Now, on with the show...
I live my life with the belief that people are fundamentally good, and generally want what's best for those around them. Which is why I am always rather disappointed when I encounter the odd person who seems so focused on his or her own needs that simplicities like saying thank you or dropping me an e-mail to let me know the time I spent proving aid was appreciated and resulted in [fill in outcome here] are completely forgotten.
Over the past few months, I've been burned by a couple of folks who I'll simply call "takers". I'm sure they didn't overtly set out to leave a bad taste in my mouth. But after taking time out of my life to help these folks in any way I could, I was nastily surprised to find out that I seriously overvalued my contribution to their respective lives.
I guess because I'm a writer with a fairly deep knowledge of technology, I'm often approached for help with resumes and job search coaching. I edit what's sent my way, counsel over the phone, via e-mail and IM, and generally do whatever I can to help them through a challenging time. I likely say yes too often, because it seriously cuts into what little free time I have. But I figure people appreciate it, so I do it.
Maybe my breath isn't up to snuff, but the e-mails from my temporary proteges seem to stop as soon as said individuals find employment. I often hear about their new jobs from others because they were clearly too busy to let me know they were hired on. Some of them seem to drift back into my purview only when they're seeking employment. As soon as they hitch up with a company, they forget I exist.
It ticks me off because I invested time in these people that could have otherwise been spent with my family. I'm also trying to add momentum to the rolling snowball that is my writing career, and time spent on unappreciative souls doesn't really help the cause, y'know? Consequently, I need to change my approach a little to preserve my sanity. Here's how it'll work:
I'll continue to help. It's in my blood. I can't say no to someone who needs a boost when I clearly have the skills to help him/her out.
I will, however, have zero tolerance for "takers". Show any sign of being a one-way receiver and I can guarantee you it'll be the last time you receive any assistance from me. I'm not being mean: I'm only being fair to my wife and kids, who clearly value every second we spend together, and who end up getting ripped off when I waste my time on self-centred boobs.
I'll feel guilty, because my nature almost compels me to set my annoyance aside so I can help anyway. But such is life when there's only so much of me to go around, and not everyone has the vision to realize that being appreciative and nice is really quite a bit simpler than they were raised to believe.
I have some questions for you to ponder:
- How do you handle self-centredness when it rears its ugly head?
- Do you take the passive-aggressive stance and say nothing?
- Do you cut the SOBs off?
- Do you confront them?
- Why/why not?
- What strategies for handling "takers" have you developed in your own life?
If you're reading this and you recognize yourself as one of my "takers" (doubtful, given most of you seem so intent on your own needs that you pay no attention to the little details of others, but nevertheless possible given the ubiquity of the Web) I apologize for causing the flushed cheeks that you're feeling right about now. Next time, show a little grace when someone extends a hand. And if you ever have the opportunity to help someone else out, consider taking it. You might learn something about yourself in the process.
There, I've vented, and I already feel better. Thank you for allowing me this catharsis.