Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys

I once read a popular book on relationships by John Gray, PhD.  It was titled Men are From Mars, Woman are From Venus.  The general concept that I gleaned from the pages was that men and women think differently.  When someone presents a problem, a man’s tendency is to try to solve the problem rather than responding with empathy or sympathy.  Women share their problems hoping for emotional support, rather than a problem-solving session.  The failure of the woman to appreciate the solutions offers is unsatisfying to the man, and the woman feels slighted because the man hasn’t given her the emotional response she had hoped for.  Chaos ensues.

By birth, I am a woman.  By vocation, I am a lawyer.  While I am still a woman (and happy that I am), my law school education changed how I respond to other people’s problems.  I have developed a tendency to listen, identify the problem, and offer a solution.  Sometimes I put hours of (unpaid) time into figuring out a legal solution to a problem that has been shared with me.  Imagine my shock and horror when, instead of thanking me for doing free legal research and offering a tangible solution, the person with the problem got ANGRY with me.

While it is not uncommon for lawyers to be maligned, most of us are pretty nice people.  We charge money for our time because it’s all we have to sell, but many of us provide pro bono services to indigent clients, help family members and volunteer our time for other good causes. Forget everything you learned about lawyers from reading lawyer jokes (please).

This week I had a conversation with a friend who was frustrated.  Her frustration stemmed from problems in an area that I have training and experience with.  As she shared her pain and frustration, my mental wheels started spinning.  I had solutions to those problems!  Just as I took a breath to deliver my well-thought-out plan, I heard a little voice in my head say, “Not your circus, not your monkeys.”  I swallowed my words and said nothing.  I listened.  I realized that not only did my friend probably already know the legal solutions to the problems, but she was also not the person who needed to act.  The situation was largely beyond her control.  She was telling her problem to her friend – not her lawyer.  Instead of giving in to the urge to fix the problem, I needed to offer emotional support to my friend.  She just needed to vent.

I’ve been a worrier since I was young.  If I’m not worrying about my troubles, I’ll worry about yours.  I finally understand what Mom meant when she warned me, “don’t borrow trouble.”

I posted earlier about wearing many hats.  Sometimes those many hats lead to confusion.  I am learning that when I am wearing the “friend” hat, I need to put the “lawyer” hat in the closet.  The lawyer hat tends to make me look like I’m from Mars, anyway.

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