When you devote your life to helping others, it is easy to find yourself lost in a sea of people wanting your time and attention.   While this can initially be empowering and fulfilling, you can quickly find yourself being drained of all your energy as people progressively demand more and more from you.   This workshop is designed to provide you with some tools to better determine where your efforts should be spent, and how to regain and maintain control over your own sanity, time and other valuable resources.

This workshop focuses on techniques to for helping people to take ownership and personal responsibility for the causes and solutions to their own challenges in life.   A Path of Service is presented as a method for guiding people to their own empowerment, not a way of stripping them of their own power by doing things for them.

These techniques are designed to be useful to anyone who is on a Path of Service, be they a teacher, healer, guide, clergy or any other person who regularly helps others.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

The good news is that helping people can be incredibly rewarding personally and in groups.   If you choose to live your life in a Path of Service you will have the opportunity to watch those you help grow as people, expand their lives and experience a contact buzz of joy and growth through them.

Additionally, you will also grow as one of the best ways to learn is to teach.   Teaching people how to look at things differently, how to take control of their own lives and decisions and teaching them how to heal their wounds and past hurts has a transformative effect on everybody around them.   And it’s nice to look back and say “I helped with that!”   Paths of Service can make excellent careers, and what better way to finance your life than doing something you love doing?

The bad news is that it’s a lot of work.   It can be physically, emotionally, spiritually, fiscally and chronologically demanding to put your own time, energy and resources into helping other people.   The first responsibility of a healer is to protect yourself; otherwise you will be unable to help others.   Being able to manage your level of personal involvement is a vital skill to keep you from being personally consumed by those you are trying to be of service to.

If you have chosen a Path of Service for your career, you have an ironic twist in your business plan:   Your goal is to be no longer needed.   In other words, if you are a professional healer, your goal is that the people you work for become healed, at which point they no longer need your services.   If you are a teacher, your goal is that your students learn what you are teaching them, at which point they no longer need you.   Fortunately there are always more people that want or need help.

The ugly news is that not everybody is so altruistic.   Many people exploit others in the Guise of Service.   Instead of fostering personal empowerment, they make people dependent on them.   Instead of healing the cause of their distress, they treat the symptom and leave the cause untreated.   Instead of leading people to find their own truths, they proclaim that they know the truth and sell it to the highest bidder or string people along for as long as possible, feeding their wallet and their ego along the way. Why?   Because it makes more easy money and makes them feel more personally important and powerful.

Unfortunately, this is very easy to do.   The people who come to you for help are vulnerable; otherwise they wouldn’t be seeking assistance.   It is easy to fall into the ego trap that you are their personal savior, and in letting them believe this you weaken them further by having them defer decisions that they should be making on their own to you.   It is also easy to fall into the money trap because someone who is dependent on your professional services will continue to pay you for them until their money runs out.   It is a difficult thing to turn away someone who is willing to pay you and tell them to figure it out for themselves.   However, it is something that you are ethically required to do at times in order to empower the individual and teach them to rely on their own judgment and decisions.

The Risks of Poor Involvement Management

When you fail to create appropriate boundaries and limitations on whom and how you provide assistance, you leave yourself open to a number of potential problems:

  • Dependency – If you don’t empower the individual by making them make decisions and take ownership of their problems and solutions, you risk them becoming increasingly dependent on you for all their decisions.
  • Burnout – As people become increasingly more dependent on you, and as more people become more dependent on you, the toll it takes on you will increase.   When you reach the point where you simply can’t do any more, you have “burned out”.   At this point you will usually stop helping anyone simply as a survival mechanism.
  • Health Problems – If you spend all your time focusing on the needs of others, your own health will suffer.   If you aren’t healthy, you can’t help others as well.
  • Relationship Problems – If your time is spent focused on other peoples’ lives, you can simply forget about your own.   Failure to attend to the needs of your own relationships with your friends and your family can result in stress, conflict, divorce, anger and all sorts of things you don’t want.
  • Professional Problems – Focusing on the needs of others takes time and energy.   Don’t allow this time or energy to come from your career in a way that will jeopardize your own financial and professional stability unless you are prepared for radical change in your life and are willing to make such a transition.
  • Taking on their Problems – Remember that their problems are their problems.   Don’t make them your own.   Clearly establish that you are willing to help, but you will not assume their burdens or the responsibility for easing them.
  • Ignoring Your Own Problems – It is easy to ignore the problems and challenges of your own life when trying to help others.   Don’t let ‘helping others’ be an excuse not to deal with your own responsibilities and issues.   To do so will only cause your problems to get more severe, potentially to the point where they keep you from being able to help others.
  • Becoming Part of the Drama – If you fail to maintain a safe distance from those you help, you can become swept into the drama itself, making the problem suddenly yours as well as theirs.
  • Losing Objectivity – If you become to personally involved in the situation, it becomes, well, personal. Once it becomes personal, you lose the ability to look at things with an objective, outside perspective.   This limits your ability to be helpful as you are now concerned with your own interests in the situation, instead of purely the interests of those you are seeking to help.
  • Unwanted Romantic Attachments – People have a natural tendency to feel affection for those who help them.   The more extreme the situation, the more likely that affection or attraction could develop towards you.
  • Emotional Backlash – The more involved you are in the process, the more likely you are to shoulder the blame or resentment if things don’t go the way people hoped.   This emotional backlash can be surprising or devastating for someone whose intent was help in a situation.
  • Egotism – Having people look to you for advice and support can be intoxicating.   Avoid the tendency to get caught up in your own greatness and remember that you are just assisting.
  • Change of Identity – Maintain a sense of who and what you are.   Having people come to you for assistance can be a heady experience and can change your sense of self if you aren’t careful.   Make sure that you don’t allow this to happen accidentally.   Don’t believe your own hype.
  • Financial Dependence – In a situation where who are receiving money for your services, if you find yourself spending lots of time with a small group of clients, you may find that you are deriving a good deal of your income from them.   This puts you at risk of making you financially dependent on their continued payment for your services.   By limiting the amount of time (and therefore money) that you can spend with a particular person, you prevent yourself from becoming financially dependent on them as a client.   This is important because if you are financially dependent to a large degree on them having problem, your desire to have the problem solved may be compromised.
  • Becoming the Decision-Maker – If you start making decisions for someone else, you will be expected to continue to do so, and with increasing frequency.
  • Liability – If you have allowed yourself to be the person who makes decisions for others, you may find yourself legally or financially liable for the results of those decisions.

Involvement Management Tools

Here are some tools and techniques useful in managing your personal involvement:

  • Establish Strong Boundaries – Before you start working with someone, establish your limits up front.   This is important both for your own sanity, to give you the time to be able to also work with others, and to keep them from becoming totally reliant on you and giving up their own role in their lives’ decisions.   Boundaries may include:
    • How to contact you (email, phone, cell, fax, voicemail, in writing)
    • When they may contact you (evenings only, not during work hours, not on weekends, weekends only, etc)
    • How often they may contact you (2 emails a day, one call per week, one visit per month, etc)
    • Respect and Courtesy (before launching into their story ask if it’s a good time for you, be respectful of your other commitments, leave you time for family and friends, etc)
  • Establish Your Role – What are you willing to do for them?   If you focus on physical healing, don’t provide career counseling.   It is as important to advertise what you don’t do as it is what you do do.   Are you a teacher in certain areas?   State this clearly when the conversation ventures into areas you do not feel qualified to address.   Are you a counselor?   What will do you do if they ask for help healing?
  • Establish Your Payment – Everybody wants something in exchange for their time and effort, and it is fair and reasonable to feel this way.   Establish up front, if only with yourself, what you want to get out of it.   It may be money, it may be gratitude, it may be referrals, it may be borrowing that place at the beach next summer or it may just be that nice feeling you get from helping.   If you want something, say so before you start helping.   If it’s $50/hour, tell them before you start working on them so they aren’t surprised later.   If you just want a “thank you” then tell them that too.   People are often so wrapped up in their own dramas that they forget to thank those who are helping them.   If you want to barter services, let them know you’re open for trading goods or services.   You are giving of your time, energy and money (time spent helping them is time you could spend working) and it is fair and reasonable to want something in return.
  • Use Support Networks – Do you know every fact and possess every talent?   Nope.   So build a network of people who do.   Develop relationships with both professionals as well as non-professionals, as both are helpful when referring someone who needs something that you don’t personally offer.   If someone in your network is better than you at something needed, don’t hesitate (assuming you have permission) to refer them.   It both frees your time to work with someone else within your specialty and ensures that the person referred will obtain greater care than you could personally give them.
  • Stay Humble – If you stay humble in how you present yourself, people will somewhat adopt this attitude.   If you let your ego run wild and start saying how wonderful you are, people will start to adopt this attitude as well.   This can cause a flood of people looking for miraculous results from you which you will not always be able to provide.   By staying humble, you will not create inflated expectations ripe for future disappointment.
  • Don’t Decide, Advise – Don’t make decisions for other people.   Instead, take the role of advisor and guide them through discovering their own options, the pros and cons of each option, the best likely decision, and then have them make the decision and own the results of it, good or bad.   This way the weight of the decision rests on them, not you. They develop the evaluation and decision-making skills required to navigate through life, and they accept the consequences of their actions and learn from the results of their decisions.
  • The FedEx Guy Technique – Many times you are called on to deliver a message.   This may come through observation, divination, deduction, inspiration, email or any number of sources.   Deliver this message the same way The FedEx Guy would:
    • Ask if they want it – Before passing on a message, ask the person if they want it.   If they don’t, mentally stamp “Return to Sender” on it and let it go.   It may come back, it may not.   But it isn’t up to you to decide.   This is the part where we respect their “Free Will.”
    • Give it to them – The FedEx Guy doesn’t decide if you can handle the contents of the package or not.   If it’s addressed to you and you accept it, it’s in your hands now.   He doesn’t read your mail and then recite it back to you in prettier language so it won’t upset you.   He doesn’t say “I can’t give you this, I don’t think you’re ready for it.”   If someone went through the trouble of sending it to you, they probably have a reason, and he probably doesn’t care what it is.   He’s just doing his job.
    • Have them sign for it – This is the part where you verify that the message was received in a usable form.   The FedEx Guy makes sure the box isn’t torn open and crushed before he goes.   Your job is to make sure that the message is understood as it is conveyed.   You can try to provide clarification if possible, but your job is to make sure that the message got delivered as it was sent.   This is how you “prove” you did your job.
    • Leave – Once it’s signed for, move on.   Don’t get attached to the message you delivered.   Move on to the next task.   It is not your responsibility what someone does with the information.   It is only your responsibility to see that the message gets delivered as it was sent.   What happens next is up to the person who signed for it.   Not you.
  • Know What They Want – Ask them what they want.   You don’t want to be racking your brain trying to figure out how to help if all they are doing is venting.   Sometimes people just want to talk, sometimes they want advice, sometimes they want a second opinion, sometimes they want someone to take it away from them and deal with it, sometimes they want to lure people into their dramas and feed off their energies and resources.   This way you don’t waste time and energy on something that isn’t wanted in the first place.
  • Give Homework – Many times when people say they want change what they really mean is “I want you to fix this for me.”   If they aren’t willing to do the work, you probably don’t want to do it either.   “Giving Homework” is a simple, convenient and productive technique for seeing if they are committed to the process and willing to exert the effort required to change.   The secret is to give them something tangible to create or do, and see if they do it.   For example, before you help them with something, have them write up what the situation is, how they got there, and what they think the best course of action would be.   You can often find that if they are unwilling to do something this simple, they are likely unwilling to do anything about it either.   If they do complete the homework, they have already examined the situation, you can determine their level of ownership of the problem, you get a peek into how they think, and you have a suggested course of action to explore.   All without you having to have done anything yet (which means you have had more time to spend with other people).
  • Make them Responsible – If someone wants help, they should be an active part of creating their change.   As part of their lesson in personal responsibility, the onus should be on them to keep track of things, do the work and keep things moving along.   If there is something that needs to be remembered, make them remember it, not you.   If they asked something, tell them how they can get it, and let them worry about actually doing it.   Don’t take on the responsibility, even in your own mind, for their actions.   If you offer a resource and nobody shows up to accept it, don’t keep offering it.   Just forget about it.   If they decide later that they want it, they can come to you.
  • Have a Separate Identity – Don’t become what you do.   Have personal interests and duties and responsibilities outside of your Path of Service.   This way, you can “turn it off” at times and have a normal life, whatever that is.   It is important to do things that you enjoy that don’t involve helping other people at times in order to recharge your own batteries and clear your mind.   Having a sense of self outside of what you do for others also makes it easier to keep your ego in check when people are clamoring for your greatness in helping them sort out their lives.
  • Visible On/Off-Duty Indicators – Provide a way of letting people know when you are NOT available in a service role.   Just because you have a skill that’s in demand doesn’t mean you are required to always offer it to anyone who walks by.   You are entitled and required to occasionally do things for yourself if you want to stay sane and continue serving others in the long term.   A pin that says “I AM OFF-DUTY” is a cheap simple visible sign to people to leave you alone.   Telling people “If I’m wearing Blue, I’m not for you” or something silly can also go a long way to training people to respect your boundaries with a minimum of fuss or discomfort.
  • Provide a Diversion – For when you are off-duty or don’t have time to talk to someone at the moment, provide a way for them to contact you later.   This way, you can defer the conversation while not ignoring them.   Carry around business cards with your contact information on them and hand them out.   Give an simple explanation, such as “I’m sorry I can’t talk right now, but please contact me and I’ll arrange a time when you can have my full attention”.   This way you can respectfully defer the encounter to a more appropriate time.
  • The Three-Day Rule – Most people tend to process events and change in the following pattern:
    • Day One – Shock and surprise
    • Day Two – Processing
    • Day Three – Acceptance and Integration

    By remembering this rule, it saves tons of conflict by allowing a three-day cooling off period for people trying to incorporate new or sudden knowledge or experience into their lives.   Until people get to the Acceptance and Integration stage, nothing you do or say is going to matter much as they haven’t yet had time to ‘wrap their brain around it’.   Other than informative conversation, it has been my experience that any attempts at progress before the Day Three or Four is wasted effort at best and harmful at worst as people will be emotional and not rational during this period.   After you can see that their brain has rewired to accommodate this new information, you stand a chance of being useful.

  • Psychological Protection – There’s a lot of people with horrible situations in life, and you need to have ways of releasing your own stress you pick up through dealing with others.   Maintaining a professional emotional distance, having a support network of your own that you use, having peer groups that meet and let off steam and talking to a therapist of your own are all valuable ways of preserving your own heart, body and soul from the strain of helping others.
  • Energetic Protection – Many times people in need either create a need in order to receive the attention and energy of others, consciously or unconsciously.   Other times, people in need are so depleted in their own energies that they will reach out and tap into the energies of those around them.   In either case, you need to maintain an awareness of your own energy levels and provide appropriate shielding of your own energies.   If your energy gets depleted, you won’t be any good to anyone else.
  • Question the Obvious – What may appear obvious to you may never have occurred to someone in the middle of a situation.   Explain up front that you will ask seemingly stupid questions, but it is part of the process.   By asking simple, seemingly obvious questions you can sometimes hand the problem right back to them, such as “You say you want them to do this.   Did you ask them to?”   Sometimes the obvious solution was simply overlooked, and a simple query can fix things.
  • Be Mundane – Sometimes people need professional help.   Medical problems are often best treated by certified eastern or western medical professionals.   Don’t be afraid to tell someone to see a doctor about something you find while working with them.   Sometimes people are mentally imbalanced and need psychological or medical treatment for mental disorders, not just talking to someone.   Sometimes they need to stop burning candles and get a good lawyer.   Part of your job is to know when they need something beyond your skills.   When it gets to that point, refer them.

Determining When Help Is NOT Needed

Almost anybody is capable of helping someone when they ask for assistance.   The more difficult skill to learn is when NOT to help.   The mere observation that somebody might be in need of your assistance is not sufficient reason for you to take matters into your own hands.   Your first responsibility in helping others is to ultimately maintain the individual’s powers of decision and control (aka Free Will).

Here’s a brief checklist to run down to determine if you should provide assistance:

  • Do you have time?   Can you do it right now?   If not, defer it to later.
  • Do you think you should?   Are your instincts telling you to pass on this one?   Then do it.
  • Do you want to?   If you just don’t want to, you are allowed to say “No.”   Repeat after me.   “No.”   Just say “I’m sorry, but I can’t.”   Don’t give a reason.   Just state the fact.
  • What do they want?   Do they want to vent?   Do they want help?   Do they want a referral?
  • Do they have other resources they can use?   If they have resources of their own, encourage them to use them first.
  • Do you have other resources they can use?   If they are looking for something not in your specialty, do you have someone more qualified than you to refer them to?
  • Do they want to change?   Just because they say they want to change doesn’t mean they really do.   They might just be saying it, for a variety of reasons.
  • Are they willing to change?   Are they actually at a point where they are willing to take the steps needed to change their life?
  • Will they do the work to change?   Have they demonstrated this willingness through any concrete, measurable actions yet?   If not, what makes you think that they will do the work required now?
  • What will be the cost?   What will you have to give up in order to help them?   What will they have to give up in order to change?   Are these prices acceptable?
  • What is the relative priority?   How important is this request compared to the other requests for help that you are already working on?   Will there be more or less hurt or harm from focusing on this or your other requests?   What order should you help in?
  • What resources do you have available?   Do you have the time, money, strength, emotional stability, vacation time, etc required to handle the requests you have?   Can you network and refer people together?   If you are helping multiple people, can they help each other somehow?

The Ultimate Rationalization

Since much of this information is in direct opposition to your reflexive desire to help people, in closing I offer The Ultimate Rationalization.

This simple sentence provides you with the emotional and mental permission and explanation for taking all these steps:

By managing your personal involvement you will be able to help more people in better ways.

So there you are.   The reason you should do all this stuff is that it will allow you to do all of it even better and have more a positive impact on the lives of those you help.

Furthermore, it will make your own life better by allowing you the time and space to live your own life, work towards your own goals, and nurture your own relationships in your own private life.

Your first responsibility is to yourself.   If you don’t take care of yourself, you will be unable to effectively take care of others.   So, if you want to help others, help yourself first.