And the circus tent is set up. Its red and white stripeness dominates the landscape, while an upbeat melody fills the air. Inside, a tight rope walker focuses all of his attention on the cable that divides him from the free fall. All life is a balancing act, shifting your weight to compensate for the swaying of the rope and get across, to safety. Safety alone is boring. Being on the rope all the time is exhausting.
If you had any business education at all, studied any strategy of becoming a better employer/employee that wants to climb and secure its position you’ve probably heard the advice “to make yourself indispensable”. This is a good advice for the business domain because it entails “being so good they can’t ignore you” as Steve Martin put it, it implies you are willing to do the work others are not in order to know more, gain more skill, it means working hard, intelligently and productively with a stamp of exactly you on your work that cannot be substituted and that generates real value.
Yet, we do have a tendency to confuse a lesson learned in one area as applicable to all areas of life, but things unfold as contextual bubbles that need different approaches. There is no common denominator. What might work in business might cripple your kids, your patients, partners, the elderly you are taking care of, a friend searching for a solution. We all like to feel needed in the lives of others. Them needing us acts as an ego boost and emotional compensation for the time and energy we put into helping, but there is a line, a far thinner line than the rope in the circus balancing act, where help transforms into making others helpless. The intention is good but the result could lead to resentment. The rule when caring for someone who needs care in any shape or form is – “Don’t do anything for them what they are perfectly capable of doing for themselves”. This rule is applied in nursing homes, in recovery wards, kindergartens, and in ideal cases in parenting and generally all relationships in our lives.
It might be hard to watch someone struggling and they really might need help but you don’t get to decide what is right for them if they can do it themselves, you don’t get to make it all go away and conceptualize “the right way to deal with this” instead of them, you don’t get to put them in the passenger seat to feel better about being needed. They might stumble and do it badly at first but they need to be bad at it before they become good, they need to be fools before they become masters, , they need to be exposed to this to become stronger and less afraid and they need to do this on their own if you want them to build confidence and self-respect. You are here as a guide, as a rail for them to hold on to after a tumble and as someone that helps them get up and then lets them do it again. You don’t get to take over their ship because you think you know better, you get to share what you know as advice, but not meddle in more than absolutely necessary. You might need to pick up toys with your two year old but you don’t need to cut up food for a 10 year old. you might need to help your grandpa with a bad hip by getting him groceries from a faraway store, but you don’t need to treat him as if he cannot do anything for himself, you may need to help your kid understand the new situation they encounter but you don’t need to solve it for them if it is within their scope to figure it out.
Make sure that people in your life know you’re here for them when they need you and make sure they understand you’re here to help them get stronger not lull them into weakness. (Don’t) make yourself indispensable if it harms the progress or recovery of another.