One of the things I love about my work is that I get to be a part of big, life-changing work without being involved with life-threatening situations. Crisis counselors, E.R. docs, EMTs: Brava. Really. There are times – many times, I would imagine – where your training, quick response, and adaptability make a difference between whether a person keeps on kicking or kicks the bucket.
Not me. Not most professional helpers. Not most people. For most of us, our work is a little more mundane. For me, that’s happy news. When I stop answering my phone at the end of the work day, I have no fear that one of my clients will hemorrhage out because I let them go to voicemail.
In fact, often, when a client calls after hours, they’ve resolved the instigating issue by the time I return the call the next morning. And yet, I have a gremlin voice that gets all over me when I realize a client called after I turned off the ringer, especially when I hear a message or read a text that sounds agonized.
That gremlin simply refuses to believe one of the foundational premises of coaching: That people are creative, resourceful, and whole.
I’ve found that most people in helping professions carry a loud gremlin that is likewise unwilling to believe that their clients, friends, and families are creative, resourceful, and whole. Instead, that gremlin insists that those people are lost – LOST! – without our immediate and self-sacrificing attention.
That gremlin is desperately afraid that if we aren’t absolutely critical to those people – that if we don’t self-sacrifice for them or if we’re just enhancing lives instead of saving them – that we will, in fact, have no value as individuals.
All of which is to lead to my PSA for my fellow helpers (and that little gremlin in me who I’ve just now, in this moment, decided to name Melvin the Martyr):
Being helpful is valuable and wonderful and all sorts of feel-good. It does not, however, require:
- Imagining others as incapable of caring for themselves. (Note: This assumption tends to hang out in our subconscious, surfacing only when we bring some directed curiosity to our helper drive.)
- Attaching our sense of self-worth to our helpful behaviors. Your value as a human just is and is not impacted by the fact that sometimes you will act like a saint and sometimes you will act like a jerk.
And sometimes, I hope, you will turn your phone off and hide it under a pillow and go do whatever it is that gives you joy because you are the only one who can create your best life.
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