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Four Reasons Why People Overextend Themselves

November 21, 2011

Last week I was asked to join yet another committee. I told the inquiring gentleman that I would think about it for a couple of days, after which I politely declined.

“I am very cautious about becoming over-committed,” I explained, but he still seemed somewhat disappointed.

It’s happened to me before – over-doing it with outside activities – and it’s not pretty: the running around every night of the week; the burnout; being spread so thin that I’m not much good to anyone, for anything.

So I don’t care any more if I let someone down once in a while. They’ll get over it.

In fact, this has become a common occurrence lately, me saying no, and I’m getting quite used to it. With a demanding job and full family schedule already on the plate, there are only a select few extracurricular activities worthy of carving out slices of time. I serve on a couple of Boards, I do part-time editorial work at The High Calling, I love blogging (of course – but that, too, has its limits), and I participate in a couple of church programs.

That is quite a lot.

It amazes me, though, the people I observe who don’t seem to be familiar with that word, “No,” who take on every committee and board and non-profit venture that the community has to offer. I see them, these take-charge sort of folks, with their sticky hands in just about everything, juggling meetings and minutes and fundraiser extravaganzas right alongside their work and home lives.

It looks quite impressive, but I honestly don’t know how they do it.

They seem to be quite nonplussed by all this churn and activity. Who knows? Maybe they are even charged up by it. But, seriously, it just doesn’t seem healthy.

I wonder if there may be some more subtle motivators at work here.

1. The need to be liked.

Contributing your gifts and charms to a needy organization is a sure-fire way to make friends who are ever-grateful for your time and leadership skills. Saying ‘No’ is not.

2. The insatiable need for significance.

Sometimes the scope of responsibility at the workplace just isn’t enough. You need more to manage, more people to lead, more bodies to line up behind your fabulous vision. Plus, it’s flattering to be asked to participate in a high-visiblity committe, or to hear, “Hey, we were thinking that you were just the kind of talent our group needs!”  Not only do you get to name-drop your involvement with these organizations, but you get some good press out of it sometimes, too.

3.  Escaping home life

Being busy allows you to avoid your spouse and children. All of that messy intimacy and sharing of conversation and cleaning up around the house can be so much work, right? Keeping super-busy is an easy ticket out. Plus, it’s so honorable, too! It’s much easier to keep busy with committees and non-profits than to face the hard work of being present for the family.

4. Distraction from facing your inner self.

The sense of self-importance that comes from over-committing can take up most of the space inside one’s head, leaving little room for reflection or personal growth. But this is exactly how some folks prefer things.

So, if everyone is itching for a piece of you, congratulations. But don’t think for a minute that you’re fooling anyone.

Photo by Nance Marie.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. November 21, 2011 7:26 am

    Some of simply can’t say no, as if the word is not in our vocabulary.

    In a business context, there’s also the concern about not being involved in a team or committee — and having your voice ignored. But we still need to limit what we accept or we’ll be ineffective at everything.

    Good counsel, Brad.

  2. November 21, 2011 7:35 am

    Good thoughts Bradley. I (re)posted on this a couple of weeks ago ‘No’ can be such a powerfully positive and releasing word – releasing opportunities for others to serve by using their gifts and releasing us to concetrate on the things that only we can do, like being present for our families.

  3. November 21, 2011 7:50 am

    Great post, Bradley! This is SO TRUE, but so many people do not get it. If they could, I believe the quality of what they do would increase dramatically!

    I was in this crowd for many years…for several of the reasons you listed. However, when I began to stop and break down my life, trying to figure out how to be more effective and less “nuts!”, I realized it was a matter of prioritizing and allocating. I am still not perfect at it, but life is so much better now!

    I posted on this very same idea – When Should You Say No? – last week.

  4. November 21, 2011 8:28 am

    That flattery and sense of self-importance can be some heady stuff. It takes some wisdom and maturity, I think, to learn to say no. And I think it’s important, once learned, to pass that wisdom on to younger men and women, teaching them it’s okay for them to say no. Too often we twist arms, especially within the church, trying to find volunteers to fill positions. We talk people into accepting responsibilities against their better judgment, or when they’re not particularly gifted in that area, just to keep the organization humming. Saying no is actually an act of faith, one that acknowledges God doesn’t need me to keep the universe functioning smoothly. He’s perfectly capable of doing that on his own.

  5. November 21, 2011 10:51 am

    I do love to roll my sleeves up and make a difference. I truly believe that I can help a committee, a situation, a workgroup, a problem fixing team. And I’ll do that all day. I don’t like those teams where I am just filling space, filling team. It must be significant

  6. November 21, 2011 11:35 am

    “The insatiable need for significance.”

    Yep, I’m walking away from this one with some discomfort. When I put my finger on why, I’ll be sure to blame you, mkay?

    GOLLY I’ve got to get over here more often…

  7. November 21, 2011 11:40 am

    Great post Bradley, and so true!

    I experienced a woman most recently at church who was on every committee and plus outside, who it turns out was avoiding home. It was discovered she is a hoarder and was being evicted from her home, needed to clean it out and asked various people to come over and help her. I believe many people had become honest with her, telling her she needed to stop saying ‘yes’ to so much volunteer work and work on her home issues. She just disappeared. But there are so many people out there who do not get it.

    Okay I did not need to give all this info, but I do limit my volunteering. I balance what I can. I am actually glad to have quiet time and be able to breath after all those years of having a terminally ill child; owning my own businesses, other work, the rest of my family, and house duties, that never goes away 🙂

    Choosing what to volunteer for can be difficult. So many good things out there.

  8. November 21, 2011 12:34 pm

    It’s always a little disappointing when groups at church and elsewhere seem to go after the same 20% of people. I think particularly in churches, the right hand should know what the left hand is doing. I wish that there was more of a concerted effort being made to get new people involved instead of simply filling in the volunteer ranks for our specific little department. But I digress…
    I think part of the issue is, like others have mentioned, some just can’t say no. We see the value in a task and forget to take into account how crammed our schedule may be. It’s as if we just have blind faith that we can figure everything out regardless of how much we commit to.

  9. November 21, 2011 1:01 pm

    You always come up with some good things to think about. It is so easy to get caught up in new interests and then later find oneself overextended. The “I will get back to you on that” reply that you used is a very good way to help in that area of jumping in to something before actually thinking it through. And you give some good questions to ask oneself about motives. One can not always know all of the answers, but, we can try to take a good look at ourselves through the eyes of the heart.

  10. November 21, 2011 11:50 pm

    I have known people who are real over-extenders. I have observed some of them face serious physical problems, because they were too busy to take care of their own health. I found out, a very long time ago, that if you take your schedule to God in prayer, He will help you get rid of the non-essential. Also, He will give you the strength to say, “no”.

  11. Susan DiMickele permalink
    November 23, 2011 10:48 am

    I needed this today. I’m not very good at saying NO, but I’m learning. I think #1 and #2 are big factors for me — especially #2. I’m getting over the fact that not everyone likes me, but I continue to feel the need to “do more” to be significant. It’s a constant struggle.

    BTW – I just said NO to joining a Board that I really wanted to join, but it made no sense in the list of priorities. You’d be proud of me!

  12. November 30, 2011 9:40 am

    Have you seen the NOOMA videos? This one on shells reminded me so much of you’re topic –

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