Ever have a hard time taking your own advice?
Today is one of those days for me, so I’m going to repeat the advice I gave to my daughter last night and hope that in the process I will remember that it applies to me too.
Every person has their own path to walk, their own life hurdles to overcome, their own choices to make.
It is our job as friends, lovers and family to support our people when they fall on hard times or find themselves teetering on the edge of a cliff – but it is NOT our job to go over the cliff with them!
All we can do is love them without judgement and give them information and tools that may help. What they do with that information and those tools however is up to them.
You may think they need crampons to climb back up out of their pit. They may use them as a make-shift pick to dig their hole deeper – that is not your fault, that is their choice.
Some people need to dig all the way to the bottom – all the way to the other side of the world – before they can see clearly enough to catch a jetliner home. Some of them never stop digging. That is their path to walk, it is not your responsibility to walk it with them, you have your own path.
Your job is to throw down a flashlight. Point out other options. Ask open-ended questions that encourage them to ask questions of themselves.
Sometimes your job is to walk away.
Remember – not everyone wants help. Even the ones thrashing around, sending up signal flares, screaming that they are dying – sometimes they just want an audience. You are not obligated to give them an audience. In fact, you owe it to yourself to walk away. You don’t need to adopt their damage or their baggage. It is not yours to carry.
If they spend more time batting away life rafts and using crampons as digging tools than they do trying to get out of their hole, they might not be ready yet. That’s okay. Give them a single use flare gun, tell them to fire it when they are serious about getting help, and walk away knowing that you have done everything you can, everything you need. When they decide to use the flare, as hard as it may be, trust it. Go back, ask them what they need and LISTEN. If you can help them without risking yourself, do so. If you need backup to help them, get it. If they need something that you can’t give, be honest and loving when you tell them no.
But above all, when they ask for help – believe that they mean it.
Learning to ask for help is often one of the hardest lessons we have to learn in this life. It takes many of us a few tries before we get it right.
Self care is important.
Love yourself, trust yourself, be true to yourself, take care of yourself. Forgive yourself – you’re not perfect either.
You can’t help anyone if you are depleted. You can’t help anyone if you fall over the edge of the cliff too. It’s much better to lower a rope than to jump in with someone.
This is life-guarding 101. Throw in a life raft before you risk jumping in to save a drowning person, because drowning people are often panicking and without meaning to, they will often pull you under with them.
Emergency first-aid 101 reminds us that the first step is to CHECK THE SCENE and make sure it is safe for us to help. If it isn’t safe for you – call for backup.
Recognize that some things are bigger than you.
Know when to ask for help on behalf of your friend, family member – or yourself. Remember – their burdens and challenges are not yours to carry or to overcome. That is their path. You can help them, but you are not a stepping stone, a doormat, a ladder or a guide. You can be a resource. You can be a source of emotional support and encouragement – a cheerleader on the sidelines. But win or lose, it is their game to play. If they’re playing a game you don’t understand – find someone who does and enlist their help. I can’t help someone playing chess because it’s not my game, but I can introduce them to a chess master.
Remember that winning and losing are subjective.
What looks like a loss to you might feel like a win to them. Don’t judge their choices, they are making them to the best of their ability using the tools, information, belief systems and history that they have. Their box of tools is different from yours, therefore their choices will be different. Their goals are different from yours, therefore their choices will be different.
Different does not mean wrong.
They are on their own path, they have their own lessons to learn and their own victories to claim. Let them. Help them. Encourage them.
But… don’t get so wrapped up in their story that you lose sight of your own. Don’t get so wrapped up in their challenges that you forget to tackle your own.
If you find yourself spending more time on their path with them than on your own path, it’s okay to tell them you have to step away.
You can do this with love.
Remind them you are still available, but that you have a life that needs living too. Think of it this way – your friend is on an adventure, a journey. You’ve just realized that somehow you got roped into going with them, but suddenly your life calls. It needs you back. You and your friend can still send letters, but you can’t travel with them anymore.
They have their own journey – and so do you.
Stepping off their path and back onto your own can often be more helpful than walking with them. It shows them that there are other options, other choices available. It expands their view.
Imagine you’re walking through a dark forest. You can barely make out the path. Brambles are snagging you, slowing you down. Branches keep smacking you in the face. Everything feels unfriendly and prickly and scary. You don’t want to stop, so you keep going forward. It seems like the only option.
But then, your friend turns and says, “Hey, I’m going to go over there, into that clearing in the sun. I’m going to stretch my arms, flex my toes and see if there’s a path or a road.”
Suddenly the world opens up – head down through the brambles ISN’T the only option anymore.
Remember that fear makes it harder to see the big picture – it narrows our focus to fight or flight. Black and white. By staying calm, and staying outside of other people’s fear, you can help draw them out of it so they can see that there are more options, more choices, more paths available than the one that leads over the cliff.
But… That doesn’t mean they won’t still choose to go over the cliff.
Some people have to go over the edge before they can really believe that it is there.
That’s okay. That’s their choice, their path, their lesson.
Don’t go over with them, because… They might need someone to throw them a rope. Or a set of crampons.
Don’t go over with them because… They might have a wingsuit hidden under their clothes and it’ll save them, but it’s not designed to save two…
Don’t go over with them because… You have your own path to walk. Your own edge to explore. Your own appetite for wonders to fulfill.
In the end, remember the wise words of W. Edwards Deming – “Learning is not compulsory, but then, neither is survival.”