Are You In The Monkey Trap?

Last week my 24-year-old son came to me telling me that his computer was causing a lot of trouble and he required help from me.

Which in the end - GASP - I refused to give.

Here's why and what that has to do with the monkey trap.

I've been a single mum for a long time - so I was the one my children came to for support for basically anything.

I was the rock.

The encyclopedia.

The timekeeper.

The defender.

The one who knows where everything is.

Useful when the kids are small(er). 

Eventually, this can become rather a hindrance for both parties - I'll come to the WHY in a moment. 

But let me tell you the story first.

Obviously, the OS (operating system) was compromised, and he wanted me to download a version of it onto my computer and give it to him on a USB stick. No problem. 

It quickly turned out though that I did not have the right stick, so he went and bought another one, only to find out that it was not t just a simple download, but a major act of producing a bootable program.

Whose monkey is it?

This was the moment I decided NOT to help anymore. 

And immediately felt guilty. 

Because I'm so used to help and to shift problems out of the way - not just for myself, but for others too. 

The problem though: I often took issues onboard which were clearly NOT mine - the monkey = the problem which was sitting on somebody else's shoulder simply hopped over to mine, and I accepted it. 

Suddenly it was my monkey! 

Leading to me being overloaded, in the busy trap (too many monkeys) to the degree that I had no time nor the capacity to take care of my own monkeys. 

Why did I do that then? 

Because I had developed this pattern of over-functioning and taking over responsibility and applied it everywhere - privately as well as in my professional life. 

We create dependency - instead of self responsibility 

We don't just harm ourselves in the process, but other people too. 

Because they don't learn how to take over responsibility for their own stuff. Because we enable others to escape from their issues as they are not forced to find solutions themselves. But instead, load of their monkeys with you.

You're producing dependent people….those who never grow up.

The thing is that many leaders do that too. 

Someone might run into your office just before the day ends…or in this day and age, write an e-mail wanting your help. And you tell them (or write them) - leave it with me, I'll think about it.

And voila - the monkey is yours.

So - what to do instead?


Only when we realize that we take on other people's monkeys, we can start changing it. Yes, this one again: What we don't know or is a blind spot, we can't change!

The golden rule: Don't do anything the other person (your child, partner, team member) could do themselves. 

UNLESS you consciously decide you want to. 

Step 2: HAND IT BACK (or don't take it in the first place)

Going back to my son: I invited him to think about and research other solutions for his issue (which he found ;-)). 

The mail to the person asking for help could be: Why don't you come back with some potential solutions tomorrow and we'll discuss them? 

THEN you can decide if you want a part in this monkey or not. 

As leaders, it's our job to help others to unfold their full potential. Taking over from them won't allow them to stretch or challenge themselves. 

OF COURSE, not everybody who comes and asks for help is trying to offload their monkey onto us.

And helping is generally a good thing. 

Just check those things above before taking on somebody else's monkey. Or politely decline. :-)


PS: Skipped to the end? Here's the gist: Make sure you don't take on monkeys (= problems) which are not yours, or other people could resolve themselves. This way you keep an overview about yours AND help others take responsibility and grow (= hey, you're a great leader!) 

PPS: Recognizing and shifting (harmful) patterns is part of a process that I call "Personal Leadership". More often than not, we don't see them ourselves hence an outside look is often a massive shortcut, saving lots of time (and overthinking) and creating clarity. If you want help with your blind spots, let's talk. 




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