O is for Obligation

One evening as I was laying in bed, preparing for a restful night of slumber, a voice from inside my head said: "I want to live my own life?" I was shocked with this outburst as I am one of the most independent individuals I know; I live a thousand miles away from my husband, on a secluded island off the coast of Washington; I work independently and live happily in my very solitary existence. What more is required for me to live my own life?

I realized later, that though I live and work alone I carry many people to whom I feel obligated and responsible. They are in my memory as unresolved disappointments that have me burdened, exhausted and keep me from fully taking flight in the way that I imagine. They are the ones that continually remind me of all of those things I should have done but didn’t because, well, I took the road less traveled. What becomes clear is that until I resolve my relationship to my belief about obligations I’ll never truly be living my own life.

All of us carry a tremendous burden with all sorts of obligations and we don’t even know it. Or, we carry them thinking we are obligated to carry these obligations. I mean, where would we be if each of us let go of everything and every one who we no longer wanted to carry? Think of all of those opportunities to say or do what is in your highest truth but because of your sense of obligation you deny your truth for the sake of … what?

The foundation of the work that I do as a transformational coach is to ask these very questions to my clients, giving them an opportunity to figure out to whom and to what they are truly interested in being obligated.

I grew up within the Catholic Religion. I learned early on how to live in a state of obligation. There was a great deal of guilt and shame. Up until I was seventeen, when I left the Church, I was terrified I was doing it wrong “ it didn’t matter what it was, I was obligated to do it right, even though I might not know what right was “ and right according to whom?

All religious institution require obligations. It’s not just religious institutions but family, community, government, economic “ all organizations require some form and level of obligation. How we respond to these obligations generates the quality of life we live, as well as the stress and dis-ease that is so prevalent in our culture.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine decided to visit Orcas for an undetermined about of time. She felt compelled to travel 26 hours from Omaha in order to be on the Island for “ well, she didn’t know why “ but she had to find out. She called to ask if she could land at my place for a few days and figure out what was next from here. I said sure, and looked forward to seeing her after many months apart.

A week later, I found myself struggling with the fact that part of me was ready for her move on to what was next on her adventure. However, what I was hearing was how she wanted to make the cabin a little more convenient for herself so she wouldn’t be such a bother. We were sliding into conversations that sounded like she’d be staying for the whole summer “ maybe longer.

I love my friend but I love my solitude more. And, yet I questioned my desire for my sanctuary to be free of guests. Was that really what I wanted? A part of me felt obligated and responsible to take care of my dear friend, after all she’d come all this way, had no money left for rent, gas or food; she needed a place to stay. Shouldn’t I be willing to help her out “ isn’t that was friends are for?

What was my obligation, really? I agreed to let her stay long enough to get her feet under her “ that should have taken just a couple of days. And this is her adventure “ her journey, and for me to feel obligated created resentment and a slow deterioration of our friendship. I could feel myself begin to withhold and withdraw. It was time to check in with myself and then with her.

My fears have kept me blind to my own truth, yet I was afraid what she might think or decide about me if I asked her to leave with empty pockets, gas tank and tummy. What kind of a friend would do that? I’ll tell you, it wasn’t easy but I told her that she needed to continue on with her quest, seeing what else was in store for her. Fortunately, she’s the kind of friend that understood completely and very quickly found a source of income and a new place to stay in a matter of days.

As a professional business person my work life needs to reflect this clarity of integrity too. Where do my obligations interfere with being the most effective at my jobs? Where do I take on obligations that really aren’t mine to begin with? When do I take responsibility for the consequence of other people’s choice-making? When does my own choice-making, based on other people’s problems, cause further challenges to my clients, work environment, and associates?

It takes a great deal of courage to ask yourself these questions, and even more courage to speak or act in alignment with your highest truth. In order to bring spirituality into business we have to ask these hard questions and to follow through. For when we act in our own highest good we are acting in everyone’s highest good.

Stepping onto the path of self-realization is a fascinating journey. It means being open to answers that may initially feel uncomfortable, yet in the long run allows for a greater level of wisdom to emerge, which allows for self-actualization to occur easily and effortlessly.

Obligations are obstacles to being in alignment with our highest truth. This is a very different way of thinking but one that will lead to the paradigm shift.

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