Clean Up After Yourself

I want to help.

I want to help you, specifically. The person reading these words right now. If you reached out to me and asked me to help you solve a problem, I very likely would. (That’s different from asking me for advice, by the way, which I’m generally more reluctant to do.)

But direct help? A clear ask, with something I can contribute? I live for that, generally. I love helping.

But I really, really need to do it less. And so do you.

“Doing” is very rarely “teaching.” As a parent, as a manager, as anything – we fall into this trap where we think “I’ll do it for them this time, but during that I’ll show them how so that they can do it for themselves next time.” But that is almost never what happens. Instead, what you’ve taught is that you are the solution to this particular problem, and that’s the solution they’ll lean on next time.

If you want to both “help” and “teach” at the same time, here’s how: become a robot. Create no input, just obey orders and be a second set of hands. Let the other person provide all direction. Only answer direct questions, don’t offer more. Be there to catch.

They have to figure it out. You’re just a combination forklift and search engine. They’re the brains of the operation.

Do that once, and they probably won’t need you again.

In the interest of opening up a little… that last part is probably why so few people, including myself, do things this way. To teach well is to lessen others’ reliance on you. To make yourself a little less needed each time. And that’s what you should be doing (especially with kids), because not only do you make them better but you also replace a relationship based on dependence with one based on respect and love and far deeper bonds. But if you, like me, find yourself often valuing yourself based only on what you can do for others, then it can be hard to deliberately push that away.

When I was a young man in my late teens, I found myself (as young men of that age often do) in a bit of a pickle – a difficult situation, the exact details of which are not relevant here. I managed to resolve it myself, and only after that did my father learn about the whole thing. He was initially shocked and appalled that I hadn’t come to him when I had the problem; I generally did. He said, “Why didn’t you just tell me? I could have taken care of this in a day. You know I have superpowers.”

But really, that had been my entire motivation for resolving it myself. I knew he was so savvy, strong, competent that he could practically snap his fingers and it would have been over. But I told him: “If I never figure it out on my own, how do I get my own superpowers?”

We hugged. It was a good day. And, truth be told, it didn’t make me need him one iota less.

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