I want to talk about this interesting, almost epiphany worthy, talk I had with a dear colleague of mine a few days ago. (On a side note – doesn’t saying “dear colleague” almost make you think I might be a middle aged wise lady with unisex dressing sense and an uncanny liking for elbow patches and cigarette holders/pipes? I like it!). In all my sense of being I have always thought that I have been blessed with the ability to bond with people with ease. I cherish the fact that most people I get to know beyond courtesy salutations always seem to find it easy to come and talk to me about more personal and deeper things that they might be contemplating or dealing with. And while it may not entirely reflect very well on myself, I took a certain level of satisfaction and comfort in knowing that when they did talk to me about their troubles and sought advice (or so I thought) I was doing all that I could in my ability to help them. That the mere fact that I was, at any given point in my life, being confided in by at least a few people was reflective of the effectiveness of the effort I put in to scraping at the bottom of my wisdom, knowledge, and experience barrel to share what I thought were comforting words, advice, and helpful suggestions. It would however appear that I may have been mistaken. I might have even been a bit too presumptuous in thinking I could mean anything more to these people in my life than just a listening ear, a dumping ground of sorts to just let out the one thing they find themselves struggling to hold on to and fearing to admit or talk about.
As my dear colleague so plainly put it, no one really needs someone there to just listen to what they have to say. People NEED tangible help, they WANT every other kind of help. At first I was a little shocked, how can the figure of speech such as ‘a shoulder to lean on’ or ‘lending an ear’ be so easily dismissed I thought. Being there doesn’t only ever have to be at the rate of material or physical help I argued in my mind. But as my quickly deflating sense of satisfaction from knowing I am a trustworthy person calmed down I realized he may be onto something. Well basically he might be right. Or, he is right. My advice, or my lending ear, or even my uncomfortable shoulders, don’t add up to jack at the end. I sometimes go out of my way just to be there for people…..in intangible ways. I have an important presentation tomorrow but my friend in Australia needs to skype so she can vent about the horrible break-up till 4am? I am there! Its my own birthday dinner party that I am already late to but my friend’s parents have thrown him an ultimatum which led to a big fight so he needs to talk? I will hear him out and give advice on how to deal with it! Sometimes always being there is exhausting. And maybe its this exhaustion that’s finally catching up that makes me believe my colleague when he says, in the end people will do what they want to do no matter what you tell them. So even if I spend hours every week hearing them out, handing them tissues, and putting in my two cents, should the day come when everything is okay, we may or may not still stay in touch and they will probably be okay with it. When I am not around, I apparently will not be leaving a large vacuum space…a black hole….like my narcissistic self assumed. They will find other ways to deal with it and move on.
I guess in the end, its really about finding balance. Balance between being there for others and being there for myself. It is also putting (what I now guess is) my high sense of self in check because I might think the fact that people want to come to me to talk about their personal lives makes me a little bit more important than the rest when in actuality, it may be that I am one of five other people they bounce their stories off of. Hear that?……..Yup! that’s the sound of my ‘amour propre’ deflating un petit peu.