154: Being Your Own Steward

Aug 15, 2023

Often, to varying extents, people go through life as if someone else is in charge. It’s common for people to believe that they themselves don’t have the ultimate power to make decisions. Maybe they don’t think they have permission to choose, they shouldn’t want what they want, or they need to consider others before deciding. If this sounds familiar, it’s time to start being your own steward.

When you're young and begin trying to understand the world, you're under the care of others. In contemporary mainstream society, at least in America, there isn't widespread understanding of when humans come of age and stop being guided by others. Perhaps nobody has ever told you that you can be your own steward in this world. So, what do you do when you realize you've been relinquishing control of your life for no good reason? Listen in to find out.

Are you assuming responsibility for what you're creating in your life and taking ownership of the decisions you've made? What does it even mean to do these things? Dr. Marie Murphy is breaking it all down this week, showing you why it's up to you how you live your life and how to consciously start being your own steward, even in areas of your life where there seem to be non-negotiable constraints.

If you’re ready to take this topic deeper in a confidential and compassionate environment, you can schedule an introductory coaching session with Dr. Marie Murphy by clicking here!

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Why nobody can ensure your well-being better than you can.

  • How everyone has the opportunity to decide how to take charge of their life.

  • Why most people don’t want to believe they can take charge of every aspect of their life.

  • What it truly means to be the steward of your life.

  • Why some of the constraints in your life might subconsciously be self-imposed.

  • How some areas of your life have legitimate constraints, but you still get to choose how you approach to those constraints.

  • Why, even if you’re guided by a higher power, you still have to participate by allowing yourself to be guided.

  • How to start being your own steward, trusting yourself with the management of your life.


Listen to the Full Episode:


Featured on the Show:

You are listening to Your Secret Is Safe With Me, non-judgmental talk about infidelity with Dr. Marie Murphy. If you’re looking for new perspectives on complicated relationship issues, you’ve come to the right place. 

Hi everyone, I’m Dr. Marie Murphy.  I’m a relationship coach, and I help people who are cheating on their partners, or engaging in anything they think counts as infidelity, to deal with their feelings, clarify what they want, and make decisions about what they’re going to do.  No shame, no blame, no judgments.  When you are in the midst of an infidelity situation, it can seem like your situation is so complicated and overwhelming that it’s impossible to figure out what you want, and even more impossible to actually make any changes.  My job is to help you slow down, defuse your intense emotions, and approach your situation from a fresh perspective.  When you do this, you gain the ability to actually begin moving forward in ways you feel great about – INSTEAD of staying stuck in patterns of either avoiding your situation entirely, or getting into cycles of rumination that lead to paralysis through analysis, or a combination of both.  When you are ready to find some relief, and begin the process of resolving your situation in a way that’s truly right for you, let’s work together.  The first step is to schedule an introductory coaching session with me through my website, mariemurphyphd.com.  I offer confidential, compassionate coaching via Zoom, which means we can work together no matter where you’re located.  I can’t wait to meet you.

Today we’re going to talk about taking charge of our own lives, or assuming responsibility for our own lives, and ways that we can think about what it means to do this, and how we can begin to do this.

So often we kind of go through life as if someone else is in charge.  Not everyone does this to the same extent, and I think any one person may do this to greater or lesser extents in different situations in their lives.  But a lot of us, to one degree or another, in some aspects of our lives, tend to operate as if we aren’t really the one who has the power to call the shots.  Sometimes we don’t believe we have permission to do the things we want to do.  Sometimes we don’t believe we have permission to want the things we want, never mind actually taking action in the service of our desires.  And sometimes we sort of believe – or really believe – that forces beyond our control have more power over our lives than we do.

I think this kind of thinking is completely understandable, for a lot of reasons.  When we’re young, we often are under the care – or rule – of others.  We may well have people who, lovingly or otherwise, tell us what we should do and how we should do it, and that kind of thing.  And in our society, we don’t have widely shared traditions in which we recognize the coming of age and what may come with that.  We don’t offer any sort of ritualistic changing of the guard, so to speak, where the people who may have been guiding us when we were young say something like, “Okay, we’ve been telling you what to do for a while here, and you’ve kinda had to listen to us, at least to an extent, but now your job is to begin to assume responsibility for your own life, and here are some resources to help you do that.”  Many of us didn’t grow up in a culture that had traditions like that.  Some of us may have, because SOME cultures had and still have traditions that bestow adulthood and authority onto its members.  But not all of us grew up in a context like that.  So, speaking in really broad strokes, and I want to make it clear that I am exaggerating a little for emphasis here, you may have spent the first portion of your life being told what to do, and then you may have suddenly found yourself without anyone to guide you in any meaningful way – and nobody may have told you that you could be your own guide, or taught you HOW to actually be your own guide.

What the hell are we supposed to do with ourselves if we find ourselves existing within this sort of a framework?  Or more accurately, what do we do if we don’t have any sort of a framework for guiding ourselves through life?  Many of us really don’t know, and never really figure it out.  


What I want to suggest is that we all have the opportunity to decide how we want to relate to our lives, and, more specifically, we have the opportunity to decide what role we want to play in taking charge of our lives.  Sometimes, for all kinds of different reasons, we don’t WANT to believe that we have the power or the right to take charge of our own lives.  And if you don’t want to believe that, that is fine with me, but as always, my recommendation is that you make that choice consciously.  It is your prerogative to believe that you can’t take charge of your own life, but there’s a difference between consciously choosing to believe that because you really want to, and believing that unconsciously, or because you don’t believe you have the option to think differently.

Now, many of us WANT to feel like we have more ownership of our life experience, or more agency and authority within our experience of life, but we don’t know how to think that way, or we don’t know what exactly we would think in the service of taking more ownership of our lives.  And today I’m going to propose two specific lines of thinking that you might want to adopt, or adopt some version of.

The first one is this: although we do live in a world in which there are plenty of circumstances that we may experience as constraints, we get to decide how we orient ourselves to those constraints.  Sometimes the constraints are more a matter of perception than anything else, but some constraints on our lives may not be negotiable.  But even if there are many things in this world that we do not have the power to change, we become so much more powerful when we take responsibility for identifying what we DO have the power to change, and then actually assuming responsibility for making those changes, if we see fit.  So identifying and taking responsibility for what we have the power to control can really help us gain a sense of ownership and agency within our lives.  


The second line of thinking that I’m going to suggest to you is the one I’m going to spend more time talking about today.  And that is this.  You have the opportunity to start thinking of yourself as your own steward.  You have the option of assuming stewardship of your own life.

There are a number of definitions of steward and stewardship out there, and some of them emphasize taking care of supplies or logistics or organizational matters.  In that sense, being a steward can be kind of like being a butler, or a manager.  And some definitions of steward and stewardship are drawn from Christianity in general and the Bible in particular.  

But stewardship doesn’t have to be defined in relation to any particular religious tradition, or to religion in general.  It can be a totally secular thing.  And although stewardship may entail the management of resources in a very literal and mundane sense, is also defined as the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.  That’s the definition I’m operating from when I say that we all have the opportunity to be our own steward.  Stewardship is the careful or responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.  We all have the opportunity to become our own stewards by entrusting ourselves with caring for ourselves.  We all have the opportunity to carefully and responsibly manage our own lives.

I want to be really clear about something: carefully and responsibly managing your own life can mean a LOT of different things in practice.  In my opinion, carefully and responsibly managing our lives entails learning how to listen to and honor our deepest desires – and sometimes honoring our deepest desires entails allowing ourselves to be wild, so to speak, in ways that might not look “careful” or “responsible” to some observers.  I’ll say more about that later. 


You might never have thought of entrusting yourself with your own care, and entrusting yourself with the management of your own life – no one may ever have told you to do this, or told you that you even COULD do this.  No one might have ever suggested that you think about your relationship to yourself in this way.  But you can start now, if you want to.

You can start thinking of yourself as the liver of your life, the experiencer of your experience, and also, the person entrusted with caring for, and responsibly managing your life experience.  Because who else is going to do that for you?  I really want you to think about that question.  Who else is going to assume the responsibility of caring for and responsibly managing your life experience, if you don’t do it?

It's worth considering the possibility that nobody is going to take better care of you than you can.  It’s worth considering that nobody is going to ensure your own well-being better than you can.  It’s worth considering that nobody is going to guide you through life better than you can.

We sometimes hope that someone, or maybe something, is going to come along and take care of us, or make decisions for us, or make things easier for us, but is that really going to happen?  I really want you to carefully consider that question, too.

Some people tell me, well, I have a relationship with God.  I’m guided by God.  Or they say they have a relationship with multiple gods, or with the universe, or with other forces, or with what they consider to be a higher power.  And to that I say, terrific!  If you have a relationship with a god or some sort of higher power, that’s great – but it’s still up to you to cultivate your relationship with that entity.  If you think your higher power is what guides you and takes care of you, you have to let yourself be guided and taken care of.  Even if you think your god is doing some things for you, you still have to do some things for yourself.  That relationship requires your participation.  So please, continue your relationship with your higher power or powers, but I encourage you to consider that even if you’ve got a god or two or three whispering in your ear, you still have to give yourself credit for listening to that voice, or those voices, and for acting on whatever you hear.  If you want to give your higher power some credit, that’s fine with me, but don’t discount your own role in the process.  

I want to suggest that you can still be your own steward even if you have a relationship with non-human forms of guidance.  Moreover, I would suggest that there is value in assuming stewardship over your own life even if you have a strong relationship with a higher power.  

And, to that effect, it’s also great to turn to other human sources of support and guidance and teachings and leadership and all of that.  As the saying goes, you have to do it all by yourself, but you can’t do it all by yourself.  Even though there are some things that we can only do for ourselves, of course it helps to surround ourselves with the right resources and influences.

But there’s a difference between selectively opening ourselves up to support and influence from other people, and relying on other people to do things that we can only do for ourselves.  And there’s a big difference between making very intentional decisions about the guidance and support we want to utilize, and grasping for a savior.  Or grasping for bits of support that seem like the solution to all of our problems.  When we don’t think that we’re in charge, it can be easy to do this – because we may be operating from the belief that someone else has all the answers, and we don’t.

Also, very importantly, you can decide to be your own steward even if you DON’T have a relationship with a higher power, or any human sources of support and guidance.  This is a role you can simply decide to take on.  No experience necessary.  We all have the option of stepping into stewardship any time we want to.  And I’ll talk about HOW we might do that in a moment, but first, let me talk about WHY we might want to do that.

To echo what I said earlier, a lot of us WANT a sense of agency in our own lives, but we don’t really feel like we have it.  And when we get it, when we assume responsibility for what we have the power to control, and take responsibility for how we relate to the things we don’t have the power to control, life gets a whole lot simpler and a whole lot better.  And generally speaking, this is a good thing!  And when we’re talking about infidelity situations more specifically, having a sense of agency, and having a sense that we are responsible for caring for our own lives can make our situations simpler to deal with.  Yes, our infidelity situations may involve conflicts, or conundrums, that we find really challenging.  

SHORT side note: I always thought that the plural of conundrum was conundra, but I just learned that I was wrong.  The plural of conundrum is conundrums, which is fascinating.  I always assumed the word conundrum had its roots in Latin, but I was not correct!  Okay, that’s the end of my side note.  

Anyway, when we assume stewardship over our lives, we can deal with the conundrums associated with our infidelity situations from the standpoint of someone who is charged with carefully and responsibly managing our own lives.  Rather than from the perspective of someone who is charged with trying to follow all of society’s rules, or do all the things that make other people happy.  When we entrust ourselves with the careful and responsible management of our own lives, we may find it easier to see the value in taking our own preferences and desires seriously – which is something we may struggle with if we’re primarily oriented towards finding ways of not making waves, or pissing anybody off.

And when we are focused on carefully and responsibly tending to our own lives, we get to feel like the life we’re living is truly our own.  We get to feel like we’re doing the things we most need to do in this lifetime.  We get to feel like we’re doing the karmic business that is ours to attend to.  We get to feel like we’re grappling with the challenges that we most need to grapple with in order to become the fullest version of who we are.  We get to feel like we are experiencing the joys that we most want to experience to become the fullest version of who we are in this lifetime.  We get to feel like we are living our lives on purpose, or in a purposeful way – instead of feeling like somebody else is running the show.  I’ve had clients tell me that they feel like they’re watching their life as if it’s a movie – and when they say this, they mean that they feel like their life is happening to them, and all they can do is stand by and watch, and wait to see how it all unfolds.  

I want to make sure something is really clear today.  If you feel like you’re watching your life like it’s a movie that has been pre-determined by a director who isn’t you, and you like that, that is fine with me.  It’s not my job to tell you what you should want and what you shouldn’t.  But I do consider it my job to tell you that if you feel like the life you’re living isn’t really your own, you have the right and the power to do something about that.

I’m going to read a poem that has been subject to many interpretations, and actually, its source has been debated, but I’m reading it now because I think it speaks so nicely to the matter of assuming stewardship of ourselves and our lives – or not doing that.  It’s called “I am the Great Sun.”

I am the great sun, but you do not see me, 

  I am your husband, but you turn away. 

I am the captive, but you do not free me, 

  I am the captain but you will not obey. 

I am the truth, but you will not believe me, 

  I am the city where you will not stay. 

I am your wife, your child, but you will leave me, 

  I am that God to whom you will not pray. 

I am your counsel, but you will not hear me, 

  I am your lover whom you will betray. 

I am the victor, but you do not cheer me, 

  I am the holy dove whom you will slay. 

I am your life, but if you will not name me, 

  Seal up your soul with tears, and never blame me.

Again, this poem has been subject to many interpretations, and one is that it’s a reflection of our failure to recognize and receive God’s love, and folks who say this are often referring to God in the very Christian conceptualization of God.  If you want to interpret this poem that way, that’s fine of course.  But I think another way we can receive it is as a beautiful reminder that our lives are ours to name and claim.

We may not be in the habit of doing this yet, but we can, at any point in time, start to more fully inhabit our lives.  We can start to take on the active role of being the steward of our own experience.  And if you listened to the episode I put out fairly recently called “Your One Wild and Precious Life,” this is very much related to deciding what you’re going to do with your one wild and precious life.  I’m just talking about those themes from a slightly different angle today.  You have the option, right now, to start assuming more responsibility for your experience of being alive – instead of vaguely assuming that you don’t have the power to do that, or half-consciously thinking that someone else is more in charge than you are.


So how do we become our own steward?  What do we actually DO in order to occupy this role?

Before I give you any specific recommendations, which I will, I want to suggest that stewardship is likely to always be an endeavor where we commit to figuring it out as we go.  However, not everyone agrees with me on this.  I actually Googled “how to be a good steward” as I was preparing this episode, and as it turns out, there are all kinds of prescriptive answers for how you can or should be a good steward.  So if you want some firm guidelines to follow, beyond what I’m about to offer you, the internet has plenty of prescriptive advice in this department.

What I think we may want to consider doing in the service of figuring out to be our own steward is as follows:

Number one: giving ourselves dedicated time and space to decide, or clarify, or remember what’s important to us.  I believe that it’s important to do this throughout our lives, because what’s important to us can change, and that’s okay.  If we want to carefully and responsibly manage our own lives, we have to have a sense of what our orienting principles are.  And many of us either never really had the opportunity to clarify what was most important to us, or haven’t had the opportunity to reaffirm or revise what’s important to us in a long while.  In our society, we tend to place a lot more emphasis on getting through the day and doing the things than on taking time to contemplate our deepest desires and highest priorities.  But we can choose to carve out some time and space to do that.

Number two: we can begin, or continue to, believe in the value of ourselves and our lives.  This is a big one for a lot of people.  Believing in our value and worth is something that a lot of us have to learn how to do, and have to encourage ourselves to do.  And I would suggest that it’s well worth the effort.  Within the context of this discussion of stewardship, it’s important to point out that it’s hard to lovingly care for something that we don’t really value.  If we don’t value ourselves, it can be really hard to believe that our lives are worthy of careful, responsible, loving management.

Number three is similar to number one, but also a little different: we can give ourselves the opportunity to consider what we most want to do with our one wild and precious life.  When I talk about carefully and responsibly managing our lives, I mean giving ourselves the chance to decide what is most important to us to experience in this lifetime, and allowing ourselves to believe in the value of honoring our desires.  We get to choose HOW we honor our desires – some desires we might not want to act on at all.  But there’s a big difference between treating all of our desires as precious parts of ourself, no matter how wild they might seem, and then deciding what we want to do with them, and not even allowing ourselves to acknowledge our desires in the first place. 

Number four: we can give ourselves time and space to identify what we like and what we dislike about our lives, and decide what we want to do about that.  This is something that a lot of people find excruciatingly difficult to do in the context of infidelity situations.  But when we do the first three things I’ve mentioned, it can become a little less difficult to be honest with ourselves about what we like in our lives, and what we don’t.  And giving ourselves time and space to check in with ourselves about what we like – or dislike – about how our lives are going is essential to taking good care of ourselves.  How are we going to build on what’s working if we don’t do this?  How are we going to course-correct if we can’t be honest about what we don’t like about our lives?  If someone were taking care of us, if someone else were our steward, they would want a thorough and comprehensive assessment of our life situations.  And if we’re going to take good care of ourselves, we need this too.

Number five: we can continuously ask ourselves questions like, if I were taking excellent care of myself, what would I be doing right now?  Now I know that many of us have no idea what it would mean to take excellent care of ourselves.  I’m fully aware of that.  But if that’s you, you don’t have to let that stop you from asking yourself this question.  In fact, not knowing what it would mean to take excellent care of yourself is an excellent reason to ask yourself this question – over and over again.  And we can ANSWER this question for ourselves over and over again.  And in so doing, we learn how to take care of ourselves.  We learn how to be our own stewards.

This is just a short list of things we can do to begin to assume stewardship over our lives.  And one of the reasons why I’m keeping this list relatively short is because I see so many people struggling to even consider doing these things.  I see so many folks saying, in so many words, “Well, if I think that my life has worth, then I might make different decisions, and then I might do things that other people wouldn’t like, and I can’t possibly do that, so I’d just be better off NOT believing that my life has value.  I’m better off NOT considering what I like or dislike about my life, because I don’t really have the power to make changes anyway.”

I know how easy it is to believe all that stuff, or to believe similar things.  For today’s purposes, I want you to consider that being your own steward, and treating yourself and your life as worthy of care and respect, and believing that you have the right and maybe even the responsibility to manage your life in accordance with your desires and priorities might actually help you engage with other people in ways that you feel better about.  So often we think that honoring our own desires means that we’re going to do things that other people won’t like, or that will actually HARM other people, but that is not necessarily the case.  There’s a lot more that could be said about that, but for now, I’ll just ask you to consider that you may be in a much better position to “do right by others,” whatever that may mean to you, if you take it upon yourself to do right by yourself first.  So explore this idea of being your own steward, and consider what it might mean to take excellent care of yourself at this moment in your life.

And of course, if you want to talk to me about being your own steward and how that relates to dealing with your infidelity situation, let’s work together.  You can schedule an introductory coaching session with me through my website, mariemurphyphd.com.  There’s a big difference between listening to me talk on the podcast, and having me as your coach who helps you apply the kinds of teachings I offer on the podcast to the specifics of your own life.  Plus, when we work together one-on-one, I teach you so much more than I teach on the podcast – because I can!  That’s not to say that podcasts aren’t great resources.  They totally are, and I have benefitted immeasurably from listening to other people’s podcasts.  But sometimes we need help applying what we learn about on a podcast to the specifics of our own lives, or putting what we hear about into effective use – and that’s when coaching becomes so very beneficial.  So when you’re ready to get to work, you know how to find me.  

All right everybody!  That’s it for today.  Thank you all so much for listening.  Have a great week.  Bye for now.


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