spring cleaning | the needs pile

Do you have a pile of needs that needs to be decluttered?

When we think about detoxing, we often think about our diets. If you participated in April’s Spring Cleaning program, you learned that there are a lot of other areas of our lives that might benefit from a detox.

And when we talk about decluttering, we often think about our stuff.

What about our mental “stuff?”

the needs pile

“I need to” is almost as ubiquitous as “I should” in our world when we consider what we need to/should be doing. But this week I’m talking about what you need others to do: your partner, your children, your boss, your colleagues….

Last week, I wrote about getting clear about the content and intent of our communications. And there’s an assumption there: you are communicating.

If you aren’t actually relaying information to those around you, I’ll bet you have a huge “needs pile.”

pathological altruism

Most of my working life has been spent in the nonprofit sector: church, education, 501(c)(3), and now healthcare. And that sector attracts a lot of what Adam Grant calls “givers.”

I’ve been reading (well, listening), to Grant’s book, Give and Take, and he spends a large section of it talking about why certain types of people are prone to burnout.

It turns out that those who suffer from “pathological altruism”—giving without heeding their own needs—tend to burn out more rapidly and spectacularly. Those who practice “other-ish giving” among other ways of being tend to burn out more slowly or not at all.

People with pathological altruism tend not to 1) ask for help and 2) be very good about receiving it, whether offered or asked for.

closed mouths don’t get fed

I’m betting that there is another type of person who won’t easily ask for help, and that’s the kind that believes that everything must be done by them. Asking for help would be a sign of weakness or a character deficiency.

And I hate to think about someone with that fierce independent streak who also happens to work in the nonprofit sector! A perfect storm or lethal cocktail of reasons to keep your mouth shut and never admit you have needs.

A long time ago, I wrote about that teacherthe one who drives you crazy with their aphorisms when you are in their class. And then haunts you in your adult life because, damn it, they were right.

My kids had a track and field coach like that. His saying: “Closed mouths don’t get fed.”

In other words, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” Not that getting was guaranteed, but you never know unless you try, right? The worst he could do was to say no. (See all those sayings I fit into just a few sentences? Kids hate their moms for that, too.)

cleaning up the needs pile

All that to say: as amazing as we humans are, we are not mind readers. (Okay, maybe some of us are, but in general….) And we are very prone to assuming the intent of someone else’s communications while rarely communicating the intent of our own.

Because we assume we know what another is thinking, we’re also inclined to assume that those around us know what we’re thinking. Which makes zero sense.

I was struck by an article in Human Resource Executive about parental leave. Not only because it’s good to see some real change happening in the corporate world around this topic. Also because of why and how some of these innovations are coming about.

Forty percent of American households include children under 18 and, in 2021, 62% of two-parent households had both parents working. However, only 64% of working women return to work after having a baby—meaning a full one-third of the female workforce is consistently leaving.

You would think that would make corporations sit up and take notice. But no.

When Kelly Sizemore approached her manager with a proposal for her post-maternity leave return to work, she was apprehensive; no one in a regional role … had gone out on leave in recent years—and they certainly hadn’t asked to return on a part-time schedule, like she was planning to.

The story has a (very) happy ending. Kudos to Sizemore for taking care of one item on her needs pile!

There’s a lesson in there for those of us who don’t tend to do that.

make the connection

Take a good look at your “needs pile.”  Consider whether some of them aren’t being met because you haven’t actually articulated them. Then put on your big girl panties, and tell someone what you need from them—it’s okay to start small with someone who probably won’t say no! Because, indeed, closed mouths don’t get fed. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. The worst they can do is say no. (And if they say no, you’ve still decluttered the needs pile by one.)