Last February I read a book that changed how I think about women in leadership, and the gap between household responsibilities for men and women. It was called Drop the Ball by Tiffany Dufu, and I have written about it before.
One of the concepts that hit home for me was the idea that we sometimes get resentful of our spouses, partners or even coworkers about things that have not gotten done, even when we never made a specific request about those tasks. We all have those times. Maybe you wish your spouse would decide on the meals and grocery shop for a change. For some reason, you have always done it (maybe like me you are pickier about the foods you eat than your husband) and things get busy at work, so you do not have the energy this week to do it.
But rather than ask your husband to do it, you just sigh, feel sorry for yourself and think: “Why doesn’t HE ever make the decisions about this stuff and offer to shop?” Well, probably because you are the one that usually does it, without any prompting. You may think, “nobody has to ask ME to do this!” and sulk because you know that it saves money to shop at the grocery store instead of eating out.
When I asked my husband if he could go to the store, he willingly and cheerfully did so, and asked what was on my list. Instead of spending energy being resentful and getting annoyed about it, I could have saved myself the trouble and just asked for help, instead of assuming I had to do it. Since people have an easier time hearing your actual words than reading your mind, opening your mouth to graciously ask for help is a better option.
We all have habits and patterns in our relationships and roles which we play both at home and in the workplace. Sometimes these roles and “job descriptions” need to shift and change depending on our overall workload. When we take on a new challenge at work, or commit to something important to us, we may need to ask for help from our spouse on household tasks. This is very hard for me, I realize.
I grew up in a household where Mom stayed home until going back to work when my sister was in middle school, and I was in high school. She and my Dad had a very different division of labor than I aspired to in my life. So I sometimes forget that women are not necessarily “supposed” to grocery shop, plan menus and take responsibility for food prep at home. Indeed I know a lot of households where the opposite is true.
At work this applies when I have a task that could easily be done by a colleague and perhaps they are better at it too, but somehow it ends up on my to-do list. I realize that, if I do not ask anyone else to do it, nobody will “take it away” from me and get it done. I need to use my words, not my imagination to ask for help, and I need to be specific about what needs to be done, though not necessarily how to do the task. I do not enjoy micro-managing, so delegating the responsibility involves stepping out of the way to allow someone else to bring their own approach to the job.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength. It allows us to do what we are best at doing, without getting bogged down in a lot of details or menial tasks that may deplete our energy and time. But some of us who are still learning how to not take on too much, or who lived happily as single people, need to question our assumptions about who does what at home and at work. If we have a spouse or partner that supports our growth and development, and someone who understands that household management is a shared responsibility, we can probably negotiate these matters.
I am working on recognizing those times when I feel resentment but the real battle is going on in my own mind, rather with another person. I have a situation at work where I realize I used to take on responsibilities that are actually the job of the other manager. He has been blissfully ignorant and relying on me to do these tasks, but I now aim to be more specific with him about his responsibilities. I realize this will go against my “go along get along” attitude at work, and my concept about being a “team player” but I have enabled his blissful ignorance for too long.
As I am less tolerant now about certain things at work, given my overall dissatisfaction with the role I am in, I realize I have less to lose. So what if he gets annoyed that I am asking him to do his job! I respectfully do not care. Wow, there’s power in that.