The Death of Obligation and the Birth of Purpose

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No man is an island. It’s a commonly accepted truth that we all need human interaction in order to be fulfilled, but I have a confession. I avoid social occasions where I can.

I’m not an agoraphobic hermit, and I do enjoy spending time with my partner, wider family and a few close friends. You could say that I am more of a peninsula than an island, but I have never understood how people enjoy work Christmas functions or weddings.

Where a lot of people find parties energizing and uplifting, I find them draining.

Where people are striking up banal small-talk with strangers at weddings about the weather or <insert local sports team here>, I’m fighting the urge to check the time on my phone. Again.

For years, I prided myself on the solidity and creativity of my alibis to get out of events that I was expected to attend.

“My car’s broken down again, and it will be with the mechanic for a few days” was my default.

This worked well, as I used to drive a Subaru, so it was highly believable.

If an aversion to some social situations resonates with you, the conclusions that I came to about this were remarkable for me, and I hope they might help you too.

The reality is, lying to get out of commitments isn’t ethical (especially when you write a blog called TruthInjected *cough*), so I couldn’t keep doing that. At the same time, being in situations where I could feel my soul being vacuumed away wasn’t the solution either.

So while I was taking time to sharpen my sword over the past couple of months, I looked deeper at what it is that I detest so much about being at these sorts of events.

And by “look deeper”, I mean I consulted Dr. Google.

He offered a few suggestions, but none of them resonated.

It wasn’t social anxiety or a lack of confidence – I like talking to people and have no trouble keeping conversations going.

None of the suggestions online made sense to me, until I was browsing James Altucher’s blog posts one day and I saw a quote that summed it all up.

“Every time you say yes to something you don’t want to do, this will happen: you will have less energy for the things you were doing a good job on, you will make less money, and yet another small percentage of your life will be used up, burned up, a smoke signal to the future saying, ‘I did it again’.” – James Altucher

Nail, meet hammer!

It was so obvious once I saw things from that perspective. I enjoy going to events when I have proactively decided to go.

But when I am expected to be there, or there is any form of obligation that I really should be there, I dig my heels in and either don’t go (car troubles), or I reluctantly say yes and seethe in silence.

Even if the event itself is something that I might enjoy.

The root cause of my selective introversion is obligation.

The most recent example of this for me is writing posts for my blog, followed by my sabbatical. In the early days, I just enjoyed writing about whatever I felt like. But then, I began to feel that I really should post something every few days, that I really should make sure that X percentage of my posts cover this topic or that topic, and my stubbornness kicked into overdrive.

So with that diagnosis in hand, what is the solution?

Simple.

Ask yourself one question about the situation that you are uneasy about:

Why am I considering attending this?

Is it to appease someone else? Workmates, family, or even people that you really don’t care about that much?

If it is, then don’t go. Simple.

You aren’t going to want to be there, you aren’t going to be on your A-game, so you might as well not be there at all.

Also, you probably aren’t as important as you think you are, and your presence will likely not be missed nearly as much as your lizard-brain would like to think it will be.

But don’t make up an excuse. Firmly, but politely, say that you will not be able to attend. If they ask for a reason, don’t offer one. There’s no point in making up a story. Just say “It’s not really my thing.”

That should be the end of the discussion.

Are you attending to support someone close to you? This is similar to obligation, but it’s more nuanced than simply announcing that you have better things to do and that the very thought of being there makes you want to vomit and never stop vomiting.

If they are truly close to you, explain why it is that you don’t want to be there. Suggest compromises.

“Let’s go, but can we leave a little earlier?”

“How about you sober drive or we take an Uber?”

Let’s face it, a few drinks can make most events tolerable.

If they aren’t willing to meet you halfway, you should probably be asking questions about why this person is close to you.

And no, these suggestions will not work if it’s your own wedding.

Do you actually want to be there, but don’t like the idea of being expected to?

This only requires a change in perspective. Rather than seeing it an an obligation, decide that you will do it. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, every action is measured by the sentiment from which it proceeds, so proceed with purpose, not with guilt.

So that’s it – stand by your “no” if you are doing something to appease someone else, make compromises if it is for someone close to you, or suck it up and change your perspective if you just don’t like being obligated to be there.

We only get one life – don’t spend it lying to others about why you can’t attend or to yourself about why you should attend.

And I’m sorry if you have ever received the excuse from me that my Subaru had broken down again. Although, by the law of averages, there is about a 30% chance that it actually wasn’t driveable at the time.

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