A Confession: Why Helping Others Seemed Like a Load of Bull

Have you ever thought that maybe you didn’t want to help people for a living?  Seriously, tell the truth. If you have had that thought, you know you’d never tell anyone, and in fact it’s pretty tough to even admit to yourself.

I felt that way for a long time.  There, I said it.

In a recent conversation with a client, he shared with me the ideal qualities of his dream job.  Although he doesn’t yet know what the job is, he made a great list of what is important to him.  As he was rattling off his list, he added, “and you know, the cliché that I want to help people.”  I couldn’t help but wonder, what did he mean by the idea that it is a cliché?

It turns out, what I’m about to say isn’t what he feels, but the discussion sparked an old memory for me, one that I had long forgotten.  I remember not so long ago being so desperate to change my career.  I was so stuck in my own head that I couldn’t even imagine a first step I could take.  Doing it alone wasn’t working, so the only thing I knew to do was to reach out to a career coach for help.  In our sessions, we often discussed the idea of “being of service” to others.  As she emphasized the importance of helping others and its impact on career satisfaction, I couldn’t help but think, “Bull$#!t.”

I wasn’t having any of it.  The last thing I wanted to do was to help anyone else. The mere thought of helping others in my job made me want to crawl under a rock to stay.

Do you ever feel that way?  It’s horrible to have to face this truth about yourself.  It’s embarrassing.  I judged myself, wondering what was wrong with me because surely I was the only person who was that selfish and self-absorbed.  But it was the truth, and I knew it.  I couldn’t fake it.  In that moment when I thought about my dream job, nowhere in the description was “to help others.”  I really didn’t want to have anything to do with other people.  I had already been doing that, and it was killing me.  I had spent my entire career devoted to helping others– helping people who didn’t seem to appreciate my care or me.  I already had that, and it wasn’t working, so why would I think that it could lead to career happiness now?  I even used to point out that I would have rather worked with lab rats all day than to help people.  And I don’t like rodents.

If you secretly feel this way too, I have good news.

It’s not you.

It wasn’t me either.  It was how I felt at the time, but it wasn’t who I was.  I was in so much pain, that the thought of helping the very people whom I perceived to be the cause of my pain was too much for me to handle.  If we put too much of our energy and efforts into helping others without taking care of our own needs, we can’t sustain it.  It’s very noble of us, but at some point, we will crumble.

Luckily, I’ve worked really hard to make my life very different now.  I feel happy, and I love what I do.  And guess what inspires me now?  Helping others!  It works because I’ve found the thing that I’m passionate about.  I have found a way to nurture my own happiness while being of service to others.  The two go hand in hand now.  Nothing makes me more satisfied than helping someone dig themselves out of the same hole I found myself in, after years of being trapped in dentistry.  And so I feel a huge sense of relief.  Of course I’m relieved that after 13 years of searching for my ideal career, I have found happiness and freedom in doing something I love. But I’m also relieved to know that it was okay not to want to help anyone else when I was in pain.  I’m relieved to know that feeling a certain way at a specific time in my life does not define who I am.

If you’ve decided you don’t want to help anyone right now either, that’s okay.  There’s nothing wrong with you or that idea.  Don’t worry about it.  Take the time you need to work on being of service to yourself, and you just might find the rest will follow.


11 thoughts on “A Confession: Why Helping Others Seemed Like a Load of Bull

  1. As a social worker I get sick of helping sometimes..I do enjoy the therapy side and the teaching side though

    1. I think it’s pretty natural to get sick of it sometimes because it can take so much of our own energy. I know you got into dentistry to help people, and clearly it’s the same with social work too. Just another reminder to take care of ourselves too. Great to hear from you, Donna!

  2. I get it, when I was doing selling hearing aids there were times I never wanted to see another hearing impaired person in my life! Now in my job doing wax removal I’m helping 16-18 people a week hear better every week and it’s great!

    1. Fraggs, I’m so glad you’re enjoying the new role much better. Do you think part of our own enjoyment of our work has to do with how positive or negative the experiences are for our clients and ourselves? I bet your hearing impaired patients were a little less thrilled with your work than the wax removals?? So when we are dealing with heavier things for people, it can take a bigger toll on our own well being.

      By the way, my husband had to have some wax removed last year. His hearing was totally impaired by this piece of wax, and having it removed was an amazing feeling. I promptly received a text with a photo of it! It was shocking!!

      1. Yes indeed, my hearing impaired patients wanted a miracle I couldn’t provide, only improvement, it’s hard managing people’s expectations especially when they are paying quite a lot of money to get help. NHS patients don’t expect miracles of course, but also don’t like the results, so no, they were rarely thrilled. My boss however, manages her clients beautifully and they are all thrilled with what she sells them, so the other part of it is that I wasn’t very good at it!! I’m great at wax removal 😊 let me know if you want any more photos 😂😂

  3. Thank you, Laura, for this insight! I had never thought of it this way before and figured when I felt this way it meant that I needed to do MORE to counteract the way I felt. I was exhausted and fed up all the time!

    1. That’s so true, Heather! I hadn’t thought about that, but we do end up feeling like we aren’t enough, so we push harder. That never really seems to help, does it?

  4. Somehow I missed this post of yours. Brutally honest, which is why it is so good. And incredibly well-written, by the way! There are so many levels to this topic… way too much for me to get into right now (I’d run out of character space, I’m afraid). As of last week, I am on a “leave of absence” from our dental office for the next six months. I had planned to retire anyway, after practicing for 35 years, but my departure was sped up a bit, due to an injury requiring surgery (upcoming), and making it impossible for me to perform dentistry.

    The fact is, I really did enjoy helping people, especially when they were appreciative. But it does not make anyone a “bad person” for NOT having the desire to help people. And besides, there are an infinite number of ways to help people, if you are so inclined… sometimes it just takes finding the right fit.

    And referring back to the first sentence in the last paragraph… most people were very very appreciative of the work I did. I would get more “thank you”s from people on a daily basis at my job than I would guess most people do.

    Yet…. it was killing me. Trying to please everyone, do my absolute best work in every possible difficult situation, NEVER EVER make a mistake, deal with labs that didn’t live up to even the basic standards, etc. etc. is not a healthy situation to be in, especially on a long term basis. So despite the numerous daily compliments I got (and sincerely appreciated), it was not enough to sustain me.

    So my “leave of absence” basically allows me to go back, even on a part-time basis, should I desire. But even after only 3 days of freedom, that possibility seems less and less. And I’m happy for the difference I’ve made in peoples’ lives, but I feel like I’ve done enough. Now it’s my time. And if I somehow bring happiness or joy to someone’s situation along my own personal journey, all the better.

    PS. To be totally honest, I don’t feel completely “free” of all of it yet. I find myself worrying about how the staff is handling my patients, and how they will make out. Will they be upset with me if I don’t come back? I completely acknowledge that a new dentist will be just as good — maybe even better — than me, but I haven’t been able to let go of it all yet. But that is a fault of my personality… something I need to work on.

    Wow — I ended up writing more than I planned. Thanks for listening.

    1. Eric, thanks. Yeah, that honesty can be pretty hard to write at times. It’s bad enough that we judge ourselves, but to become vulnerable to other people’s judgment is a little scary! So thank you!!

      I completely relate to everything you say and really appreciate it (especially the 4th paragraph.) It’s so true!

      I’ve recently learned that certain people naturally have the drive to care for others at the expense of caring for themselves. I would lump dentists in this category. That’s exactly what we do. We take care of others and make sure everything is perfect for them while the pressure of it is killing us. This level of care is unsustainable because at some point, we reach our limits. A more sustainable way is to take care of others while we take care of ourselves. I’m sure many inside dentistry can do this, but sometimes that involves finding another way to be of service to others.

      As for your leave of absence, I’m sorry to hear about your injury. Wishing you much luck with your surgery! Here’s my take on your continued feelings of attachment… you’ve practiced dentistry for a while. I wonder if in a sense it has become who you are, your identity. Walking away from that isn’t easy. An analogy I’ve often used is that it’s like leaving a relationship (a break up or divorce even) and as happy as that is for you, there is still a sense of loss. So we know you still care deeply for your patients, your staff, and your practice, and that’s natural. All of that will make it harder to let go, even if you feel so free and happy and don’t want to go back. It is quite impressive that you’ve helped so many people for close to 35 years.

      I can tell you from my experience that even though I finally felt so free after I left (even though my circumstances were so different, I do think there are some universals,) I did have to “grieve” the loss. My case was a little unique because I had a ton of support through this blog. I’m so grateful for that b/c it helped me celebrate instead of feel guilty all the time. However, I still had to work through my self-judgment of quitting, abandoning patients and staff, wondering what was next, etc… Now I know that was all my own head trash getting to me. I hope you don’t feel those particular things because none of that is true. Anyway, if you feel a sense of loss, that seems like the natural process, even if you are loving your freedom. I’d love to know what you think of that in relation to why you feel attached. And, btw, I bet that’ll ease up as the days continue.

      I hope you continue to see how much you have done to help people, and if after only 3 days of your break, you are loving it, that’s okay! That’s wonderful!

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