How to Stop Being Indispensable
Are you busy being everybody's somebody? Never dropping the requests and demands from a friend, colleague or partner but all too willing to let your own needs fall by the wayside? Do you feel that if you don't do it, everything else will fall apart at the seams and a disaster will occur? If this sounds like you, you may have a bad case of indispensable"it is" and it's time to get real. Here is what to do.
Learn that nobody is indispensable.A harsh fact of life to learn but a real one. Every person is in a replaceable situation when they base their value on what theydorather than on who theyare. Even a mother who does everything for her child is replaceable if the child marries or finds someone else to "do it all" (although certainly she's not replaceable as a loving person who matters). Your worth needs to be based on valuing yourself, not on creating value by doing too much for others.
- Learn your self worth. A common habit for many people is to define themselves by what they do in life (whether it be a paid or unpaid job, or a role) rather than by valuing oneself as a whole. As a result, when someone suggests that you're not needed to tally the accounts this month or you're not needed to babysit the children, it can be a big ego hit rather than viewing it as an opportunity to be doing something else equally valuable and useful.
- Self worth is not something you can glean from a book, although reading about how other people have found their pathway of self-fulfillment in life can help to guide your own ideas. It is important to spend time thinking about your purpose, values, and talents now and then, to ensure you're leading a fulfilling life.
- One of the most important ways to develop self worth is to respect yourself. This means not putting yourself down and learning to assert yourself when you feel that your boundaries have been crossed or ignored.
- Indispensability can be a sign of wanting to be in control or to be viewed as "the" expert; it can also signal the extent of your comfort zone. This kind of controlling or complacent approach is likely to lead to closed-mindedness about new ways of doing things. Given that things are always changing, this approach can cause you to feel threatened when new people and ideas arrive, as well as leaving you feeling insecure. Keep in mind that expertise is a shared experience and that learning continues to be essential, even for the highly specialized expert. If you worry about losing face when you admit that you don't know all or that you might not be the right person for the task, it's time to ease up and accept that you can't do it all.
Question why you're always being asked.When somebody asks you to do something many times in a row, question why they chose you. If you get an answer like "because you always do it", or "because you are the only person I know who ever gets work finished around here", or "because you are here", then you know you're well on the way to being used, rather than being viewed as indispensable.
If you're worried that you're being taken for granted, look for reasons like "because your creative vision won us the account last time" before saying yes. And even when you do agree, always remember that it is appropriate to ask for advice, help, and delegation authority, and not just to assume you're "it" for everything.
Think about the times you've been unceremoniously left out or dropped from activities or events, or overlooked for a job or role.This is an exercise in helping you to realize that you're not so indispensable after all. Even more importantly, it's about seeing the flipside to your own sense of indispensability. Principally, be aware that other people feel fine inserting themselves into "your" role or job where they find it appropriate to do so. Seen from this perspective, it might help you to realize that indispensability is often a convenient concept for you to adopt when you wish to hold onto something all for yourself but very inconvenient when someone else adopts it and prevents you from taking on the opportunities they're hogging.
To escape this way of thinking, learn to take on new roles or tasks that have the potential to expand your own abilities and horizons, without feeling as if you're spoiling another person's indispensability. Provided you're relying on doing what you're best at and approaching it in a team oriented way, you're not taking away anything from another person, just as they don't feel they're taking away anything from you when they seize the opportunities.
Realize what you're up against.One of the modern day paradoxes is how a work system that proves time and again how dispensable we are when it comes to layoffs and demoting also drives us to try to be as indispensable as possible to the workplace. Unfortunately, this attempt at seeming indispensability results in placing all your eggs into the one basket of the company you work for, making things very risky for you when the times get tough and the company axes people. All those long hours, extra miles, and going without at work can actually weaken your position if you didn't allow time to be a well-rounded, balanced person with interests and contacts outside of the firm, things that can act as a safety net when your job does go wrong.
- Be very careful about making yourself "indispensable" to a disinterested corporation; by all means be responsible, engaged, and useful as an employee but do not rely on always being loved by the job. Knowing that you are potentially dispensable allows you to continuously cultivate the back-ups you need to ensure a fulfilled, and less worry-ridden life.
- At work, make boundaries clear, such as limiting time available for meetings, taking days off, telecommuting, taking vacation periods, etc. If you're prone to giving up vacations or attending one meeting too many because you feel indispensable, you won't be the most refreshed, creative, or enthusiastic employee on board.
- Stop fearing the idea of restarting your career. A new career gives you the opportunity to have "beginner's mind". While scary, changing careers completely can shake up a stuck and fearful mindset that has you tethered to your current workplace. With a whole lot of new things to learn and do, you won't have the chance to feel indispensable or complacent!
Learn to say no.If you don't, you could end up saying yes to more than you're able to handle and you risk doing a mediocre job of may things, rather than a very good job of a few things. Be selective and learn polite but firm ways of saying no, such as: "I can't today, sorry"; "I'd love to but I'm busy for the next month."; "Thanks for asking but that's not in my area of expertise and I have to get the kids back home by 5 each day anyway."
- Check your stress levels. If they're high, it's quite possible that some element of feeling indispensable is involved. You may be doing everything for everyone and not giving yourself the time of day, something that is bound to increase stress and tension in your life. Stress levels will reduce markedly when you minimize your sense of indispensability and become selective about what you will and won't do for other people.
- Slow down! Learn patience and accept that focusing on a few things and doing them well is better than spreading yourself too thin to prove to everyone that you're there for them.
Learn to delegate.This skill is often overlooked by those who feel indispensable because there is a fear of someone else doing what you perceive as your job, role, or task. Goodness, they might even be better at it than you! When you feel this way, an easy question to ask yourself is this: What is the worst that could happen? It could be that they're better at doing something than you but is that really a worry? If it's true, you're freed up to pursue something you're really good at because in all likelihood, you've delegated something you didn't have the time for or interest in doing. Delegation also works to put tasks back with the person who is best able to deal with them; this is especially important where someone raises issues about something that they have clearly spotted and seem to know what to do about it. Use delegation to permit them to become involved more deeply in finding the solutions to the issues rather than having you on the back foot being defensive or overloaded.
Learn to distinguish between valuable and indispensable.A valuable person is one whose skills and accomplishments are highly sought after, well rewarded, and often praised; such a person is usually one who has the ability to prioritize requests and work at a pace that suits them. An indispensable person is someone who is always there, dependable, reliable at the drop of a hat but is not necessarily the one who gets the trophy, or gets noticed for the right reasons. Indispensability is often equated with being a doormat; the more you feel indispensable, the more you are vulnerable to having everyone wipe their feet on you as they load the tasks on to you without genuinely recognizing your true talents and worth.
Put balance back into your life.Along with learning to say no and standing up for your needs, act on those needs. Start pampering yourself and doing the things you'd rather have been doing while you've been too busy being indispensable. Start making it clear to others where your real talents lie and respond with alacrity only where those talents are being nurtured and fulfilled. Sometimes, it requires a complete break from whatever you've been doing so that you can gain perspective and return as a refreshed person ready to tackle things differently; it's worth it to lead the rest of your life with realized self-worth.
- If your family is the source of your feeling indispensable, this can be the hardest bind of all because of the emotional attachments involved. Seek outside help to clarify the situation if needed but certainly do start to point out every family member's personal responsibilities rather than shouldering it all. Sometimes it's a case of talking about what everyone has simply been assuming.
- Tell the teacher that you're not the only one in the class who can be relied on to clean out the fish aquarium. You be in the position of being taken for granted because you let them and a little talk can help to enlighten them on seeing that you're being relied on too often. Few people like being placed in the position of having this pointed out, and will remedy it quickly.
- Have a discussion with the person or group making you feel indispensable. If the boss' expectations are unrealistic or the volunteer organization is relying too much on your altruism, it may be time to ask for changes. Tell the boss or volunteering organization that you have needs as much as those you're offering or volunteering to help.
- Tell your boss politely that your performance is not optimal when you're still at the desk at 10pm at night when you've been in since 8am. Get your work done by 5pm and leave promptly. If it cannot be done on time, it's either too much work or you might need to assess how you're using the time during the day. If it's the sort of job where such hours are considered the norm, unless it's really thrilling you, look for a new career.
- Note that few skills are indispensable, especially when you don't click with the person in a position to fire, leave, or cease communicating with you. Many people would prefer to work, live, or play with someone they like and get along with even if that person isn't optimal in skills or tasks over someone who is brilliant at the role or job but is a total hard case to get along with. Keep in mind that just because you're brilliant doesn't mean you're bearable! Spend more time brushing up on the socializing skills if you want greater sticking power.
Video: Seth Godin explains how to be INDISPENSABLE
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