I like to fix people’s problems. If I had a title, it would be “The Fixer.” It’s why I write and coach, and it’s probably what most people would say if you asked them to describe me. Even my communication business had the motto, “Creative solutions to the world’s communication challenges.”
I prided myself in helping people solve their problems. Most of the time I could help. I even helped people fix their problems while I was in deep grief or anxiety myself. Even coaches have their moments of deep emotion. I’m human just like you, in addition to being a coach, mom, entrepreneur, and award-winning novelist.
Yet when I reached a certain age and career level, I started juggling too many plates in the air. Pay more attention to myself than to others for a little while was necessary — or my physical body would fail. I had to create boundaries say no. I had to stop answering every cry for help. Recently, I had a setback, and I went about researching my fixing addiction.
Here’s what I learned about my desire to fix everything for everyone:
1. Lots of people are in this same situation.
Fixing things for others is deep-rooted in society. You’re not alone! We call it service, or do unto others, or even love. It’s not a bad thing to help, serve, or love. Most of the time, we help because we want to be liked and appreciated. We want to feel good about ourselves, and service has a high ROI. It’s just that it shouldn’t become our identity. We can’t be helping so much that we neglect ourselves.
2. We can’t make everybody happy.
Nor should we try. Keeping my family at peace was a role I took on in childhood, and it worked for me later, too. I was always the one people came to for warm, nonjudgmental advice. It served me in running a major international nonprofit’s publishing department because I was an excellent mediator and team builder.
Yet when I got older, I realized that no matter how many stories I wrote and published about the world’s plight, some people would take it in a way I’d not intended. And some would simply want to wallow in misery. If someone in our lives is depressed or abusive, and that’s all they’ve known, we should walk away.
3. We can’t fix the whole world.
Maybe someday the world will be at peace. But until it is, we must accept that we don’t live in a perfect world, do our part, then let the outcome go. We do as much by cultivating inner peace as world peace.
And if your fixes are falling on deaf ears, there may be some faulty intercultural communication, or it could be you just don’t have the right solution.
4. Fixers can be downright narcissistic.
Fixers can have low self-esteem. Who are we to think we have all the answers? Why do we to think people will leave us if we don’t find every solution to their every problem? Who are we to think people need fixing? Why do we think we can do everything all alone, all the time, without any help? (Youpreneurs, this last one’s for you!)
5. Fixing is not helping or healing.
In the end, you’re only responsible for fixing you. Helping is not the same thing as fixing. Fixing is not the same thing as healing. Fixing leaves the world more disempowered, not empowered. You’re not responsible in any way for how someone uses your advice.
What’s more, you can’t fix those who don’t want your help. It’s not your job!
6. You might be doing more harm than good.
We are robbing people of lessons if we help them too much. Being unhappy or dissatisfied some of the time is good for people. It helps them grow and learn how to help themselves. You’ve probably heard that urban fable about helping a butterfly out of its chrysalis only to kill it.
Instead think of this Chinese proverb as a more positive example of ways you can help: “You give a poor man a fish and you feed him for a day. You teach him to fish, and you give him an occupation that will feed him for a lifetime.”
7. Boundaries are smart.
For us, our loved ones, and our work lives. They keep us from becoming codependent. They keep us true to ourselves.
Here are a few ways to create them with language:
- “Can you take on this extra work assignment and get it to me by end of day?” Say: “I’d love to help, but I’m working on [this] right now, and I expect it will take the rest of the work day.”
- “Would you like to come over for coffee now?” Respond with: “I’m busy right now. Perhaps some other time. What about [date]?” Or simply, “No thank you.”
- “Can I borrow some money?” Reply with: “I care about you, but I cannot keep you from experiencing tough times.”
The word “no” works with friends, family members, and even bosses. No arguments. No guilt. Just no, not at this time. Telemarketers, with their constant interruptions and requests, have taught me this phrase, and I practice often. (I mean, come on, they’re worse than toddlers in terms of high maintenance!)
Your brief response, including your body language, is crucial. People need to understand that you care, but that your answer is “no.” The important thing is to say “no” and mean it. Keep it simple, and rinse and repeat as many times as necessary.
So fixer, fix thyself. Usually, even if we stop fixing entirely, we still have friends. People don’t leave us. People who do were probably our friends for the wrong reasons. And those who stay don’t need fixing anyway.