My cousin, Big Mary, is an inspiration. She is about 70 years old, a retired teacher and absolutely fierce.

Although they lived in Virginia, Big Mary, her husband Jim and their daughters Little Mary and Martha would come up to the fine state of Wisconsin at least once a year. Having a very small family, it was always exciting when our cousins with the southern accents would come to visit. My sister and I were always jealous of the tales of school being called off over one measly inch of snow. Ridiculous.

Somewhere over the last ten years or so, Big Mary came up with one of my favorite sayings. She would call to talk to my Mom and tell fun stories about life and school in the not so deep south. At one point, it would always come back to one of Mary’s favorite sayings, “not my problem.” She would say it in a fun accent that reminds me of Gone With The Wind (you know us Northerners, all Southern accents sound the same) and would be copied around my house regularly.

Don’t get me wrong, Mary is kind, funny and warm. She is a great mom to my favorite cousins. SHE WAS a wonderful wife for years as her husband grew ill. A valued teacher, neighbor and friend. But Mary was also a smart and spunky lady who knew what to take responsibility for in her life. She wasn’t saying “I don’t care,” she was saying “I am concerned about that person, but they have to figure it out themselves and I can’t do it for them.”

After flippantly quoting Mary for years, one day I finally got it. It did not matter how much I worried, lectured, empathized, cried or tried to fix someone else’s life, I just couldn’t. It was literally their problem and they had to work it out. I also realized I needed to accept that maybe they never would. In the past, I would justify their bad habits, overlook questionable decisions, ignore hurtful comments and actions because when I focused on their problems, I did not have to deal with my own.

Something shifted in me that day: I gave myself permission to let go. To allow others to make their own choices and deal with the consequences. To support and listen, but let them know that I couldn’t take on their problems anymore. But in the end, it was never really about them. When I had others’ issues or dramas to worry about, I could ignore my own – the only person whose problems I could actually fix. Pretty silly right?

Your Adventure:

What is “not your problem?” Who are you trying to fix? Who are you allowing to behave badly in your life? Who is taking up your precious time?

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