18: There’s a Limit

18: There’s a Limit

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less

Images

There’s a Limit

Being able to say “No” is a necessary ingredient in a healthy lifestyle.

~David W. Earle

A real Good Samaritan. That was me. Need a ride to the doctor? I’ll be glad to take you. Does your dog need to be walked while you’re on vacation? No problem. Would you like someone to talk to about your troubles? I’m here for you.

I thought of myself as the true definition of a friend and was more than happy to put the needs of others before my own. After all, what are friends for?

Judging by how often my phone rang, it seemed that my reputation as a ready, willing, and able helper was common knowledge among those in my circle. Relatives, co-workers, neighbors, and even casual acquaintances all seemed to have my number — literally and figuratively speaking. I didn’t mind, really, if I had to put some of my own responsibilities and needs on hold. It felt good to do good for others. Besides, it was the right thing to do. And I was okay with that until one afternoon when I received a call from an acquaintance of my dad’s.

This man I barely knew phoned to inform me that I was to chauffeur him to a medical appointment he had made for the following Tuesday. I sighed and checked my calendar. Then I told him as nicely as possible that I couldn’t help him that day. I had a morning appointment with my brother, an afternoon business meeting, and then I needed to stop at the pharmacy for a friend who was recuperating from knee surgery, followed by a stop at the supermarket to buy milk and bread for her and her children. If I was lucky, in between I might find a few minutes to wait in the drive-thru line at some fast food joint and eat lunch in my car. “No,” I told him, “I just can’t do it.” His reaction wasn’t very kind and the conversation ended with the threat of some really bad karma on my part for not helping an elderly fellow in need.

That phone call was my turning point.

I took a closer look at my calendar. I was averaging fourteen good deeds a month. That meant that almost every other day I was running somewhere for someone. Clearly, some things in my life had to change. I stepped away from the calendar, eyes finally opened, and took a closer look at myself. Dark circles shadowed my eyes. Well, I’d known for a while I didn’t feel like my usual energetic self. Instead, I felt weary and worn, and sometimes, resentful too. Really resentful. Like the time I got not one but two late-night distress calls in the same week and the time I realized I was “picking up a few groceries” for someone who could have just as easily shopped for her own provisions. Obviously, my Good Samaritan routine was wearing on me.

Yes, it was time for a change. By being overly generous with my time I was not honoring my own needs or myself. Instead, my schedule had put me on a hamster wheel where I ran circles for the benefit of others. And was it really for their benefit? I started to wonder. Or, was I actually doing those I sought to help a disservice by allowing them to become dependent upon my kindness and not allowing them to learn to care for themselves? It was time for me to change. But how?

I brought my concerns to my friend Lucille, another busy woman. With a job, a husband, three kids, two grandchildren, and an aging father who needed her, I knew she had a lot to do every day. Yet, she somehow managed to maintain balance in her life. Despite the fact that she worked full-time, her house appeared well cared for, she had time to socialize, and in most cases, got a good night’s rest — things that were lacking in my own life. How did she manage all that? I asked her.

She gave me her secret in one word: limits. You have to set limits, she told me. Don’t run every time someone calls. Instead, ask the person some key questions: Is this an emergency? Is someone else available to help you? Is this something that can wait? And, the question I knew I should have been considering all along: Is this something you could do for yourself? “Certainly,” Lucille said, “if someone is in a bind, by all means help them. But don’t become a doormat. Set limits.”

Now I consider those logical questions before jumping to another’s aid and the benefits have been great. Thanks to paring down the favors I do for others I have more energy, sleep better at night, and even gained enough free time to pursue a hobby or two. Though I was fearful that cutting back on my kindness would have been met with disapproval from my crowd, those friends, relatives, and acquaintances quickly lost their sense of entitlement and started showing some real appreciation for my help when I chose to give it. Now, sometimes, they even help me when I’m in a bind. And that, perhaps, may be the greatest benefit of all.

~Monica A. Andermann

image

More stories from our partners