There’s a disease out there that affects millions. It is literally killing people every day. Nearly every family has at least one individual suffering from this disease. The kicker is that each of us that suffer from this disease chose it for ourselves.
I just had lunch with a longtime sufferer of this disease. Here’s a quick description. Ashley is a young professional woman. Single with a good job and striking good looks. She’s hired a trainer to keep her slim and paid a hefty sum for a 20 session package. Here’s the problem: the trainer barely shows up at 6AM. This has been going on for months and he continues to lie about why he doesn’t show up. So what does Ashley do? She gives him another chance, and another, and another. She finally does stand up for herself after he misses three weeks in a row and ask for a refund for the 10 sessions left. Why did it take so long? It’s because she’s so nice. She wants to make sure everyone is OK. That’s the disease: BEING THE HERO! Even in our conversation today, she was taking responsibility for the situation because maybe the time doesn’t work for him and the price she was paying was very inexpensive compared to what she’s heard other people pay. Really?
This isn’t the only area of her life where being the hero affects her. She barely sleeps but her boyfriend is well taken care of, her friends ask her for favors and she jumps at the chance to help even though she’s swamped at work. She’s volunteering in two organizations and taking on more and more of the workload. She’s amazing! Yet she’s exhausted. She’s even helping a friend of the family feel welcome by making sure he’s OK. This is the kind of friend we all want to have!
There is good news in that way of living. Taking care of everyone has huge benefits. First among them is this feeling of making a difference. People love Ashley. Why wouldn’t they? She succeeds at work—her bosses love her because she’ll work on Sunday and until 10 PM. If given the choice to help anyone or sleep…helping always wins. The other good news is promotions—bosses love it when you show dedication.
Ashley and I have a lot in common. I’m a recovering rescuer. The truth is that Ashley is just like most of the people in my life. We want to save the world and often are willing to do it at the expense of ourselves. Raise your hand if you can relate.
I’m not asking you to change. I’m not even saying that there is anything wrong with the high wire life we are living. It works—most of the time. What I’m asking you to do is take another look at your life and ask another question. What is it costing me to always be there hero? What’s it costing me to be the rescuer? Notice your answers and make your choice based upon the knowledge of that moment.
Common costs include the following: Loneliness. Exhaustion. Health issues. Stress. Anger. Feeling like you are doing it alone. Lots of friends that require you to keep them engaged.
There are deeper costs too. The cost of our own identity. If we live this life of constantly rescuing others—who rescues us? Would we even let someone rescue us if they tried?
My belief is that the truth about me, the truth about you, is much more complicated than the role we are playing in the world. Living that role limits us from being the creatively amazing person that we truly are.
You may have heard the expression: “You have to do something different to get something different” made popular by Tony Robbins. Ashley had a suggestion about how she might try something different. As an experiment, for a week—rescue yourself. All those things you are doing for other people, do them for yourself. Instead of making sure your friend has a companion on their walk—take a walk by yourself. Instead of making sure your boss is happy—take a long lunch and make sure you are OK. Ask yourself: what would it look like to rescue me? Expect your friends to call you. Expect your family to take care of your emotions.
Warning: This will upset the applecart. You played a key part in creating the world that your colleagues, friends, and family take part in. Don’t be surprised if people get angry with you when they ask you to jump and instead of your usual “how high” you politely decline. Don’t be surprised if very few people do take care of you. You've trained them well. It will take them a lot longer than a week to re-train them. Hang in there. Tell me what you learned.