Knowing When to Step Away from an “Obligation”

by on September 25, 2013

movingThe word “obligation” as defined in the dictionary is a course someone is required to take whether legal or moral. For example, public officials have obligations to fulfill when they take an oath of office. Sometimes in a traditional sense obligations come to light if for example one is following the principles of a given religion and it has obligations in which its followers partake. Then there are “social obligations” which one takes on when they assume a position of responsibility say in a club or an organization where they fulfill a certain role, whether they are paid for their time and effort or it is strictly on a volunteer basis.

I tend to be a person who is giving of my time. The organizations with which I am involved generally find out quickly that I’m a person that will take on responsibility or positions of leadership. Yet, I have come to the realization that I must be cautious as to how I commit my time and energy. When we are involved in activities which we enjoy and where there is a spirit of cooperation among all those involved, it can be very uplifting. On the other hand, when that responsibility becomes a part of our regular schedule and we begin to dread it being so, it is a signal that perhaps it is time for reevaluation.

What is leading to that feeling of uneasiness that you are feeling about your responsibility to that organization? In my case, I found several things that were coming to light for me. In one instance I had agreed to take on a role with which I felt very comfortable, (taking on meeting minutes and publishing them before the next meeting). However, after a change in leadership, the role expanded to include not only the minute taking but being asked to be involved in decision making on vendors for our entire association’s property. While I certainly had a stake in the process as did the other association members, it was something for which I felt unqualified. There was also uneasiness about being one to recommend how everyone’s money would be spent on projects. Ultimately, when annual elections came up I asked to not be considered for the position again. I was clear as to why I wanted to move on. A compromise was struck. I was asked if I would continue taking and publishing the meeting minutes, (a task I do without effort and which is natural to me), if someone else would take on the responsibility of being involved in the decisions on property expenditures. When that decision was reached, it both provided me a sense of relief, and at the same time reenergized me. Along the way, I learned a valuable lesson at this point of my life. I don’t mind making decisions that impact me or my immediate family in terms of how money is spent. However, I don’t want to be in roles such as that for the organizations with which I am involved. It is something with which I am just not comfortable.

While it is not always easy to move on from a responsibility that begins to weigh on you as an obligation, here are some things to consider. Are you continuing to do the role because you are more concerned with what others may think if you move on, than you are for you own well being? Are you doing the role because you feel that no one else will do it if you don’t, so therefore the organization will suffer? If that feeling persists, would the organization truly not move forward? What are the consequences? Perhaps it is a signal that the need for the role or organization has outlived its usefulness. Most of all, what about the responsibility to yourself and your well being? Only you ultimately can make the decisions that allow you to live your life to its highest level of energy and enjoyment. And, if moving on from the responsibility (which has grown into an energy draining “obligation”) is the way to do so, it is something to which you need to give consideration.

Moving on may take time. It does not mean that you will not take on other responsibilities, (I for example am about to take on the Presidency of a networking organization to which I belong, while at the same time moving on from a professional association which I have served for the last four years). When you feel that energy drain, examine what is happening. If you can’t reframe in your mind how to look at your responsibilities and make them a source of positive emotions, then moving on to new experiences that bring you those type of emotions may be the appropriate choice.

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