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3 Thought Patterns “Helpers” Need To Watch For
The past three years have contained heaps of uncertainty and mountains of challenge. Managing that took a lot of energy.
This has been draining for everyone, but today I want to spotlight how it has drained the “helpers” among us.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re one of them: People who normally take joy in being there for others. People who see someone carrying a load, and feel an instinct to lend their shoulder. People fluent in the language of offering warm meals, clean laundry, notes, texts, listening ears, and other forms of physical and emotional repair – inside or outside their home. People who see through the cheery “I’m fines” and dig deeper to help.
Times of great need are times of a particular kind of depletion for these lovely helper souls.
They’ve been called upon over and over.
If you’re one of them, you’ve probably drained deep resources in ways that haven’t been refilled yet.
As you venture further into planning your year, I’d like to raise awareness of three thought patterns that helpers have, because they can collide with business-running in particularly messy ways.
I want you to be aware of them so you can come up with plans now to prevent draining yourself even further:
Thought Pattern #1: “I need to say yes to this request, otherwise I am not an empathetic/kind/good person.”
Let’s say someone requests a service you can technically perform, but it’s uninteresting and outside your wheelhouse. Your heart might sink like a stone. You want to say yes because they need a favor and you can do it, but you know it will suck up mental energy without adequate return.
Here’s the part to be aware of: You might identify strongly with the idea of being an empathetic, understanding person. The downside of this in business is that denying requests can feel like a threat to your identity: I am an empathetic person therefore I have to help THIS person, otherwise how dare I think positively about myself?
Your identity is almost held hostage by the request.
(This effect can feel particularly calcified if you grew up in a household where approval had to be earned, or even small mistakes were condemned, which gave you a sense that you had to prove yourself over and over in every action to avoid condemnation.)
Feeling your identity as a helper threatened can lead you to basically donate energy to others at the expense of moving forward yourself. This can even prevent you from launching new endeavors by keeping you stuck in current ones.
If this comes up, I have something you can try:
The next time a request comes in, trust that the instinct to say no is actually part of you being an empathetic person.
You aren’t saying “How dare you even ask?!?” You are actively empathizing with their situation by considering whether you can do it and recognizing you aren’t the one to handle the request. You acknowledge that you deserve to protect your time, and they deserve to have someone help who won’t feel rushed or quietly resentful. It can be a great kindness to simply say, “I’m not the right fit to help you with this, but I hope you find someone who can.”
There is nothing about being a helper or an empathetic person that means you can’t be honest. (And you have nothing to prove here anyway – it’s okay to take breaks at any time for any reason, and that doesn’t change who you are.)
Thought Pattern #2: “I am going to keep helping quietly because I don’t want to call too much attention to myself.”
This one runs deep.
It can feel more comfortable to help quietly in the background, because the spotlight may bring problems along with it. Larger audiences can bring a larger group of critics. More attention can feel like there’s more expectations to live up to, plus more eyeballs on the aspects of your work you’re less secure in. There can be a quiet self-sabotage that finds you avoiding actions that would call more attention to your business.
It feels much safer to stay in the familiar place you are, where you are less at risk of scrutiny.
(And I say this very, very gently: Some folks also grew up in houses where the adults weren’t entirely safe people, where you learned that helping quietly and getting out of the way were excellent survival skills. In adulthood, you can be hard on yourself for not ‘going hard’ after your dreams, yet you feel uncomfortable being in the spotlight because you previously learned that calling attention to yourself could bring negative consequences. This may have been an extremely smart coping skill then, but I’d invite you to consider whether you still need to use it now.)
There is absolutely nothing wrong with helping in the background. It’s noble and necessary and honorable work.
If you’re finding you’re deliberately avoiding steps that could lead to bigger things you actually want, try this: Picture someone who really needs what you offer. Someone who would get exactly what you do and feel the relief that comes from buying the thing you offer.
Can you see them?
Now consider that this person can’t find you if you aren’t visible.
How would it feel to step forward so they can see you? Write your answer to that question down. It’ll help.
Thought Pattern #3: “This feels uncomfortable, so I’m going to go help someone instead.”
Stick with me on this: Some people feel so comfortable as a helper that they bury their heads deeper into that role whenever they feel anxious about a new challenge.
I’ll give you an example. A photographer I know was convinced that there was no way she could start offering a new service in a different area until she had finished making a free how-to video for past clients. They’d asked for it, and she said “Sure, I can do that!”
Despite the fact that making the video would be extremely time-consuming and not bring in any new business. (If we’re being honest, even to those clients, it’d be a nice but relatively small blip in their week, easily something they could live without.) She was putting her entire dream on hold for this task.
After listening to her talk through the whole situation, I asked if it was possible that putting out this new offer made her feel stretched and anxious, and that helping these other folks felt soothing and familiar.
She fell silent. The silence of recognition.
I say this with much love, but you can fill your time responding to other people’s ‘urgent’ needs for help as a way to avoid doing the things that scare you. It feels comfortable to be in the familiar role of receiving gratitude for help, and to feel your need to be a good person reinforced (see #1).
This can show up in ways large and small…even in spending lots of time in Facebook groups answering questions. Nothing wrong with that, but it can be a form of hiding from work discomfort.
I’d invite you to consider whether it’s worth it to tolerate some anxiety and uncertainty now so that you can go pursue the change you want to make – because again, there are people on the other side of that change who will love to work with you.
Hope this helps.
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