Stop Saving the World and Still Be a Hero
“Yesterday I was so clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” - Rumi
At times, do you feel as if your personalities are waging war?
I used to struggle with this and sometimes I still do. The battlefield, of course, was my head, and the conflict was between the two sides of my personality, one with a high need to engage and the other with an equally high need to detach. As you can imagine, trying to function in this condition was like pedaling a unicycle on a tightrope high above a big top circus tent. It takes a good deal of balance to work.
Lacking adequate experience and self-awareness in my youth, I did what girls with no interest in therapy do to figure out the mess inside their heads. I binged test on personality quizzes. I know. It sounds like lunacy, but at the time, it was my one desperate attempt to find objectivity for what made me tick.
Though the company that administered the tests touted a roster of Fortune 500 clients and came with an impressive price tag and packaged with an even more impressive charts, graphs and questions “backed by countless research,” the results, other than sheer entertainment, lacked any true insight or application value.
Since then, I set out to live my life in the most unscientific way, making mistakes, collecting experiences, and hoping that after some thoughtful reflection, I’d learn something.
For some reason last week, I thought back on some of the test findings, and one particular piece held itself up as revelatory. This little sliver of insight into my gray matter explained why I feel the need to rush out and save the world. I have a natural inclination to improve on things and to protect others from hurt.
I fell into the category labeled as a “protector” in which the test results described me, in somewhat glowing terms, as someone with a strong value system and great instincts. It even offered up a convenient excuse for my tendency to ignore popular opinions. Now I can tell folks at cocktail parties that my stubbornness is neither genetic nor arrogance but a willingness to bet on my gut instincts above all else.
But as experience taught me, real people do not need heroes. They want to learn become their own heroes. They do not want you to shield them from the world (much less protect them from themselves). What matters more than protecting them is making them FEEL safe.
This is hard. As any parent, husband, friend or other well-meaning person will attest. The act of standing by and doing nothing but listen while your beloved tells you he or she will board the Titanic is nothing short of hell.
If you are a natural protector, and your first instinct is to charge in and save them, you may want to think twice before galloping off on your white horse. Believe it or not, there are times when it’s best that you don’t try to save the world.
They Tell You to Butt Out
Sometimes they will tell you out right to butt out. Other times, you have to figure it out for yourself when to back away. Some signs when to back away: 1) they filter what they say to you, 2) they distance themselves from you.
Though your natural inclination may be to nurture and protect, give your loved ones room to make their own mistakes and learn from the consequences of their decisions. For some, this is the only way they know how to learn.
Lead the Horse to Water but Don’t Force it to Drink
Let’s admit it. It feels good when someone takes our advice, right? It strokes our egos. When people ask for your opinion, they obviously value it but they are definitely within their rights to discard it. Don’t make it about you.
At the same time, know that the person who continually asks but never put into practice what is needed is clearly an individual who is not ready or willing to change.
Be Clear About Your Value System but Don’t Force an Adoption
Doing so will smack of intolerance. Too many people live with hand-me-down values, and perhaps they are still trying to figure out the fit. Let the way you live your life show for itself. Who knows, they might just follow your lead.
What do you need to detach from today?