#39 Not My Circus, Not My Monkey

Circus Monkey

“Not My Circus, Not My Monkey”

When I first heard this saying several years ago, the meaning wasn’t intuitive to me.  I had to think for a few minutes, and even after some time I found myself thinking “I think I know what that means”.  I seem to be hearing the saying more and more in recent months;  it seems to be catching on.

For those of you unfamiliar with this saying, a (weak) example will help.  Assume you’re having lunch, and someone starts complaining about “John” and how he shouldn’t be painting his house white. Rather, your lunch mate argues John should paint it blue. Your response could well be, “not my circus, not my monkey”.

“Not My Circus, Not My Monkey”

As I mowed my grass for several hours this morning, I thought about that phrase.  I probably think too much, but I find it interesting.  I thought about content for this post, which I now find myself writing within hours of the grass being freshly mowed (looks pretty good, if I do say so myself). I thought more deeply on the saying.

Circus vs Monkey:  “Big” vs. “Small”?

Not Mine vs Mine:  “What defines the difference?”

So, what Is The Circus? When is it mine?  How about the monkey?  The more I thought, the more I realized the saying really has some deeper meaning if you spend the time to ponder it.  The saying has a lot of symbolism for some very important aspects of our lives. Things like:

  • Accountability
  • Prioritizing Your Focus
  • Taking Responsibility
  • Not Blaming Others

To me, the circus and monkey are symbolic of who has responsibilty for broader and narrower areas of responsibility under various aspects of life.  For example, what YOU decide to drive as a car has no real impact on me. I don’t control the automotive industry or your finances (The Circus), and I don’t control your car (The Monkey).  The same goes for whether you decide to live your life as a debt-ridden consumer focused on materialism, or a super-saver minimalist who saves 50% of your income. “Not My Circus, Not My Monkey”, as long as you don’t expect me to bail you out when your materialistic lifestyle leaves you nothing in retirement.

What is important, I thought as I drove my mower around my front field, is to know in your own life those areas in which YOU are responsible.  Those areas where YOU are going to invest your energy and time. Focus on the most important things in which you control both The Circus and The Monkey. Don’t ignore something that you have responsibility for, and don’t spend too much time worrying about the areas you can’t influence.

I decided to think through various aspects of my life. To determine what WAS My Circus.  What WAS My Monkey.  Perhaps more importantly:  what was NOT My Circus, NOT My Monkey. It’s interesting to realize that in some areas, you may have to worry about The Monkey, but you really can’t influence The Circus  (think on that for a minute).

Here then, are a few of things I thought about as I mowed the yard. I could list 20 items (it’s as important to list those areas where it’s NOT your circus or monkey), and each area could have a fair amount of text around it. Rather than do that, I’ve decided to present a few ideas in a tabular format, and challenge YOU to put some time into thinking about your categories and how you’d define them.

 AREA                          WHOSE CIRCUS?                      WHOSE MONKEY?

  1. Spiritual                          God’s                                              Mine
  2. Family                             Mine                                               Mine
  3. Education                       Mine                                               Mine
  4. Career                             Mine                                               Mine
  5. Politics                            Man                                                Mine (get out and vote!)
  6. Retirement                    Mine                                                Mine
  7. Hollywood                      Man                                       CERTAINLY not Mine
  8. etc. etc. etc.

I could write so many thoughts on each of the elements above, and why something like “Education” is mine.  As an example, in the case of your child’s education, you can elect to home school if you don’t like a public school system.  It’s your responsibility, and you have freedom to chose.  For your own education as an adult, you can chose to listen to podcasts, take free online college courses, or bury your head in the sand.  As a Christian, I also found myself thinking “God” for almost every area under “Circus”, but then changed my criteria to think who, outside of God, is able to influence it.  For your career, as an example, it’s an individual’s responsibility to manage their career.  Not their employer.  You can always quit for a better job. Take some time to think about various aspects of your life using the framework – it’s an interesting exercise.

The Important Point:  in those areas where YOU control both The Circus and The Monkey, make sure you recognize your responsibility.  Make sure you think through actions you are responsible and accountable to take.  Gain knowledge.  Make smart decisons.  Seek counsel. Manage these areas of your lives.

Retirement Planning is the focus of this blog.  Let’s use that as an example for how to think through “Circus and Monkey”.  This area isn’t something you can delegate to your government (asks the folks in Greece how that’s working out).  Your employer isn’t responsible.  It isn’t something you should delegate to a spouse. YOU have responsibility for your retirement.  You may chose to “outsource” the financial aspects to a professional financial planner, but you can’t ignore your responsibility to have a plan. No one is going to bail you out if you mess this up. It’s not the government’s fault. It’s not your employer’s fault.  This one is on you.

When you own The Circus and The Monkey, step up and be responsible. Don’t blame someone else if it doesn’t work out.  Think through contingency plans (what if Social Security goes broke?). Be accountable.

The sub-heading of my blog is “Helping Others Achieve A Great Retirement”.  I’m confident that if I can influence you, the reader, to recognize that planning for retirement is YOUR responsibility through the writing of these words, I’ll be one step closer to my goal.

Retirement Planning.

It IS your Circus. It IS your Monkey.