“I Could Help, But I Choose Not To”


At what point do you tell yourself, “I could help out, but I choose not to”? While it may be presumptuous of me, I imagine that we all pick and choose to help out other people and sometimes we make conscious decisions to pass on the opportunity. Does that make us bad people? I think not.

When we find ourselves avoiding offering help, it can be for many different reasons. Many years ago now I was on a break in a mall where I worked in a retail store. I heard a woman scream and saw a guy running to towards to door behind me with her purse. I tackled him and wrestled with him while a crowd gathered about us. Nobody actually got involved to help me until one woman called the police. We wrestled for a good five minutes. I think the others were afraid to get involved out of fear of what might happen to them.

Sometimes it may be that we are just mentally exhausted too. We come out emotionally drained from a long session in which someone opens up to us, and by reaching back and becoming so engaged in the pain of what we’ve heard, we need time to debrief and recover our balance in order to be useful to others. So when someone say, “Do you have a minute”?, we might just say, “Not right now” and to them perhaps even appear abrupt.

And I’m willing to bet you’ve had the situation where the workload is substantial; breaks are ignored, and you finally get a chance to hydrate, use the washroom and grab a quick bite. The phone rings and the display tells you it’s a person who regularly will consume 20 precious minutes of your time, so you let the phone take a message. Or it’s the person at the counter who doesn’t know you asking for you by name as you’re leaving the building and whisk right past them at quitting time.

These are the situations in which, while we would normally consider ourselves to be helpers, have great patience and be client-centered, we pass on opportunities to help – and we have to allow ourselves this without guilt or beating ourselves up all day.

The thing about passing up chances to help others is that while almost all the time there will be a chance to make it up to that person, or address the situation at a later time, every so often that chance will be lost and the consequences for someone extreme. So perhaps this is where a personal philosophy fits in, or self-preservation. Someone who gives unselfishly of themselves with no regard to maintaining their own balance and recharging their emotional and physical stability eventually won’t be of much use to the very people they feel so empowered to help.

There is a reason workers have breaks, be they 15 minutes, half an hour or one hour. There’s a reason our work days are fixed so we don’t overwork ourselves and become exhausted. Simply put, enough people have gone before us and shown that the optimal amount of energy expended has a limit, and after that limit, most people in our job (whatever it is) become less effective, less productive.

Would you want to be on a travel coach where the driver has exceeded their 10 hour maximum time behind the wheel? Probably not as the level of alertness is diminished severely, and a new driver who is fully rested is the better option. Likewise some Doctor whose about to perform surgery on a loved one had better be well-rested and be able to concentrate fully on the job at hand. But that Doctor, and others like him, has worries and personal issues they are dealing with like anyone else.

So in YOUR daily work, when you pass on the opportunity to rush around helping absolutely everyone that asks for your time, give yourself permission to avoid the guilt in your decision. It is critical to remember that your valuable skills that have escalated you to the position you are in, can best be provided to others when you are at the top of your game. If you’ve just come out of a draining conversation, an intense counselling session, or any situation where you’ve entirely invested yourself, it is not only okay to recharge, it’s imperative.

Of course this is sometimes called, “Compassion Fatigue”; where you give and give and drain your emotional tank and have nothing left, but all born out of your desire to help everyone. Sometimes it takes a walk around the exterior of the building, a de-briefing with another employee, 15 minutes with a book you are really into, some soothing music with your eyes closed, a yoga break at noon, and there are other outlets.

Think of this like a steam whistle. The pressure builds and builds until the water boils in a kettle and the steam whistle blows. The the kettle, letting off some steam through exercise or relaxation can and does avoid a boiling over. Young people and those new to a job often look at seasoned staff who appear to be indifferent at times to clients needs by making them wait or asking them to make an appointment instead of seeing them when they show up. While it can be insensitivity, it can also be a wily veteran knowing that to pace themselves is the best way to ensure that when seeing clients, they give 100%

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