— Life —


pin it

Lots of us have, and regularly use, some version of the Serenity Prayer. This is mine, short and sweet:

Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys.

It’s an old Polish proverb that reminds me to let go of the things in my life (or that are beginning to spill-over into my life) which are frustrating, beyond my control, and infringements on my inner-peace. 

My sisters and I have an inside joke, a variant of the saying that states: Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys… My Monkeys Have Wings! 

I’d often laugh when I heard my sister Terry snarl, “Don’t make me unleash the flying monkeys!” This proverb usually closes out most sisterly discussions, as it is the most common advice we give each other. Isn’t it funny how a movie–The Wizard of Oz–can have such a lasting impact on our psyche? I enjoy that it’s part of the love language my sisters and I share.

Looking online to buy the “Not My Circus, Not My Monkey” poster for my kitchen I found an article from Dr. Margaret Wehrenberg in Psychology Today, supporting the wisdom of this proverb. She’d never heard it until her daughter defiantly said it to her! It succinctly reflects the main problem we often fail to acknowledge: A ringmaster only has control over his own big-top.

The article, although geared toward depression, mentions daily challenges we may face: our inability to improve things in our relationship, our job frustration, our children’s/family’s choices. I’d add, our frustration with ourselves, too. 

When we get right down to it, almost everything and everyone else is beyond our control. All we can control is ourselves, and how well do we manage that most of the time?

In her article, Dr. Wehrenberg said to ask yourself these four questions:

  1. Am I, and only I, responsible for this situation? If so, it’s time for action.
  2. Taking action means asking yourself, “What’s going wrong here?” This leads to new thoughts and a way out of the spiral.
  3. Find possible ways to correct what’s wrong… and this may mean asking for other’s help and input.
  4. Consider “What’s going right.” I often become obsessed with the negative side of a situation. Sometimes everyone else is okay, and I’m the only one upset and anxious. My not liking something doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a problem, and a change in my attitude can be just the solution.

I often get stuck going around and around, and that additional stress is the last thing I need. When I finally remember that I’m not in charge of other people’s circuses, it’s enough to free me.

The next time you find yourself going around in circles, remind yourself that it’s not your circus, and they’re not your monkeys. Or just for laughs, go ahead and unleash your winged monkeys… then sit back and enjoy the show!

XO Donna


  • 1010ParkPlace June 10, 2019 at 6:43 pm

    Donna, Sorry we had server glitches and problems getting your blog out today. It is my circus, and they are my monkeys, and we profoundly apologize. Love, Brenda

    • Bonnie K. Aldinger June 11, 2019 at 10:28 am

      That may be the best apology I’ve ever read. 🙂

      • 1010ParkPlace June 12, 2019 at 6:26 pm

        Bonnie, Your comment made me smile! Cute! Thanks. xoxox, Brenda

    • Donna O'Klock June 11, 2019 at 11:24 am

      Brenda, sometimes the monkeys just run amok, but you’re an excellent ringmistress and always regain control!
      Thank you!

  • Sheila-Merle Johnson June 10, 2019 at 7:41 pm

    Donna, I always enjoy your writing – wisdom with a dash of humor. My favorite recipe! Thanks. @sheilamerle1

    • Donna O'Klock June 11, 2019 at 11:42 am

      That is music to my ears! Thank you so much, Sheila-Merle.

  • Gran June 10, 2019 at 9:32 pm

    Donna- This article was a very practical and helpful for those of us with ‘others’ in our lives. I love the questions and especially the last one mention ing that if it’s all good, then I’m the one who needs to change My attitude. As a ‘hands on’ Mom and Grandmother with my peeps close by, this will be an article I will refer to often, I’m sure! Thank you!

    • Donna O'Klock June 11, 2019 at 11:44 am

      You’re so very welcome! Glad you found it useful.

  • Taste of France June 11, 2019 at 5:20 am

    I am going to use this a lot. Perfect. If only I had known it when I was a manager and other ringmasters were incapable of controlling their own monkeys.

    • Donna O'Klock June 11, 2019 at 11:50 am

      Other people’s monkeys… sigh. So glad you enjoyed it the article. Better late than never, right?

  • Renee June 11, 2019 at 6:59 am

    I am going to keep these questions handy , referring back to them at those times I find myself trying to fix the monkeys. In my life thank you

    • Donna O'Klock June 11, 2019 at 11:52 am

      Glad you found it relatable, Renee! I also liked her questions as a tool to be able to clearly make those distinctions for myself.

  • LA CONTESSA June 11, 2019 at 9:48 am

    I have never heard this before!

    • Donna O'Klock June 11, 2019 at 11:53 am

      Why, thank you, Contessa! Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Beckye June 11, 2019 at 10:29 am

    Thank you, Donna! I’m going to use this to help kick-start myself in some flying monkeys for which I’m responsible! Just needed a kick in the butt! Thank you!

    • Donna O'Klock June 11, 2019 at 11:55 am

      (Chuckling) Happy to be able to give you that kick! You’re welcome, I’m glad you found the article useful.

  • Beth Havey June 11, 2019 at 12:03 pm

    Donna, I love the saying and your take on life. Right now I am taking on too much with a person I love. It’s hard to
    pull back and let them discover their own solutions. There is a fine line between allowing someone to fall and being there
    to pick them up. But in the end, we can’t live others lives.

    • Donna O'Klock June 12, 2019 at 1:10 pm

      Exactly, Beth, you’ve got it! Glad you like the saying… I love a simple, funny reminder of how to make life easier.

  • Barbara June 11, 2019 at 1:02 pm

    Sometimes my patients have had bad experiences with other doctors. They will often spend 10 minutes telling me about these experiences. Sometimes they can be quite disturbed about them, and rightly so. When you go to see a doctor, you have an expectation of some level of caring plus competence. I would say that most often, there is competence. Usually what is most upsetting is when there is no caring. But if the patient spends 10 minutes of our time together, complaining about the other doctor, it leaves less time for us to talk about their problem, often putting me in a situation, in which I now have to rush a little. That defeats the purpose of coming to see a doc who you think might be a little more caring. I will empathize, if that’s what is needed. But…there’s nothing I can do about the past experience. I can only take steps to help a patient with their ongoing problem. What happened with that doc? Not my circus. Not my monkeys. Now if I actually said that…I’d get a really bad hit on Yelp!

    • Donna O'Klock June 12, 2019 at 1:16 pm

      You are so right, Barbara… but you can think it!! Knowing you, I’m certain you masterfully direct the conversation back to what needs to be done now to solve the problem.
      Great reminder for our readers as a way to maximize their time and benefits with their doctors! I know I have been guilty, myself. No more.

  • Chris June 11, 2019 at 2:13 pm

    My new motto!

    • Donna O'Klock June 12, 2019 at 1:17 pm

      Hahahahaha! Thanks, Chris, it IS concise, isn’t it?

    You Might Also Like


    Sign up to our list and we’ll send you our sought-after guide “45 Ways To Change Your Life”
    I'm happy you've joined us! If you like what you read, I'd love for you to stay and subscribe to our updates by email. We have a great community of like-minded women, and your presence can only make it stronger.