Stutzman: Not my circus, not my monkeys

Every time I find myself getting entangled in someone else’s business or drama-filled event I tell myself, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.”

I first discovered this saying on a friend’s Facebook post. It was one of those quote pictures with a creative background and the words in big blocky text front and center. Not my circus, not my monkeys. At the bottom it was attributed as a Polish proverb. Being part Polish myself I felt like I should probably take special note of the saying.

At first I just laughed. It was funny. I pictured a bunch of monkeys running around in little sparkly performer hats and vests with someone chasing after them as they knocked over popcorn stands and hopped across the backs of elephants; clowns tripping and cotton candy getting stuck to acrobats along the way. What an exacerbating job it must be to try and wrangle circus monkeys. Thank goodness my career isn’t like that.

As the weeks advanced I found myself repeating this saying over and over again. Like many, I get pulled in a lot of different directions. Having a problem-solving type of personality I want to try and help everyone even if it doesn’t pertain to the work I’m responsible for.

However, sometimes people don’t want help or the situation is so outrageous and beyond the realm of your responsibility that you probably shouldn’t get involved. And some people are just notorious for creating drama where none needs to exist.

I used to work with a woman who repeatedly said, “If we all paid more attention to our own responsibilities and stopped trying to tell everyone else how to do their job the world would be a lot better off.” How true this is.

Sometimes we inject ourselves into a conversation or a situation because we feel like we need to bring clarity to those involved. Sometimes we’re asked to become involved in a project that is surrounded by foreboding yellow caution tape. Sometimes we mean well and later find out nobody was listening to our assured voice of reason anyway and we are only left more frustrated than before.

These are all good examples of appropriate times to say; “Not my circus, not my monkeys,” and politely excuse ourselves from involvement. Note of caution: I wouldn’t say it out loud. I don’t know if people would understand or appreciate being called a monkey even though you may be referring more to the idea of a situation than people.

Of course, sometimes we are the ones creating the chaos. Every once in a while it’s good to take a step back and try to look at the situation from an outsider’s perspective or ask a trusted friend for advice. Am I leading this three-ring circus of monkey destruction? Or is it me who is wearing the sparkly performer hat and vest running around knocking over popcorn stands? Maybe I’m not creating the drama but I’m standing too close and am guilty by association and now have cotton candy stuck in my hair.

I like this saying so much and feel it is such a good reminder for me to stay focused on my own responsibilities that I printed it out and taped it to the wall of my office. It stares me in the face every day. I don’t need to fix everyone else’s problems. I don’t always need to get involved. I don’t need to add to the drama and neither do you.

It’s OK to take a step back. Not your circus, not your monkeys.

Mary Beth Stutzman’s Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.