Little Black Dress

I recently heard someone use the phrase:

“Being helpful is just control in a party dress.” To begin with, I wished I had come up with that. It’s brilliant: simple, poignant and tangible. Sometimes, when we think we’re helping someone, we’re actually causing more problems. Our intentions are good, but the results aren’t always in line with what we hoped would be the outcome when we decided to get involved.

Then there are those times when our intentions are actually self-serving. We help, not because we can (or need to), but because it makes us feel good – and we’re not necessarily interested in the outcome. We got what we needed out of the situation, and well – the rest is ‘out of our control.’ And then there are those times when we help because we care, but we also have a desired expectation. Furthermore, having an expectation implies a desire to control. This expectation can be a desire for praise for our efforts, or for the person we’re helping to follow our advice because we know best. But do we really?

Does anybody know what’s best for them, better than the person themselves? We need community (family, friends, society) to help us process things, but we don’t’ necessarily need someone doing the work for us. In fact, we never do. Why? Because if someone is helping us do something that we should be doing ourselves, then they are actually hurting us by taking away our opportunity for growth and learning.

I’ve been on both ends of this spectrum. I’ve received help from people who genuinely cared for me and loved me, and I’ve helped people I genuinely care about and love. I have both appreciated and been hurt by these situations. The difference for me came when I finally realized the truth about ‘being helpful.’ To help someone when they ask for help is fine. So, now, I do my best to ask first, “Do you need my help? Or do you just need to talk this out?” The flip side of the coin is that I’ve also gotten better at asking for help, which was a HUGE lesson to learn, but well worth it. Nobody in my circle has to guess anymore about what I need or what I’m feeling. It’s not 100%, but it’s close. I ask for what I need, and I share my feelings openly and honestly. And when I offer my help, I do my best to do so without judgment or expectation.

It’s one of the most important rules in Coaching and working in an industry where people need your help: Guide, don’t lead. When we lead, we take away the opportunity for someone to make their own decisions. We’re essentially pulling them behind us, however passively. When we guide, we are standing next to them, sharing our experience and wisdom, allowing them to make their own decisions.

So – think of how being helpful can also be hurtful in both giving and receiving. Nobody likes unsolicited advice. And, quite frankly, the greatest gift is the one given anonymously. If you’re helping someone because you want to get something out of it – or expect a specific result – then perhaps you’re not helping at all. And a very wise woman once taught me: ‘A wise (wo)man says it once, then walks away.’ She’s wise, because she knows you can lose yourself when you spend too much time trying to help someone else. And then neither of you will be better off.

In love and light,


**LBD image:; mule image:**