The Failure Files: When Self-Sacrifice Goes Too Far

Too much self-sacrifice ends in burnout from

Digging deep into our failures is an exercise in discomfort. As mentioned in my first entry for The Failure Files, to learn from our failures requires us to deeply examine them in order to learn from them. The more I dig, the more uncomfortable I become. This week I explore self-sacrifice.

I recently found a note from 1997 in which I outline several steps to become a better person. Perhaps it was Benjamin Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues, written in 1726, that inspired me to write my own version. Twenty years later, however, my revision demanded excessive self-sacrifice and limitations. None of which would be healthy for anyone.

In my youth, I liked being the one people looked to for help and solutions when life was in turmoil. I could feel others’ stress and wanted to avoid it. As a result, I helped however, whenever I could. When I didn’t, for whatever reason, those offended by my decline to help called me selfish. Avoiding that label became a weakness. The result: I was taken advantage of. Repeatedly.

Too Much Self-Sacrifice

Failure #1: Spreading myself too thin/too much volunteering. For a long stretch of time, I was volunteering for 9 causes. Only one was fun, the rest were guilt-induced by other people or entities. Every time a request came my way, I responded. Because of my good girl status and discomfort around negative vibes, I didn’t want to rock the boat. Unfortunately, the cost benefit analysis was too high. My time, energy, and well-being suffered.

Recovery: Limit volunteering. Avoid guilt or peer pressure.

I very rarely volunteer and when I do, it is only after serious self-examination and availability. I never give a response right away and let myself and the person requesting my time a day or two to thoroughly examine the situation. Just because I was asked on the spot doesn’t mean I’m the ideal person for the task. It also does not require an immediate response. If there was pressure to provide an immediate answer, my answer would be no. It became very similar to dealing with annoying telemarketers.

Lessons Learned

  • Examine the task in question.
  • Ask yourself if this is something you truly believe in.
  • Ask yourself if this will enrich your life or stress you out.
  • Stand up for yourself.
  • Let go of guilt.
  • Ignore peer pressure. You are no longer in high school.

You are entering a phase in life where you have freedom to create the life you want. Use this opportunity to make everything you do valuable and meaningful to who you are and your pursuits. Any activity you pursue must enrich YOUR life, not drain or guilt you.

Keep in mind, not everything will advance you as a person or a professional. When it comes to professional activities, be cautious that it doesn’t drain your energy budget as well as your financial budget.

What failure makes you cringe? What growth has occurred from those experiences?


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