How to help people for real The best help is not what we think

Photo by RĂ©mi Walle on Unsplash

Since young I have loved helping people.

I mentored youths, volunteered with Habitat for Humanity, raised money through charity runs, and became a tutor in university. A few years ago I even left my job in investment banking to go to Cambodia to volunteer for 6 months. Then I worked in a youth NGO in Singapore. Today I am a life coach, and I have been coaching for the past 3 years.

As I got more involved in helping work, my understanding of what help really is has evolved. “Help” now has a completely different meaning to me from when I first started.

If you’re like me and also love helping people, these are the lessons I have learned along the way.

1. Our intention really, really matters

I have no doubt that we have great intentions for wanting to help others. We want to uplift people, we want to see them succeed, we want the best for them.

However, I’ve noticed also that we may not always have pure intentions. Perhaps we take pity on others and want to help them to assuage our guilt. Or we feel a constant need to sacrifice our needs for other people.

The best form of helping relationship I’ve experienced so far is that of an empowering partnership between the one helping and the one being helped. Both parties work as equals, and both parties learn and grow through the process.

A less empowering relationship would be one of the saviour-victim dynamic. Many international aid projects fail because giving aid destroys people’s motivation to help themselves and breeds dependency on donors. The receivers of aid never learn to fend for themselves and earn their independence.

So when we offer to help others, we must always check in with ourselves, whether we intend to play saviour and create dependence. Do we help to boost our own ego? Do we help to assuage our guilt? Or do we simply do what is needed in that situation?

2. Our judgment may not be accurate

We do not see the world as it is, we see the world as we are. Therefore, our ideas about how to help people come from our own experiences. What we perceive we lack in our lives, we try to give to others (with the best intentions, of course).

We think that by saving the world we can save ourselves. What we want most for ourselves, we try to give to the world. At least, this was my experience. When I needed acceptance, I accepted everyone around me. When I wanted pity, I pitied everyone around me. When I wanted understanding, I tried to understand everyone around me.

You have to give to the world the thing that you want the most, in order to fix the broken parts inside you. – Eve Ensler

This gives rise to the wounded healer archetype, in which we project our wounds upon others and try to heal them instead of healing ourselves. If we constantly try to help others from a vacuum, we become easily triggered by the our own unresolved issues reflected in the other.

So it’s important to help ourselves first, before we try helping others. When we resolve our own issues, we see clearly what needs to be done, instead of projecting our own issues on others.

3. No help is also help

Good help is giving people what is best for their personal development. Good help is empowering and calls upon people to be responsible for themselves.

Just like how mother birds push their baby birds out of the nest to fly for themselves, sometimes we must refrain from actively doing something because what a person needs might in fact be nothing. Sometimes people need to fail to learn the pain of failure. Sometimes people need to be independent, so helping them is actually harming them.

For example, a coach who lets his client fail because his client needs to learn to deal with failure may not look like he is helping. On the other hand, a coach who hand holds her client through her life is not doing the client any favours, because it breeds dependence on the coach.

It all depends on what the person needs to move forward at that point in time.

4. The best way to help is to live your best life

In the end, the best way to help others is really not through personal sacrifice or trying to be a saviour. It is really about us living our best life such that our courage and love touches and inspires everyone around us.

Love your life. Because your life is what you have to give. – Tom Hiddleston

Whether we are a chef or a singer or a cleaner, what we do impacts people. If a chef does his job well, people have wholesome meals to eat. If a cleaner does his job well, people have tidy and refreshing spaces to work and live in.

So what is the work that truly makes us excited, that makes us come alive?

I’m most effective as a coach when my own life is going well. Who I am rubs off on my clients. They feel courageous when I’m feeling courageous. They feel inspired when I’m feeling inspired.

Through helping others and helping myself the past few years, I have realised that we can only lead and coach and help people to the limits of our abilities. I can only show you the way if I have been down this very same road before. So to truly impact others positively, we have to first help ourselves.

The greatest gift you can give somebody is your own personal development. I used to say, “If you will take care of me, I will take care of you.” Now I say, “I will take care of me for you, if you will take care of you for me.” – Jim Rohn

The stronger we become as people, the better we can influence the people around us.

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