If you consider yourself a helpful person, someone who likes fixing problems and being viewed as useful and value-adding, then this is a list for you. These are some of the ways to identify areas where you may be manifesting your desire to be helpful in unhelpful ways.
1. Creating problems
Excessive drama in one’s life may be a sign that your desire to be helpful is being channeled in the wrong way. I’ve experienced “helpful” people being quite the opposite and then stepping in to fix the problem(s) they created. Remedy: Check yoself before you wreck yoself. Become aware of self-made dramas in your life. If you’re brave enough, give someone permission to call you out when they see you stirring up trouble so you can swoop in and fix it.
Following on from drama is trouble. Many of us who fancy ourselves to be helpful people are hooked on praise and attention. So other manifestations follow. Trouble is one such manifestation. We get in trouble because it’s a cheap way to get attention. Forms of trouble? Ill health (often psychosomatic), alcoholism, drug addiction, proneness to accidents, compulsive screwing up, jealousy, chronic lateness, cruelty to others. Remedy: Look deep inside yourself and explore the need to be seen. Quick fixes like trouble-making and drama-stirring leave us feeling just as empty as before. But truly doing work worth doing and doing it well? Fulfilling! Some of these cheap attention-getting behaviors are just a result of boredom. Get a job, change your job, ask for a challenging project at work and throw yourself in!
3. Excessive question asking
I found early in my career (and have witnessed in others) a habit of asking an excessive amount of questions in an effort to make sure my managers knew I was working on a problem. If a project wasn’t going to be deliverable any time soon, I wanted to make sure everyone knew I was being helpful and busy so I over-communicated everything I was doing in the form of questions. Being a team leader now, I’ve experienced this myself and it’s frustrating, especially when it comes from smart people who don’t need my help with the things I’ve delegated to them. Remedy: Schedule a weekly 1:1 with your supervisor or project lead. Write the questions you want to ask. This not only helps you to avoid asking questions every day, often you will find that you found/learned the answers before the weekly meeting and you don’t need to ask them at all. Now, you can use this time to update on the progress of your project!
4. Saying yes to too many things
Self explanatory! It’s easy to say yes when you want to be helpful. Not so easy to see it through to the end. Remedy: decide how many things you can handle and fill those slots. Say yes to something new only when one of those slots becomes available. In my personal life, this has taken the form of once in a while dropping all balls (clubs, sports, volunteering, church things, etc) and being intentional about the things I pick back up.
When we were teaching our nonverbal daughter, Grace, how to use her eyes to communicate, we were using “yes” and “no” icons. The speech therapist caught a big mistake we were making. The yes icon was a green smiley face. The no one was a red sad face. Something she said changed my life “no isn’t always negative. Sometimes no is the perfect affirmative response!” I encourage us those of us who want to be helpful to feel cool with the fact that sometimes, saying no to a thing is the most helpful thing we can do. And guess what? You can say no in a way that feels a lot like yes.