I’m a committed blogger. I’ve been writing a weekly post for almost three years now, a streak that I’m quite proud of. I publish on my primary site, WordPress, early each Sunday morning, using their scheduling feature. My posts on LinkedIn are published sometime Sunday morning as that needs to be done manually. This week, something was different. No topics were popping to mind for me, and I didn’t seem to have the same drive to write. At first this was something I was curious about, but as Saturday rolled around and nothing had yet found its way from mind to fingers. I started to notice that I was feeling some stress and angst about breaking my streak.
Those feelings triggered a lot of thinking, which turned into a topic just when I needed one, but also at a time that guaranteed me that I would not publish at my normal time. In some ways I kept my streak alive, in other ways I broke it.
What comes to mind as I think about this experience is whether, earlier in the week, I was acting out of a sense of obligation to publish or a desire to express myself authentically when I had something to contribute. I came to understand that both were acting on me at the same time, like two sides of the same coin.
Here are three coins I had a look at:
- I should do this. The words “should, need and must” just scream of obligation. As the weekend approached and I hadn’t made a move to write, they were screaming at me in my head. Hints of laziness, inadequacy, selfishness, etc. were making me want to force myself to write. These types of thoughts are likely not unfamiliar, as many of us have become accustomed to this inner board of directors or critics that demand we behave in certain ways, but may leave a tinge of resentment.
I want to do this. When we feel pushed by anyone, including ourselves we may push back. When I did that and resisted that which was compelling me to write, I noticed another feeling lurking underneath – I want to write, I like to write. There was a subtle tone of asking for some flexibility regarding this rule I set for myself of needing to publish early Sunday morning. I liked this thought of being kind to myself, and took this as what I needed to learn from this challenge.
- Others expect me to do this. The inner critics were at work again telling me how I was letting others down. While I know that there are a number of people who read my posts regularly and may have noticed that nothing appeared this morning, I doubt that anyone actually felt that I let them down. Doing what is expected of us is a strong driver, to the point that we will make up stories about it. It was important for me to me to acknowledge these false expectations and focus instead on my intentions with each post I write.
Others appreciate receiving value. While I love to write, as mentioned above, the real intention for me with blogging is to create a conversation about topics that are important to me. In order to do that I need to create something of value for others, and when I do so it is appreciated. In other words, be less concerned about schedule and commitment, and more concerned about getting it right.
- I need to be on time. It’s always been something that has been drilled into me all my life. If you make a commitment, you keep it. I came to realize that I felt posting weekly was a commitment, a commitment to myself. It was quite a strong force, to the point that a part of me seemed to be willing to compromise quality in order to keep that commitment. Thank goodness that sat poorly with me, and manifested in inaction until this topic came to me.
I need to make a contribution. The sum of my discovery has allowed me to let go of my sense of obligation to a schedule and know that what is important is to try to have something meaningful to say. When the desire is there and the focus is on adding value, it adds up to making a contribution and obligation fades away.
After this examination I ended up feeling aligned internally, even though I didn’t meet my self imposed time commitment. The alignment comes back to my original desires for my blog, which was to express myself in writing, and promote the topic of living and leading essentially in a way that engages conversation. My sense is that my intention to publish weekly will remain, but my new understanding that content trumps schedule will provide a feeling of contentment with my work.
Obviously such an approach is easier to apply in our personal activities than in our work role. But perhaps by using these “coins” to sort through why certain work items languish on our plates. If we can identify whether we don’t want to do something, whether we feel the weight of expected production or if there are time pressures creating tension we have the beginnings of insight that help us reset how we are approaching the assignment, focusing on the contribution we so much want to make..
Leaders can also use this approach to design assignments that are more fulfilling to our team members. We work with them to know what work they like, we recognize them for the positive impact they leave on others and the unique contribution they make to the goals of the organization. Leaders have their own deliverables they are responsible for and thus are subject to these same demands, so knowing our team members well enough such that when work plans are laid out, we attempt to optimize the internal alignment for each of them involved in any given task.
Deadlines are a fact of life in business, but we can help our team by either providing flexibility to allow for full contribution or coaching to help them reset priorities to ensure that they have the time for that same full contribution without missing a deadline. The end objective being to ensure that we or our team members have internal alignment with what we want to do, that we contribute, and that contribution is valued.
5 thoughts on “Fulfilling Obligations While Fulfilling Oneself”
As one of your regular readers I did check back several times to see if your blog was posted yesterday — and not finding one, I wondered, what’s up? Was there another computer glitch and you hadn’t noticed it hadn’t posted or, were you taking a break? Away? Busy? 🙂
I love how you reframe obligation into positive choice for the benefit/value of…
And I’m glad you posted! You were missed! 🙂
Thanks for being there Louise! I’m glad to have discovered that, for me at least, obligation is a seed of dissatisfaction.
Ian, I appreciate the openness of the process you went through regarding this topic. Yes, your faithful readers are always wanting to hear your thoughts and ideas but we also understand that your life is in transition right now. Your mind is filled with many new possibilities (including the should’s, and could’s) and your heart is racing to keep up.
We understand that you are sharing your passion and love of leadership, interpersonal, and personal topics with us…..it’s okay to be late and even miss a weekly post. We’ll still be here.
Thanks for the support Chris. The interesting part for me was understanding that the “should” of posting weekly was starting to overshadow the joy I get from writing. It is the joy that will ultimately maintain the meaning of the work, and it was good to find that and get back to it.
As a newly retired business manager, I am finding it exhilarating to FINALLY be able to drop the red voices in my head. I love your turnaround with the green. Great ideas to apply instead.