If you’re overcommitting yourself, you won’t last for long. You won’t achieve your goals, let alone honor the more important relationships in your life. Here’s how to stop.
You probably know the story of Icarus. His father Daedalus made him some cool wings so they could fly around. But they came with a warning from Daedalus, “son, these wings will let you fly. That’s really cool. Just don’t fly too high or the sun will melt the wax in your wings, and don’t fly too low or the foam from the sea will ruin your feathers.” (I paraphrased this.)
And what happened? Icarus “forgot himself”. He flew too high, the sun melted the wax in his wings, and he plunged into the sea. He drowned instantly.
Now we are all Icaruses
We fly too high too. A lot. And we crash. We lose our time. We lose our resources. And we hurt our relationships.
Because we all have these awesome wings – email, Facebook, cell phones. We can connect, we can stir up the pot. We can create opportunities to reach for the sun. So no wonder it’s so hard to fly level.
We tend to stir up relationships that cause us to fly too high or too low. We try to start bands and businesses with people we think are cool, we try to get “rock stars” and “ninjas” to join our project or team. Or sometimes we reach to some influencer to help us out.
But when we do this, we’re doing it at the expense of our existing relationships and commitments. When only have so much time and resources to give to our work and relationships.
Sure, if we give all of our time to our family, we fly too low and crash. We don’t attend to other key relationships for work and community, amongst other things.
But if we spend all of our time trying to get recognized by our peers or by other key people, we can neglect the relationships that are most dear to us. We fly too high and then we drop.
Define Your Relationships
So how do we keep from stirring up the pot and messing with our relationships? By viewing them through the filter of definition.
I believe we have three general relationships in life:
These are relationships that are for the purpose of extrinsic value – money or resources. These are usually business relationships. Relationships with clients and customers, with employers, with business partners, etc. These relationships may not always be about money – but if you take the money away, it will be very hard to maintain them.
- Be clear on what you can trade. What is the highest value you can offer someone, in exchange for extrinsic value (money or resources)?
- Do not offer something you can’t do on a professional level.
- If someone is trying to hire you – trade with you – for something other than that, it will not fit into your relationships. You simply won’t be able to serve them well. It will end up being a drain on both of you.
These are relationships that are for the purpose of intrinsic value – “higher” value. These are arguably the most important relationships we have. Starting with our spiritual relationships, our marriages, and our relationships with our children. But we can partner with others for all kinds of other causes – like social change, community-building, and more.
- Be clear on what you can partner with someone for – it has to be something that fits into your values. If it isn’t a part of your core values, it’s a distraction. (This requires a clear definition of your values.)
These are relationships that are best seen as being one-sided. It’s where we give freely to the other party, without expecting anything in return. This is best described as art. We give our art freely and generously, because wouldn’t we do it anyway, even if no one was looking?
- Your art can only be your art. You know what it is, you know what it isn’t. Don’t choose art that isn’t absolutely the art you want to give.
- If you don’t have the time and resources to give right now, then wait.
Do you think you’ll miss out on opportunities this way? Sure you will. But every time you say no to something, you say yes to something else – your existing relationships, and your goals based on them.
Spending a Year in Sleep
There is one historical statistic that shocked me and has always helped me when saying no to opportunities. The farmers of the Great Plains in the 1930s endured the worst man-made ecological disaster in history – the Dust Bowl. They worked their farms amidst intense dust storms that took crops, livestock, and eventually lives.
But tragically, here’s what they had to show for it:
Judging by any standards the world would recognize, we should have been further ahead if we could have spent the year in sleep. – Caroline Henderson (from The Dust Bowl: An Illustrated History By Ken Burns, Dayton Duncan 2012, pg. 45)
Can you imagine spending a year in bed?
But you might be running around right now – flying too high or too low, unable to get a handle on all your commitments. It might be better for you to do nothing.
Go into hibernation if you need to. Don’t stir things up.
You Will Fly High. One Day.
Icarus had clear instructions. He wanted to cash in. The experience of level flight wasn’t enough for him.
God knows that we want to fly high, He knows our deepest desires. And it’s not that He doesn’t want us to have them, He just needs us to wait.
Delayed gratification is maturity. It ensures that when you do get the thing you want, you will exhibit the proper response.
You’ll care for and nurture the relationship, you’ll be sure it bears fruit.
Is there a way you’ve flown too high by overcommitting yourself? Let me know in the comments below!