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What does it Mean to "Bite Off More than You Can Chew"?

Single parents often struggle balancing home and work life.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 August 2014
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When you bite off more than you can chew, it means that you have taken on too many tasks or responsibilities. As a result of taking on too much, you may fail at one or more of the tasks you have involved yourself in, and you may also experience high levels of stress and unhappiness. In societies where people are actively encouraged to take on a lot of responsibility, people often bite off more than they can chew, and they may be reluctant to ask for help due to cultural values which frown upon requests for assistance.

Many of us have literally bitten off more than we can chew, and the experience in the metaphorical sense is much the same. In the literal sense, when you but too much food in your mouth, you are often filled with a feeling of panic as you realize that the mouthful is too large. You are forced with the choice of either trying to swallow the mouthful and hoping you don't choke, or spitting it out and starting over again. The choice is much the same in the metaphorical sense.

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One of the most common arenas in which people bite off more than they can chew is the workplace. Employees are often encouraged to take on diverse tasks, and they may underestimate the complexity of certain tasks, or overestimate their ability to complete tasks in a timely fashion. When work overloads are combined with a stressful home life, the results can be even worse; single parents, for example, often struggle with finding a balance between home and work.

While it may be tempting to try and forge ahead when you've taken on too much, it is probably advisable to ask for help. Knowing your own limits is very important, especially if you want to become a successful professional. While you may be teased or criticized for asking for assistance, in the end your willingness to recognize the situation will likely play in your favor. Employees who acknowledge the need for assistance are often viewed as more reliable than those who will blindly press on and ultimately make mistakes.

You should also consider the issue of taking on too many responsibilities when you are asked to support charities, participate in extracurricular activities, or make other plans which involve your time or energy. Students especially are prone to flailing as they try to balance social lives, sports teams, schoolwork, and other activities. The stress of handling all of these responsibilities can sometimes undermine the immune system, causing the student to literally become sick from stress.

While you keep an eye on yourself to make sure that you do not bite off more than you can chew, it may be a good idea to also watch out for friends and family members. If someone appears to be struggling but is too proud to ask for help, don't be afraid to step in and assist. It also helps to point out that you know what it's like to be overwhelmed, to establish the fact that you sympathize with the person's struggles.

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Discuss this Article

Crispety
Post 2

I bet that some of these idiom phrases must be funny to people that are not familiar with the English language.

My favorite idiom is “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.” This is what I do all of the time so when somebody says this too me then I know that I need to stop making a bigger issue out of something so minor. It must sound funny to someone learning English though.

oasis11
Post 1

I have to say that when you bite off more than you can chew it really makes you feel stressed and a little angry at yourself for agreeing to do so much.

I think that sometimes people have a hard time saying no. That happens to my sister all of the time and then she becomes resentful, but she continues to do it.

I think that you have to learn to say no otherwise you will not be able to enjoy life because you will always be doing favors for people. Helping someone out is great, but to do it at the expense of your own workload and time away from your family is a little bit of a problem.

For example, my sister agreed to go to her son’s girl friend’s cousin’s baby shower instead of coming to my home for my birthday party. She could not be at two places at one time, but felt it was easier to turn me down because I was family. Since she did not know this person well she felt bad saying no.

I got over it but, but these are the consequences of when you bite off more than you can chew.

You can hurt someone's feelings or damage a relationship if you continue to bite off more than you can chew.

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