.  I know that may not be what you want to hear, but it’s true.  BUT – it doesn’t have to be this way or stay this way!

I see an obligation in two ways: There is Structural obligation and Relational obligation.

Structural is the obligations we take on in our day-to-day living resembling:  tasks, deadlines, meetings, quotas, timelines, etc.  

Relational is commitments, promises, supporting, teaching, learning, coaching, etc., and when left unchecked, our life can quickly become a whirlwind of endless obligations that often yield less than desirable results leaving us feeling depleted and unaccomplished – the exact opposite of what we hoped for.

So how do we break this cycle?  How do we maximize our productivity and accomplishments, both structurally and relationally?  How do we satisfy our boss, our family, our friends, our spouse, and ourselves?  Answer: You can’t – at least not all at once.  But, The Great American Lie is: You can!  (But, indeed, you cannot!)

Healthy Boundaries Are Necessary

Boundaries must be set.  Priorities must be made.  Then – you will discover joy through your time, effort, commitment, and dedication – but only when boundaries and priorities are put in place.  Obligations can be your pathway to great successes, accomplishments, and joys in your life.  

As a matter of fact, obligations are necessary for such things.  But, obligations left unchecked and out of control will ultimately destroy the very things you are working so hard to accomplish.  Yes, running a marathon is a great undertaking.  However, falling dead at the finish line – though you completed it – robs you of the joy and all of the hard work and dedication you put into accomplishing such a great task.  

In other words – (metaphorically or literally) – if we die in the name of productivity or accomplishment – if we forfeit joy and happiness – if we make ourselves a human-wasteland, depleted of the very essence of life… then what’s the point?  Yet for many – that’s exactly what we have become.  Maybe not intentionally or on-purpose… but nevertheless.

Let me close with this:  Yes and No are very powerful words, and when used properly, they can produce very powerful results in your life. I encourage you to learn how to set boundaries - establish priorities - optimize obligations - and live your best life!
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