I Can't Help You

by Michael Riggs, M.Ed.

Sitting, eyes-closed, feet up on the ottoman, mentally and physically exhausted from a day of non-stop errands, meetings, calls, favors, practices, and follow-up phone calls, Janice mumbles to herself, “I gotta slow down or something’s gonna give… I just can’t keep up this pace.”

dead end signIn a culture where “more is better”, piling more commitment onto an already overflowing plate is the norm. One more meeting to help a local charity. One more home party to assist a friend to build her home business. One more trip to the store to get the right birthday gift. One more favor. One more. Each of these “one mores” adds up to “too much”. And the result very often becomes high stress, low productivity and no enjoyment.

Why do we tend to over commit ourselves? At a fundamental level we all like to give assistance to others. Which is a very good thing. The act of caring for other people’s needs strums a cord deep inside each of us that makes us feel good and worthwhile. Helping others, by saying “sure I’ll do that for you” validates ourselves, to ourselves. Conversely, when we say “no” to a request of a friend, boss, spouse, or colleague we feel that we are letting them down. And, we feel a sense of guilt for not being there to help out. The usual end result? The guilt wins out and we say “yes, yes, yes” even when it cuts into our own emotional and physical well-being.

But, there is another compelling reason why we are a society of the over committed.

We are all very concerned — often too concerned — with what others think of us. By sayingno” to a help-request, we begin to wonder what the person may be thinking of us. Worries of “He’s so selfish”, or “She’s not very nice”, or “It’s all about Josef” begin to eat into our egos and make us question ourselves and our motivations. In other words, we care so much about what others think of us that we sacrifice our own well-being by refusing to say, “No, I simply can’t help out with that.”

So what’s the answer?

Set priorities and make decisions that uphold your priorities. Don’t fear that by learning to say “no” you will become a narcissistic self-indulgent with a heart of stone. Quite the contrary, by being more selective with your time and favor you will have more energy and be more authentic when you do engage in helping others. You will truly be at your best, bringing your best, to those that request your help.

S² Tip

When you feel stretched too thin worth your time and energy, learn to reply with a guilt-free “No, I simply can’t help with that.”

In Another’s Words…

“The art of leadership is saying no, not yes. It is very easy to say yes.”
– Tony Blair, British prime minister

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