Have you ever committed yourself to something that you probably shouldn’t have?
It could be a simple thing like agreeing to bake cookies for the office party when you hate baking. Now you’re stuck in the kitchen (which you hate), missing out on family time (or Netflix), and up past your bedtime because you put it off as long as possible (not to mention the extra trip to the grocery store).
Before too long, you find yourself resentful of the cookies, the office, the party and anybody else associated with making this activity happen. The worst part is, you know that you could have easily avoided this situation if you had simply said, “I would rather bring the beverages.”
Welcome to the uncomfortable feeling of making an inappropriate commitment! It’s not a fun place to be.
Now, when I say “inappropriate commitment” I don’t mean something illegal or immoral or dangerous, I mean it’s inappropriate because you’ve committed yourself to something that is not in alignment with the things that matter most to you.
Learning to recognize and curtail inappropriate commitments becomes crucial in government service. A bad night of baking cookies may not be such a big deal, but accepting a two-year position overseas that is not an ideal fit when your parents are ailing, for example, can become a very big deal very quickly. In this case learning how to say “No” to an inappropriate commitment is vital.
When we concede our needs and take on commitments that are not in alignment with our priorities, we end up feeling resentful and burned out. Obviously that’s not the way to bring your best self to work (or home), and it’s not the way to bring your greatest gifts into the world.
When you find that you are in danger of making an inappropriate commitment, here are five things you can do.
1. Avoid Making Inappropriate Commitments in the First Place
Get clear on what matters most to you and deliberately choose to create your life so you can support the things that are most important. Practice saying “no” lovingly. Remember, the word “no” delivered lovingly is a complete sentence. Having said that, even with our best efforts, sometimes we have previous commitments that we made before we were clear that they were inappropriate. In that case…
2. Ask to Renegotiate
When you are honoring the greatness in yourself, you can recognize when you have made an inappropriate commitment and ask to renegotiate it. It may be something as simple as approaching a supervisor and saying, “I recognize that things have shifted and this job is no longer an ideal fit for me. I will absolutely continue to fulfill my commitments as best as I can, and will you support me as we look for a position where I am better suited?”
I will tell you, the majority of supervisors are over the moon excited when their employees come to them with a conversation like this. Let’s face it: if you’re in a job that’s not a great fit for you, they already know it!
3. Continue to Fulfill Your Commitment as Best You Can
If you ask to renegotiate the commitment and the answer is “No” then you continue to fulfill that responsibility as best you can.
This one is a little bit challenging because it means that you have to be gentle with yourself. No berating yourself for making a commitment that isn’t in line with your priorities, and no beating up the office or the supervisor or the colleagues. You were the one that made the commitment, so no whining or complaining! Continue to do your best work and seek opportunities to renegotiate.
4. Get Creative
Let’s say you can’t renegotiate and trying to fulfill that inappropriate commitment as you look for opportunities to renegotiate is dragging you down. Now what? Time to get creative. Find a way to fulfill the commitment in a way that doesn’t drive you crazy. Focus on finding the part of the commitment that IS appropriate, like “Even though I hate baking, I LOVE helping people so I’m going to focus on how fulfilling this commitment helps the party organizer…
As you’re meeting this commitment, look for ways that you can use your gifts – even if it isn’t a direct fit. In the example with the cookies, perhaps you agreed to bring dessert and you decided it would be cookies. But when you step back and take a look, perhaps you can bring ice cream sandwiches instead. Dessert is covered and you’re not stuck in the kitchen!
5. Circle Back to Step One
Avoid making inappropriate commitments in the first place. Work to get even clearer on what matters to you. Specifically define your personal Evidence of Success and make decisions that will lead you closer to that evidence. (Not sure what Evidence of Success is? Check out this article I wrote for Fedsmith.) Over time, you’ll either fulfill or renegotiate the previous inappropriate commitments replacing them with ideal commitments that you can’t wait to take on.
The reason we govies get trapped into inappropriate commitments in the first place is that we’re are SO honor-bound to our commitments that we’ll kill ourselves fulfilling the inappropriate ones. So focus on the opportunity every commitment brings, even if it’s nothing more than another instance where you kept your word. Use your gifts to fulfill all your promises – and look for ways you can turn it into a winning situation for yourself.
BUT, in the future, guard your commitments carefully! Your commitments become your life. Choose them wisely.
Comment below to tell me about an inappropriate commitment you’ve made in your job or life and how you’ve renegotiated it. (Or gotten creative so a “lose” became a “win!”)