I remember being told numerous times as a child to “mind my own business.” I was, how shall we say, a very nosy child. For example, I was devastated when we moved from a house where my bedroom faced the street and I could see everything, to a house around the corner where my view consisted of the ugly block wall in the backyard.
The thing is, I like to know what’s going on. I like people’s stories. I’m interested when the neighbors do something different to their houses and I like to see who is outside. If there is ever a crime on my street, you could ask me what my neighbors’ habits are, because I pay attention. I like to keep my blinds open. I like to go outside. Despite all of the ways that I am very much an introvert, I am also extremely social and could never live like a hermit. Too bad I am stuck in suburbia where nobody goes outside and neighbors hardly see each other.
I think my preference for running as my form of exercise ties back to my nosiness. Running allows me to have my boots on the ground to see what’s going on, versus being confined to a boring gym. Important stuff, you know. I would have never noticed the Halloween decorations going up two blocks away if I hadn’t passed that house on my run, and imagine how boring my life would be without that information. (Damn it, I’m behind in getting my decorations up. Usually I’m the first!)
This is where minding everyone else’s business can be problematic. When you see what other people are doing and compare it to your own life, things can turn unhealthy real quick.
And yet there are plenty of reasons why not minding my own business has served me well in life. I think there is much to learn from other people. I believe in helping other people. I also don’t agree with being passive in life. For all of this to be true, I have to keep my eyes open and pay attention to the world around me. Maybe that is nosy to some people, but for me, it is staying engaged in life.
What does minding your own business actually mean?
Should you not care about what others are doing? Does it mean staying out of other people’s’ comings and goings? Not adding your two cents? Ignoring the rest of the world? Not interfering? Not paying attention? Not helping? Not having an opinion, or having confrontations, or putting yourself out there in any capacity?
Are there exceptions?
When you become an adult, nobody tells you outright to mind your own business. They do it in other ways.
Like, sabotaging opportunities for you.
Attempting to smear your character.
Not listening to your input.
Shutting you out of conversations and the other ways of excluding a person.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less tolerant of the ways people try to interfere with the flow of my life. I still refuse to “mind my own business,” but my nosiness has shifted. I’ve learned to develop a filter for myself; there are things to let into my boundaries and head space, and other stuff that has to be ignored. Times to say something. Times to shut my mouth. I’m still not always good at it, but I’m improving.
Getting older simultaneously helps a person develop a better filter, but in other ways busts the filter and opens floodgates. It’s a contradictory experience, and yet one of balance, control, expression and freedom.
Even as I age, I still find it easy to get sucked into other people’s problems and drama. We all know real-life Pig-Pen characters with dust flying everywhere.
That kind of stuff depletes your energy, and as you get older, energy becomes scarce. You can’t afford any leaks.
My energy is busted. Being an only parent has been the hardest, most draining thing I have ever done. If you think cremating your husband is difficult, try getting stuck with a 1-year-old, 3-year-old, and a 6-year-old. Forever. No other parent to take over driving the crazy train. Just you in charge. Energy has to be protected in order to survive.
That’s why I recently adopted a new mantra for myself. I actually chant this silently in my head as needed.
Stay in your lane.
I explained to my children the difference between “mind your own business” and “stay in your lane.” At least my interpretation of it.
I think “mind your own business” shuts people down. It intends to prevent people from observing or interfering or chiming in with an opinion. But it doesn’t give you a reason why.
Stay in your own lane has a focus.
You are headed toward a destination, wherever that place may be. Perhaps you want to be a doctor or a dancer or a teacher or a famous artist. Whatever. But you have direction, and you have things you must do to achieve the goal and reach the destination. That’s why you stay in your lane. Of course sometimes you may need to swerve to avoid problems. You are still mindful of the other drivers, and you change lanes when needed. You will inevitably have to refuel and stop for maintenance. There will be wear and tear. You might need to pull over to help others. But your goal is clear: you are headed somewhere, and you are actively preventing anything from stopping this journey.
Unfortunately there is so much crap in life that makes us swerve out of our lanes.
Crap in the form of toxic people. People who like drama. Egos. Selfish people. Inconsiderate people. People who would suck your soul dry and still want more from you. People who don’t want to see you succeed in life. Jealousy. Narcissism. Laziness. Unhappy people who project their misery onto everything they do.
Working with these individuals is the worst. You know who they are because they turn their interactions with others into a forum to vomit negativity all over a captive audience.
It is better to avoid these people, but of course that’s easier said than done. You need a lot of practice to know how to handle them. People can get stuck in their misery, and they often want company in the bowels of their despair. But if you’re going to stay in your own lane, you need to run away from these people.
The thing is, many of these individuals are at their core nice people. Often they don’t even realize that they are Pig-Pen with all of their dust flying everywhere. They lack self-awareness. That makes it hard to be direct with them about the ways that they are causing you problems. You should probably try to help them, and yet there is the possibility that they will infect you with their toxicity.
Somehow you have to draw the line when they are getting in your lane and hindering your forward-movement. That’s the balancing act: figuring out how to extend your help, your listening ear, your advice, but also knowing when to enforce your personal boundaries and to kick them out of your lane.
It’s more than dealing with other people though.
Staying in your own lane is also largely about controlling your own brain. Deciding what to spend your time on. What to prioritize. Deciphering what will further your objectives and what slows you down. Striking a healthy balance in your life, which requires doing the constant work of mental re-calibration and making adjustments on a daily basis. Being emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy enough to sustain the long-term pursuit of reaching a destination. This is something that requires stamina, resilience, optimism, and your unflinching commitment even when conditions seem impossible.
You aren’t handed these mental tools on a silver platter. You have to work every single day of your life to develop them, and then you have to do the maintenance to keep them. Our stamina and resilience, like muscles, don’t get stronger without using them.
To be honest, my head space is often a personal storm. Just yesterday I had a meltdown that involved feeling like I wasn’t keeping up with the things that I needed to do, feeling like everything in my life is impossible, that I am doomed to be miserable and unsuccessful, and that I am failing at everything. I felt angry, because anger is what you feel when you resent the things that have happened to you. I could literally feel my brain spiraling out of control–that hopelessness you experience when you think you are drowning in the tediousness of life. I am an ugly person when I let myself wander down that path.
I constantly wrangle my own brain and try to keep conditions optimal for my personal success. And by personal success, I mean waking up and getting through the day without hating my life. When you see me, you are looking at a person who works super hard to keep myself balanced. I am always one bad thought away from feeling derailed.
I use a lot of strategies to hold it together.
Exercise is necessary.
Time to myself. Hobbies. Learning something new.
I personally need my house to be clean and organized to keep the storm in my head from turning into a natural disaster.
I need my children to follow a schedule (AKA go to bed on time, take their naps, follow directions, etc.)
Balancing time that I spend on my personal projects and the time spent with my children and everything else. I can finish a big writing project but still be a wreck if I didn’t spend quality time with my children. I am not happy unless I tend to all parts of my life.
The reality is that I can’t do everything, and life is often lopsided and unbalanced. Sometimes my kids are terrible for me. Sometimes I don’t have time to get my nails done or play tennis. Sometimes I have writer’s block and don’t feel like exercising and work is stressful and the youngest child just tore apart his closet again after I just reorganized it. Sometimes I’m upset for a reason I can’t quite put my finger on.
That’s when things can turn ugly.
Often I need to stop obsessing over whatever is bothering me, and the only way to do that is by taking a break. Watch a movie. Do something different. But knowing and doing are two different things. Many times I will persist at trying to manage the thing that is not working for me, and my lack of control pushes me closer to the brinks of madness. I can be stubborn, even with myself.
Changing my scenery is extremely helpful in diffusing a mental breakdown. Socializing with people always helps.
Yesterday I saw a bunch of people, and they probably had no idea that just hours before I was crying about how much I hate my life and how dare my late husband leave me with kids who don’t listen and I’m never going to finish a writing project and if the youngest doesn’t take a nap I will surely go insane and how I’m doomed to live out the lonely, cursed life as a maid to uncooperative children while nobody in the world cares.
But when you’re around other people, those terrible thoughts dissipate into the rest of the noise of the world, and you somehow forget the depth of your previous despair. By the end of the night I could barely remember what I had been working myself up over.
I need to stay in my lane and prevent myself from sabotaging my own life.
Part of it is moving forward. Taking care of the issues that pop-up, and to keep going. You can’t reach your destination if you get stuck in the mud.
Using tactics you know to work, like socializing and changing scenery before a breakdown.
By reminding myself to stay in my lane, I am constantly making a choice about what I am letting into my boundaries–which include outside noise, but also the clanking of my own thoughts that have the propensity to make a racket in my head.
Maybe you can consider “staying in your lane” a strategic way to mind your own business–the art of learning what to hear and see, and knowing what to ignore. Selective input and output. A strategy to improve the quality and efficiency of your life journey.
All of this is a difficult balancing act that requires intuition, experience, and self-control. None of these things come easily. I try to observe myself and take notes (this is why journaling is great), being mindful of triggers, knowing my feelings, acknowledging emotions, identifying patterns of behavior, and staying in tune with myself. I pay attention to what seems to work in diffusing my emotions, and I try to repeat those things. It’s a lot of trial and error, but I feel like doing something is better than letting myself unravel.
Although I can’t control the noise around me, I can work on my own boundaries. I can get better at reigning myself in. I can work through my own thoughts. That’s something I can do, right now, with what I have.
You can call that staying in my lane.
I have goals. I have a vision about how I want to live. I decided to not allow myself to be a human sponge to all of the noises in the world. I will compartmentalize. Let go. Stay clear and focused on my own path. Seek out those who share my philosophy about how to live well, and to let go of what I can not control. Help others as much as I can without violating my personal boundaries.
I can still pay attention to others. I can be curious. I can get involved and give my opinions and care about the world around me and still respect my boundaries.
When we realize that we are working with an indeterminable number of years left to do the things that we want to experience while we still can, we begin to realize how vital it is to stay in our lanes. It is the only way to increase the quality of this journey we call life.