The other dayI had a flashback to when I was about 13, all full of teen-girl hormones and unpredictable rages. I was on about some girl at school and her attitude and how she was mean to other girls and I really…My mom, making beef stew at the stove and a little hot and grumpy herself turned to me and said, “Really! Why don’t you just mind your own business?”
It wasn’t the first, or the last, time I would hear this phrase, but it’s only been in very recent times that I’ve actually stopped and thought about it in an adult way. My experience is that when someone says that phrase, it’s usually delivered in an angry, or at least frustrated, tone. You’re in their business, and it’s annoying, maybe even offensive.
So what’s really in this phrase, and might there be a more positive way to take this advice? I deconstructed the phrase word by word, and here are some of my thoughts. Let me know yours…
Dictionaries define the intransitive verb “mind” as to tend, or look after something. So to mind your business is to look after that for which you’re responsible. It becomes a good question to ask yourself, then, when you’re focused on someone else’s behavior: Am I looking after what I’m supposed to be right now, or is my attention inappropriately focused on someone else at the expense of my own needs?
Hoo boy. That one gets me every time, because, yes, there’s always something I should be doing to look after my life that is paramount to commenting on someone else’s.
Yah, that’s you. Or me. You know what I mean. It’s my stuff I need to focus on; not other people’s. The phrase isn’t mind my own business, is it? When I focus on others, I’m doing one of a few things, if I’m really honest. I’m either (1) procrastinating about something I know needs doing; (2) diverting attention away from something uncomfortable I don’t want to discuss or think about; or (3) trying to make myself feel better than someone else whose behavior is somehow unacceptable. None of these are nice things. All of them ultimately make me feel like crap about myself.
If I procrastinate, the stuff I need to do doesn’t go away, and sometimes it gets harder or worse to deal with when I finally get around to it. Diverting away from uncomfortable emotions or conversations is also a stalling technique. As a wise person once said, the only way out is through. And number 3? Well, that’s just insecurity and mean-spiritedness. Come on, I can do better. We all can.
Ownership. I can’t huck this off onto someone else’s plate. This is MY own stuff. I own it. I can’t give it away, or sell it, or pretend it’s not there. Conversely, I don’t own someone else’s thoughts, speech or action. And if you don’t own something, you’re infringing on the proper owner’s rights if you try to take it over. If you try to steal it, then you’re a thief of their life property. It’s also about individuation. If you’re an enmeshed person, this phrase taken literally might really help you more clearly comprehend that boundaries need to be set. By you, and for you!
I had the worst time figuring out what the words co-dependency and boundaries meant until I had some clear examples presented to me. Oh yah, I do that! I’d say. Oh that’s what it is? OK, yah, that’s not cool.
Best phrase ever to help manage this: Not my circus; not my monkeys.
I don’t need to own anyone else’s stuff. I got a lot to deal with all on my…wait for it…own. Hahaha
What is my own business? Well, I have a business, for starters. And yah, it actually can go to hell if I’m not paying regular attention because I’m too busy looking at what other people are doing. But here it obviously means something more all encompassing. It means your life business. All your thoughts, relationships, actions, choices, decisions, all the busy-ness that your life requires of you.
Am I looking after my life business? Am I keeping bills paid? Am I filing my tax returns on time? Am I making sure my house is well maintained? Am I seeing the doctor and dentist when I should? Am I eating right, sleeping well and exercising? Am I socializing? Am I working on self-improvement? When any of these things slip, it’s probably because I’ve somehow got derailed worrying about someone else.
MIND. YOUR. OWN. BUSINESS.
So actually, if someone says this to you, it’s a wake-up call. They’re not looking for a fight; they’re stating a boundary. Apparently, we’re naturally a buttinski species. According to the Dare Project from the University of Wisconsin, there are at least 392 different expressions in English alone (I counted) that can be substituted for mind your own business, including (my favorites) pull your own little red wagon and Go on, I don’ wanna mess witcha’. So.
Sounds to me like apparently having only one way to express our desire for someone to not concern themselves with our business isn’t nearly enough. (We must also be a dense species when it comes to getting the point.)
Even though there are ruder versions on the DARE list, mind your own business is still pretty rude. My close clan and I’ve got our own version of it that’s a little softer, and we have an agreement to honor it when any of us feels the need to voice our boundaries. It’s “Hey, work your own program…” (said gently, with a smile). It’s become a great tool for learning how to respect boundaries, knowing when you’re crossing them and how to gracefully apologize with gratitude. My favorite response now is, “Oops! Sorry. Thanks for letting me know.” Each time (and it happens less and less often these days), I learn. And I apply. Rinse, and repeat. When we know better, we do better.
I also am learning when to voice my boundaries with others (also new). And how to, as I try to remember, “say what I mean, mean what I say, but don’t say it mean.” Because, as this video shows, you can also get into trouble if you get too, um, carried away stating your boundaries. (Warning: Serious cussing in this, but hey, it’s Kevin Hart and he’s just irresistibly funny. If you’re mortally offended by the F-word, skip this. )
I like to say I’m a life-long learner. I don’t always get it right, I still screw up, but I’m aware now, and working on it. How about you? Do you have any favorite versions of that phrase or new ones to add to the list? Love to hear them.
Here’s some great inspiration by the great musical philosopher Hank Williams Sr. (who says Lotta folks request this for otha‘ folks; nobody hardly ever requests it for they‘selves.) No kidding. Listen up, and try to resist singing the chorus line back at him. I can’t do it.
Ask & you shall receive,