Being Helpful or is it Needy

This last week, Hannah Paquinzo, a podcast guest from last month, took me through a Human Design session. She had mentioned it in the podcast, and I was curious. I’ve learned that self-awareness is not that easy to come by. We humans are complex. Over the years, I’ve done everything from the Herrmann Brain Dominance Thinking Styles Instrument to Myers Briggs, to DISC, to Firo-B and more. None paint the perfect picture of who we are, but all offer a little glimpse of insight, and Human Design was no different. One of the big messages I took away from the session was to calibrate my tendency to be overly helpful. It’s probably why I’ve chosen a coaching career, and coaching is definitely a strength of mine. However, a strength overused can become a weakness.

In this case, one of the recommendations was for me to wait for the invitation to be helpful. In my coaching practice, I generally do wait for the invitation. It’s a good thing, because the last thing my friends and family need from me is to constantly be offering ideas for how they could improve! (I did try to coach my husband in early days. Future coaches, let me warn you now. Not a good idea.) I learned this lesson well.

But that hasn’t kept me from offering my help in unhelpful ways. Which brings me to the swimmer incident.

Our house sits well above Lake Lure, 128 steps to be exact. From there is a great view of the lake, and I also see some pretty crazy stuff. I’ve witnessed small boats capsizing, people falling off paddle boards, and boats coming within inches of colliding. Many years ago, I looked out to see a couple of young women swimming and floating along. They were way out in the middle of the lake, with no boat around them, no floats, nothing. You could barely see their two heads bobbing above the surface. To me, this is equivalent of sunbathing on a freeway. It’s just a matter of time before you get hit by a car. When I’ve been out driving skiers on the lake, I’d had a couple of close encounters with swimmers unaware of the dangers of boat traffic. The thought of accidentally running over someone swimming in the lake terrified me. One of the many “rules of Lake Lure” is that swimmers stay within 50 feet of shoreline, well away from the areas where boats run at full speed.

Well, these young women were waaaay outside of the 50-foot zone. In my mind, they just were not aware of the danger. And it was my job to help them. So, I immediately went down the 128 steps to the lake, got in my pontoon boat and drove across the way to inform them of error of their ways. Much to my surprise, they did not appreciate my help. In fact, they told me to mind my own f—ing business. Imagine that. I didn’t appreciate their lack of appreciation, so I spouted off something like “Hey, your death is not on my hands,” and drove back to my boathouse, steam coming out of my ears.

When I think about it now, I laugh, because I might have said the same thing to some crazy woman who came up to me claiming I was doing something wrong. Was it my job to be so very helpful to these girls? Back then, I thought yes. These days, I have to say no, it wasn’t. This is not to say that they should have stayed in the middle of the lake. What they were doing was certainly risky. My feedback was not welcome, and not delivered well either. There might be a circumstance when I would say something to someone on the lake who was putting themselves in danger.

However, I’m learning that my need to interfere says more about my need to be needed than about genuinely helping someone stay safe.

On the other hand, we frequently have visitors who want to learn to ski, paddle or otherwise enjoy the lake. Sometimes, they want to swim. They are eager to learn the ways of the lake. In this case, we give them all the ins and outs of safety – because they have invited us to help.

So, this story is my reminder. Every time I feel the need to be helpful – ok, overly helpful – I’m going to remember this story. And wait for the invitation.

When has someone offered coaching or help that you did not appreciate? How well do you receive feedback? Give feedback? How do you dance the tightrope between when to offer help and when to wait? How do you calibrate your own needs with those you would like to help?

By the way, if you would like your own Human Design session, reach out to Hannah at her website, and scroll down.

Share in the comments on the blog.