It was about a year ago when my son had just finished an internship after his high school degree. At that stage, it was clear that his plan A – studying in Scotland – had not worked out. Well, and there was no plan B.
The latter did not seem to bother him too much. Life was good. Sleeping in, making music, getting food served (well, most of the time) and supposedly not having a worry in his life.
Except for his nagging mum – me.
- Organized regular “meetings” with him, talking about how he intends to move on, giving all sorts of options
- Trained him in regards of how to organize the next and necessary steps, after he decided that studying is still the future of choice
- Set up a Kanban board with him in his room so that he could see at any time what has to be done and to remind him of stuff (even at 20, the teenage typical forgetfulness seems to be pretty prevalent).
- Had long conversations with him to help him finding his WHY
- Told him stories about my own struggles in younger and later years
- Schlepped him to a high-performance training in the US
…..and if think about it a bit longer, the list would get even longer.
In a nutshell, I was trying to help him to define his next step and to give him tools to make this happen.
Despite all the hours, my biggest efforts, all my love (and sometimes anger and frustration) NOTHING of the above worked.
How incredibly unbelievable was that? Particularly considering I’m in the business of helping people to get clarity, become more productive and even helping them to re-program their mind.
So WHY the heck was that happening, despite me being supportive, consistent and even patient?
Have you ever had such a situation where you did everything to help someone? A family member, a friend, a colleague…and they would just not do what you told them despite you knowing that it would help them?
Probably this word doesn’t even exist - Unhelpable. The people DO though.
Those who are just not ready to move….yet.
Those who will never be ready to change or try out new and other things and ways to improve their lives.
The reasons can be manifold – it could be fear, it could be laziness, it could be a lack of clarity, it could be that they believe all is fine as it is. Or it could be because they love complaining, and still don’t have a desire to change….you name it.
Often we don’t know and ….try to help. As we believe we know things better (and often actually do), or as we just wish to improve the situation for the person in question.
If such a person is a beloved one it can make us feel desperate, often even painful to watch. If it’s a colleague, it’s plainly frustrating.
What a relief it was for me when I realized that the unhelpable exist. On the other side, it made me deeply sad. As I understood clearly that we can’t help ANYBODY if they are not open to it.
We have probably all heard that before: We can’t change anybody, except ourselves.
Common sense, right?
Common sense is NOT common practice though, and so we try to help again and again. And are left behind frustrated or devastated when it does not work.
On top of that, we’re often trying to help people because WE think they need it.
Hey, there is nothing wrong with offering help, let’s be very aware of the reaction to our offer though. We don’t have the right to push our help on someone or give advice without being asked. Unfortunately, that is very often common practice nowadays - or did your boss ever ask you if he's allowed to give you feedback?
So STOP HELPING, if you realize this friend, colleague, or loved has clearly no intention to change anything. You’re wasting your time and energy.
Sounds harsh? Yes, and I can almost hear the outcry:”I can’t just drop my son/daughter/partner/colleague….I KNOW they won’t get anywhere or even harm themselves when continuing this way. I MUST help.”
I’m not asking you to drop anybody, I ask you to leave the responsibility of change where it belongs. And that’s not with you.
The better way is to show our compassion, our willingness to help, to place the offer from time to time, and NOT to push our help on someone. This is valid for those people where you sense (trust yourself here!) that the time is just not right YET.
Pushing help on someone might even result into a complete overwhelm on their side and an even greater lack of clarity.
ASK if you can help. And listen if the answer is no. If it is yes and you don’t see any changes or progress…stop.
Those might never be ready and prepared to change – so save your energy for your own progress and for those who are open to help.
If our help is not called for right now, there is a completely different way of helping people around us, I found. Much more subtle and often quite effective.
Our behaviour has a huge influence on those around us. If we know for us what is o.k.and what is not (you might call it boundaries and/or values and principles) and make that very clear, this has a HUGE potential to have an influence on people around you.
Let’s say you’d love to help your partner to get fitter and to lose weight. If you just live the way that is healthy and increases YOUR fitness, there is quite a likelihood that this rubs off on your partner…probably more than trying to help him/her if they are not ready yet.
If we are the role model for those around us, this can sometimes serve them much more than any other help we believe we have or want to give.
I stopped helping my son (and some others too).
Well, I still supported him settling into Uni and finding his way around in the new place.
Eventually, he took a decision and applied to his Uni of choice WITHOUT any of my help (studying psychology now, out of all subjects…). Admittedly it was a last minute application, sent in on the last possible day.
He made it though.
And is in the middle of his first semester, going to his lectures every day. Probably using and applying some of the stuff I taught and showed him.
It was his choice though, not mine. And he allowed me to write about him. Thank you, my lovely son.
So who are the people you decide to stop helping as of now?
I keep getting dragged into helping where my help is either not wanted, appreciated or will not fall on fertile ground. What I’m getting better at though is, that I notice quicker and then stop.
And so should you.