Volume 2, Issue 18: Should You, Though?

Hi friends! Today I want to talk about something I have been working on that I am by no means great at. Or even good at. It is a constant struggle for me and has been for many years. It’s the idea of

Just because I can do something, doesn’t mean I should.

It is a battle I fight both personally and professionally. I volunteer myself to help with things (my time, my energy, my resources, my labor) far too much and I often do it without being asked. I am spread so thin mostly because of my own doing. My loved ones aren’t necessarily asking too much of me, it’s that I jump up and offer, even when I know my cup is empty.

There are so many things I can trace this behavior back to. My Catholic upbringing. My eagerness to help. My love of problem-solving. My desperate need to create homework for myself so that I can get karmic gold stars and cross things off a never-ending to do list. Adults volun-telling me to help with things when I was growing up with, “Oh, Suzi [my nickname] can do this,” and if I drew a boundary, then I was seen as being disagreeable. But as I’ve said before, no matter what got me here, it’s my responsibility to be better.

This kind of behavior is never sustainable. It’s a high-speed railway to burnout. If I don’t stop volunteering for things on my own, my body will definitely draw its own boundary. One of the things that has been helping me most is asking myself the question:

Will doing this fill my cup or will it drain it?

My therapist is helping too. The other day I was talking about how I was going to help a loved one find a therapist for themself and my therapist asked, “Did they ask for your help or did you jump up and offer it without being prompted?” That question has been haunting me this week.

Part of my struggle is that I offer without even thinking and then I have convinced myself that backing away from something I said I would do in order to take care of myself is somehow a blow to my integrity. Allowing myself grace is not my strong suit. I do not know why I insist on telling people they cannot pour from an empty cup without recognizing the same goes for me. 

I mean I know why. Because Black women are told that we’re supposed to be the strong ones and that we’re supposed to save everyone. Sigh.

I was chosen to be on a DEIB (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging) working group (yes, I totally volunteered for it before being chosen) and we had a meeting of 50+ people wherein the facilitator asked for volunteers to do some writing around communicating the group’s values. I’m a writer! I’ve given lectures on communication! It was hard for me to not jump up and volunteer again, especially because that small group of volunteers ended up being five white women. That is not a diverse group. “Maybe one of them is queer!” you say. I argue that does not make for a diverse group, merely a group that is inclusive of different flavors of white voices. I’ve told myself and I’m putting it here in case anyone else from a historically excluded group needs to hear it: I/You are not required to be the seasoning on every dish. It is not our responsibility to have a chair at every table if we don’t actually want to be at that table. I know that’s hard to hear. Someone always has to be the first and often the only for a while. Yes, sometimes that is you or I! But we really need to first ask ourselves, will this fill my cup or will it drain it?

Another facet of “Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should” that I am working on is around my creative work. A writer I admire had put out a call for essay submissions around a certain topic and I was thinking of writing something and submitting it; however, every time I thought about writing a piece for this opportunity, I would feel overwhelmed. I finally had to tell myself that just because there is an opportunity that I can write a piece for doesn’t mean I should if it’s not compelling to me. Writing is something I do to fill my cup, not empty it. This opportunity was not that. Capitalism has given us all a scarcity mindset. In this case, my brain had a panic of “what is that is the only writing opportunity I ever see ever again ever?” which is completely absurd.

The final facet of “Just because I can, doesn’t mean I should” that I want to mention is around taking up space, whether it be in a meeting or in the media. It’s mostly about staying in your lane. Are you adding your voice to a conversation when maybe your voice isn’t the most important voice to be heard? Should you instead be uplifting voices from historically excluded groups? Look at the essays you’re writing, or the panels you're on, or the committees or working groups you’re in. How can you stay seated, or step back, and make space for others to come forward?

I acknowledge that last part is where things get tricksy because as I said earlier, it’s also not the job of those of us from marginalized groups to be the seasoning. It is a perpetual search for balance on all fronts.

Again, I am not perfect at this. My need to be helpful is in frequent conflict with my need for rest. What I do know is that the latter will always come whether you want it or not.

That’s it for this week! You can shop any books I’ve mentioned in this newsletter at my affiliate shop, The Infophile’s Bookshop, and support independent bookstores. If you want to send me some snail mail, you can find me at P.O. Box 21481, Oakland, CA 94620-1481. If you want me to send you some happy mail, feel free to give me your address.

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