Yesterday I found myself slipping into the role of customer service provider / caretaker / problem solver.
I didn’t mean to. It was old ingrained automatic habit (one that I’ve largely grown out of, but sometimes it still creeps up in small ways).
A family member texted me, asking for a favor. I didn’t care to deliver the favor in the exact manner or timeframe that he wanted, so I offered a quicker alternative that would have been easier for me.
In order for him to get what he wanted via the alternative manner, he had to take a few simple actions that were technical in nature. The actions turned out to be “confusing” to him.
When he couldn’t figure out how to complete a simple task, I immediately took on the role of “the person who is supposed to drop everything she’s doing right now, in order to help him figure out how to solve his problem.”
(That’s a behavior I learned from my mom. It took years of personal growth work for me to un-learn it. As you can see, I’m still working on it.)
Because I had slipped into the role, I found myself adjusting several details of my life, so that I could “help” this family member in that moment. I was ready to give up my top priorities to serve someone else’s needs.
I spent about an hour texting him, trying to walk him through the problem step by step…while not being fully present in my life, with the company I was with.
Luckily, I caught myself.
I told my boyfriend (who was observing all of this), “I don’t actually need to help him. He can figure this out on his own.”
“True,” my boyfriend agreed.
“This isn’t my problem.”
Earlier in life, I had a long history of rescuing people from their own “problems,” both big and small.
I wish someone had taught me all problems are self-created — i.e., humans have a choice of which “problems” they create for themselves. If they create a problem, then they can also create a solution for it.
That would have saved me years of being an unpaid, unappreciated “customer service rep” for other people’s problems.
Curious, I went back and reviewed my texting conversation with my family member to see where I’d made the initial mistake — where I’d gotten “hooked” into jumping in the role of “customer service rep / savior / problem solver.”
I spotted exactly where I had made the error. It was when my family member said “Now what do I do?” I could have stayed silent. I could have let him figure it out on his own…meanwhile, attending to my own priorities.
That’s where I made the mistake. Lesson learned!
In my experience, people are better served solving their own problems. I don’t mean they have go at it alone, unsupported in life — I mean, they have to really dig deep and allow themselves to access the RIGHT help (not the wrong help).
My family member could have easily Googled to find the info he was looking for. But he was being lazy.
When we interfere by taking someone else’s problem on as our own — we actually interfere with their growth as a human.
Even though I was trying to “help” my family member, I wasn’t really helping him. The moment I realized this, I set a boundary and exited the conversation.
Whose problems have you tried to solve? And in doing so, whose growth have you interfered with?
Robert Fritz, author of The Path of Lease Resistance, said something to effect of:
“You could solve ALL the problems in your life, and you still might not have everything you want. That’s because problem-solving is very different from actually CREATING what you want.”
I find this to be 100% true.
Paying attention to, and putting energy into solving problems just makes them grow bigger. Helping people through their “problem” usually gives the problem more power.
We see this in business, too. Just look at any business that gets paid by promising to solve a problem. The only way they can profit is if the problem continues to exist. (The pharmaceutical drug industry is by far the biggest example of this. Americans are spending billions in health care trying to solve the “problem” of poor health — and all they’re doing is getting sicker.)
Ask yourself: “What if I created a life in which other people’s problems aren’t my problem? How freeing would that be?”
Then shift your focus towards CREATING exactly what you want to experience.
That level of freedom would require us to disengage when someone else insists there’s a problem.
If they want to take on a problem for their life, they have the right to do so. But that doesn’t mean YOU have be to dragged down with them.
The moment I realized I didn’t need to participate in the conversation with my family member, I was free. (A sense of guilt is what initially drove me to participate in the first place!)
I’m sure those of you who can relate are totally appreciating this article right now!
Here are 9 key takeaways to remember:
1. Give up the dysfunctional need to rescue people from their own problems.
2. By allowing someone to solve their own problem, you give them the space to grow as a person.
3. Start embracing the mantra, “It’s not my problem.”
4. Not all “help” is the right help.
5. When someone is truly ready to solve their problem, they’ll abandon it…and not a moment sooner.
6. Have faith that people are capable of handling their own problems. They created them; therefore, they can solve them.
7. Is it really your life’s purpose to take on someone else’s problem as your own? (even for a short period of time)
8. Prioritize your own freedom. Stay free from the drama of someone else’s supposed problem.
9. Sometimes the quickest way to handle a problem is to say “No” to it, and not get involved with it.