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Recognizing ‘Robligation’


noun (invented)

the heavy, suffocating experience of agreeing
to a project or assignment only to realize that it
hangs over your head, robbing you of the experience
of joy until it’s completed

It’s something I’ve experienced since high school; and I thought was my own unique brand of neurosis. I would take on a significant responsibility, assignment or task. I might have been excited about and even honored by it… until it became mine. Then, this potentially joyful and interesting opportunity would immediately transform into something very different—an obligation or duty I was somehow bound to until completion.

This obligation always carried with it expectations. Sometimes I knew what they were; more frequently, I didn’t… and that made it all the scarier. So, I’d work hard, investing excessive effort to stave off the angst, anxiety, self-doubt and second guessing… until that happy day when the responsibility was fulfilled (and in most cases, darn well) and I could shed the heaviness and enjoy life again. That is, until the next responsibility came my way and the cycle took over once again.

This is a dynamic that has quietly repeated itself countless times throughout my life, compromising my energy, health, and happiness. I suffered in silence, thinking I was the only person who experienced this life-zapping phenomenon. But turns out I’m not!

A brilliant colleague rushes through her work to reduce that time in the ‘danger zone’.

One of the most enlightened women I know prices projects not based upon the time it will take to complete them but upon the emotional energy required to deal with the sensation she describes as ‘a stone on her head’.

An inspiring thought leader dropped out of the speaking circuit because from the time the contract was signed until the speech was complete, she had a knot in the pit of her stomach.

My daughter (another of the most enlightened women I know) explains that each college semester is like a dark tunnel she must travel through to the light at the other end.

For some, it’s a stone, a pit, or a tunnel. For others I’ve learned that it feels like a weight, a dark cloud, or an albatross. For all, this experience of obligation robs us of the joy associated with work that’s frequently meaty and interesting… and should be satisfying and even joyful. Hence ‘robligation’.

Imagine the energy we might unleash if we could rid ourselves of this sense of robligation. Imagine the engagement we could feel, the results we could achieve and the richness of life we could enjoy.

Imagination and reframing may just be part of the solution.  What if we reframed obligations as privileges? Rather than thinking (and speaking) in terms of what we ‘have to do’, a simple syntax change to ‘get to do’ could, over time, rewire our thinking.

The same holds true for how we talk and think about stress. Recent research suggests that when a speaker reframes nervousness as excitement, performance improves. The same may apply to robligation. Rather than ‘stressed’, what if we described our feelings associated with the privilege of an assignment as excited, energized, stretched, invigorated, or challenged?

Sure, at first strategies like these might feel like nothing more than tricking our minds. But, that’s pretty much what most of us did long ago that got us into this robligation mess in the first place.

What about you? If this resonates for you, please let us know. And, if you’ve developed strategies for dealing with the joy-sucking effects of robligation, please share. I’ll put your ideas together into a future blog post, so we can take steps to enjoy the privileges of work—and life!


4 comments on “Recognizing ‘Robligation’

  1. Rachel Evans on

    I feel this almost every time I take on a big project and I too thought I was the ONLY one (e.g. “what’s wrong with ME?”). I like your idea of reframing the obligations to privileges. And I wonder if I did that first, even before I accepted the challenge, would that help me make better choices? Maybe there are some projects that will always stay robligations … and I might even learn to say “no” to those! THANK YOU … this one really hits home!

    • Julie Winkle Giulioni on

      Thanks for sharing, Rachel. I wonder how many other people are out there thinking they’re the only ones experiencing this too. And I LOVE your more proactive approach to vetting opportunities better. (I too need help building my ‘no’ muscle.) Using ‘privilege’ as a test seems like a great idea. I’m up for trying it with you!

  2. Sybil F. Stershic on

    Great post, Julie, in describing the feeling between the initial excitement taking on a project and the “joy” of its completion. I experience a similar sense of anxiety in that I get excited about a project first and then despair that it won’t be good enough. This self-imposed crisis in self-confidence is temporary (fortunately!) and is explained in this graphic, “The Emotional Journey of Creating Anything Great” https://personalexcellence.co/blog/emotional-journey-creating-infographic/

    • Julie Giulioni on

      Thanks so much, Sybil. And I’m glad that someone wiser than I has figured this out. LOVE your infographic… really appreciate you passing it along. Here’s to muddling through to step 12!


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