Finding the Balance Between Helping and Holding Back


My go-to comfort role is “supporter” — which is not always a good thing. I spend too much time doing other people’s jobs because I’m right there; or I have the time; or I feel guilty leaving a crummy job for someone else to do.

This probably means that my kids are not as independent as perhaps they should be by now: I give time to things that are not as valuable as what I would have done otherwise; and I am not the best delegator.

The delegation part is a biggie — back when I was a consultant, I was finishing up a big project at a client site. Instead of shmoozing with the client on the last day, I was in the copy room shredding months worth of documents so someone else wouldn’t have to deal with them. While this may have fulfilled my mother’s instruction to me as a child to not leave my own messes for other people to clean up, it was probably not the best professional decision. I do this still – folding my kids’ clothes because “folding comes easy to me”; doing the bulk of a project because my co-chair is super-busy (aren’t I, too?!).

It’s such a delicate balance: helping versus holding back. I guess erring on the side of sometimes over-helping is better than the reverse, but I would like to move a bit more toward the middle, accepting that everyone has responsibilities and sometimes mine are no picnic either but that’s just how life is. And I have to keep reminding myself of the tradeoff — sometimes helping someone else is the best thing to do; other times they’d benefit from figuring it out on their own, and I’d benefit from 10 extra minutes to do something for myself.

One thing that helps me decide whether to jump in or step back is to to ask myself in the heat of the enabling moment, “Do I want to do this — or that?” and “What do I need to get done by X time?”…and then do that first. It helps clarify my priorities and the urgency.

What do you think? Are you an over-helper? How do you resist the urge to jump in wherever you’re needed?