Don't let people make their problems your problem. It sounds so simple, but it's so hard to actually do. I'm a natural people-pleaser, and when someone else has a problem, my first response is always, "Oh, my gosh, I need to solve this. I need to leap in and do something. Anything! What can I do or say to make this better?" Sometimes I do this before the other person has even asked me for help, or advice, or anything at all beyond a listening ear.
My friend Diane is one of those people who is good at pointing out, in a very kind and thoughtful way, when I'm doing self-destructive things like taking on other people's problems. She sends me encouraging books and we have deep discussions where I wail at her about something that's gone wrong in my life, or someone who's upset me, and she helps me to unpack the situation and analyse how I've contributed to it, and how I can learn from it. She asks me to sit with uncomfortable thoughts and to figure out why I'm feeling icky. She flags when I'm overreacting and then she helps me to figure out why I'm responding this way. She's saving me thousands of dollars in therapy bills. I should probably buy her some donuts, because she's awesome.
And Diane's lessons are starting to stick. Tonight another friend messaged me on social media, telling me how her daughter's teacher is accusing her of plagiarising a writing assignment. Her daughter is a gifted writer with a wonderful imagination, and when I read the piece she's been accused of plagiarising, I was furious, because it's so original and compelling. Two seconds later I was telling my friend what to tell that so-and-so of a teacher, and offering to come into the school and defend her daughter, and all kinds of other things which were Not. My. Place. To. Say.
And then I caught myself. I was making her problem my problem. I thought I had good intentions, but what was I doing? What need was I fulfilling for myself, when it wasn't my issue that needed solving? So I backed off, and told my friend I was sorry for taking over, and said that I'd be happy to support her in whatever she wanted to do, if she wanted me.
I can't please everyone, and it's not actually my job to do that anyway. My job is to figure out my own issues and problems. Don't we all have enough of those without taking on other people's? Like most of my life lessons, this is going to be a hard one for me to learn. But I'm trying. When a problem arises and it doesn't belong to me, I'm going to try to remember that neon sign pictured up there at the top of this post: Nope. Not my problem.
Editor, Tots to Teens