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Give Until it Hurts. Learning to Say No: for people pleasers and empathic funeral directors.

Updated: May 17, 2019

Every funeral director I have met has gone into the industry because they have lost someone they loved deeply. The decision to work in death care comes from the desire to give back. Many funeral directors are active in community involvement and volunteer regularly. We generally want to make the world a better place and ease the stress of those around us. The work is rewarding, and fulfilling. Too often however, the sacrifices made by funeral directors has a negative impact on their personal lives. Work and volunteer obligations seem to always come first, since other peoples needs seem greater than our own. It’s wonderful to give your time, but it is not okay to give until it hurts.

It’s 4:30, I just finished doing arrangements. I need to go home to let the dog out and get changed so I can help decorate the float for the parade tomorrow. I have 2 fundraiser dinners this week and when wont get home until 10pm. I need to call my parents. Tomorrow I'll go in early to finish embalming. My house is a mess.

My life was this way for years. I was riddled with anxiety and my schedule was jam packed from 6am until whenever. This was nothing compared to my colleagues, who would often mention that I should consider doing a bit more volunteering. Maybe even become the chair of a committee. It would be good for me to get more involved with the community.

Since I only had 2 volunteer obligations per year, I covered for my coworkers and said yes to them all the time, when they dumped their work on me. I ended up working late, or taking first call for colleagues so they could fulfill their volunteering commitments. Many funeral homes expect their employees to be involved in community fundraisers and events in order to make personal connections with the public. Some companies even offer a year end bonus incentive if directors meet their volunteering quota. (People prefer having a funeral director they know personally, take care for their loved one who has passed). Community involvement is a very inexpensive marketing tactic for funeral homes, but incredibly taxing on employees. Volunteering, no matter how rewarding, is still work. The expectation for funeral directors to work 13 hours a day or more, while being paid for 8 is completely unreasonable and unhealthy.

It’s nice to receive a thank you from the company for my efforts in the community, but I believe having a quota on volunteering, is a recipe for burnout and destroyed personal relationships. It also causes us to volunteer for the wrong reasons, making the task at hand unrewarding. I am employed by the funeral home, not by the organization I choose to volunteer for.

I used to be a people pleaser. The only time I would say no, was if I physically couldn’t fulfill what was asked of me. I learned to stop saying yes; when I came to understand that it was not appreciated after I had committed and given everything I had. I foolishly believed that even though the appreciation was not shown, those who had given me the job tasks really did value me and my efforts. I was wrong.

I now refuse to commit to a regular volunteering schedule and if I don’t feel like going to a fundraiser dinner or helping someone else at work, I say no. My personal relationships have improved, my service to families has improved because I am not worn out, I’m happier, more creative and my problem solving abilities are enhanced since I have cut back considerably.

Many people fear saying no to their boss. We believe our boss may think we're lazy and we might lose out on an opportunity for advancement. This cannot be further from the truth. Employers tend to assign job tasks which they do not find challenging or rewarding. The roll of constant non challenging work, does not serve us as funeral directors because it doesn’t prove our capabilities and it doesn't allow us to grow. The reason so many hard workers don’t get the advancement they deserve is because they’re too busy steam cleaning the carpets and washing the hearse; while non people pleasers are doing thought provoking work, which allows advancement in the future.

People pleasers tend to overcommit. Struggling to accomplish personal daily tasks. It damages our self confidence, by receiving affirmation from an outside source rather than within. It destroys our relationships and gives us anxiety, because we are concerned of what others think of us, leaving nothing for ourselves.

Saying no takes practice. It feels scary and we don’t want to hurt or offend people around us. If you are someone who struggles to find time in the day to complete what is asked of you, I invite you to try a simple exercise. Once a day, say no to one thing which someone has asked of you, which doesn't serve you or that you really don't want to do. This could be your partner asking you to take out the garbage, your boss with that extra assignment, your kids asking for a ride, or a friend asking you for a favor. This will allow you time and energy to be your absolute best at home, at work, and in life. We all only have so much time in each day and in our lives. Funeral directors are in high demand and if your funeral home is busy, get a part timer in to do the maintenance work.

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