Jilly glanced at her reflected self.
The mirror took in her corporate “uniform” – navy pencil skirt with matching jacket, crisp white blouse, nude stockings and killer heels. Jilly added a pop of colour on her finger – a discreet ruby nestled in a white gold setting. It was the only allowance she made to the wild underside of her personality.
“Buttoned-down girl” she called herself. And “buttoned-down girl” had served her well. Got her through the dark days with Carl and the years after she left him. “Buttoned-down girl” had been her survival mode and Jilly still found her useful in her role in corporate business, where she had to mix it with the boys in the sandpit. Mix it in a world where she did not set the rules, where she had slowly learnt what her male counterparts knew without being told. The boys made the rules of the sandpit and she had to learn how to play the game their way.
Playing by the rules
Jilly played well in the corporate sandpit. She knew enough of the rules to have made her way to the top of her corporation. Jilly was respected, even liked by most of her staff and peers. She knew how to pull a team together and get the best out them.
But Jilly was tired of always playing by someone else’s rules. Jilly knew that the rules she played by did not allow her to fully tap into the power and possibility that lurked and bubbled just beneath the surface. She was frustrated that she could not set some new rules, play the corporate game in a slightly different way. Achieve the same ends but get there differently.
And she was tired of taking responsibility for everyone else’s stuff. Jilly knew that she took responsibility for things that were way outside her scope. And because Jilly did this, more responsibility was given to her – and she was up to the challenge. But Jilly was tired of it all. She wanted to shift the boundaries a bit. Jilly didn’t want to continue taking responsibility for the things that were really someone else’s – like she had with Carl.
It had been her own fault, partly. As the eldest in her family, responsibility came easily to Jilly. She played her big sister role well. And when she and Carl had married, Jilly had enjoyed taking care of him. That “taking care” morphed bit by bit into taking responsibility for him – responsibility for his happiness, responsibility for his comfort, responsibility for the finances in the home, and eventually responsibility for the children. It wasn’t that Carl didn’t love Jilly or his kids- he did. It was just that Carl was pretty self-focused and loved to get his own way, which he did in a very quiet, very manipulative manner.
Jilly accepted it as part and parcel of their relationship. It took her years of being less-than-happy, of trying a variety of marriage counsellors and self-development books before Jilly realised that she just couldn’t take the putdowns, the subtle barbs and the unexpressed anger any more. And so, she left. It took Jilly quite a few years to understand that what she’d experienced in her relationship with Carl was a form of emotional abuse, and it took her even longer to be able to own that she – an intelligent articulate educated woman – was a victim of domestic abuse.
And no-one in her workplace knew. Jilly was successful, powerful even. She was caring and empathetic. But Jilly was tired of still playing out the responsible-for-others role. Jilly knew that she only needed to be responsible for the things, the areas, that were hers directly, but years of taking responsibility for others was a habit that was hard to overcome.
Sound like you? Jilly was me.
And I still struggle from time to time with taking responsibility for things unnecessarily. But I’m learning. And I’m aware of my default position of responsibility and catch myself before I take on what is not mine to carry. I’ve identified the areas that keep me anchored to past ways of behaving and I’m moving ahead with those things that allow me to set sail.
Find your balance
If you’d like to find out more about what’s anchoring you – and what can help you set sail – I have a free PDF of my Anchors and Sails. Just leave your details below and it will wing its way to your inbox (or maybe even spam file, so check there too!).
The past can be a treasure trove to tap into, if you know how. You can be powered by your past!