How to Create Change: Don’t Help People

How to Create Change: Don't Help People

Ever realize some people don’t want your help?

It’s true. Some people don’t want to solve their problems, no matter how easy, fast, cheap or effective the solution might be. You might have the perfect advice for them but… No. They won’t take it. In fact, those people are kind of comfy in their misery.


You know the type, those people who sigh that if they just had more money, more time, more support, or more skills, more this, more that… THEN they’d be able to achieve their goal. They say that if they had that missing thing they needed, they’d succeed.

It’s not always true, though. You could give these people everything. The opportunity they’ve been waiting for. The chance at success. Just hand it to them as a gift, out of the goodness of your heart. “Here you go. Enjoy.”

A very tiny, small minority would seize it and rock it out completely.

But a very large percentage wouldn’t. They’d enjoy it for a short while – “Gee thanks!” – but then… well, nothing happens. Maybe they tinker around, give it a half-hearted effort…and then they’d go back to status quo, settling into the old, familiar patterns of wishing and accomplishing nothing.

Some people are happy where they are. They’re holding themselves back, yes. And truthfully, we all hold ourselves back in one way or another. I do it, you do it too. Self-sabotage and preventing ourselves from moving forward serves a purpose.

It keeps us safe, away from risk, far from fear that we might have to face until we decide it’s time to do something about this sorry state we’re in.

It’s only then that we decide to do something – and actually do it.

So here’s what I suggest this year, especially if you’re the type that likes to see people succeed and overcome their issues: Don’t help them.

I know. This flies in the face of current opinion. We’re told to be helpful. Kind. Generous. To give of ourselves freely. And that’s nice and all (and I try to be helpful and generous too), but I’d go so far as to say giving help away freely doesn’t help anyone at all.

Unless the people you’re helping came to you, determined to work with you, ready to action all your advice and prepared to do what it takes to create permanent change in their life.

Think of it this way:

When you stop helping people, you are helping them. You’re allowing them to learn what they need to learn and grow as they need to grow and take all the hard knocks until they get so fed up that they’re primed to make a change. That’s when they realize and acknowledge that they control their success. That no miracle will fall in their lap.

The only person who can help them is themselves.

And you? While you step back and stop helping others, you help yourself too. You get to save your energy instead of wasting it. Spare your advice for those who use it. Spend your time with people excited about reaching their goals and achieving more in their life.

You also learn a very important lesson:

Your help is valuable.

When you stop helping people who don’t really want it and start helping those who’ve specifically sought you out, intentionally and with purpose, then great things happen. Those people are far more likely to pay attention to your advice. They’ll action your ideas. They’ll do the work you ask them to. They’ll put in the effort and do what it takes to create change in their life.

They won’t waste your time, because they know your help is valuable. And when we believe something is valuable, we take good care of it.

Think of the change that could bring to your life. You’d always be working with jazzed, excited, motivated people. You’d suggest an idea and they’d be racing off to try it out. You’d hear about great results and amazing goals and it’d be smiles all around.

So stop trying so hard to help people. If you want to help people change for the better… wait until they’re ready to change. Wait until they come to you, until they sit down with determined, fierce steel in their eyes and wait until they growl, “I want this. Help me.”

Doesn’t that sound way better than the people who say, “Yeah, I know, but…”

But nothing. Your time, your advice, your expertise, your help, your generosity, your kindness… these things are precious. They’re worth protecting. And they’re worth sharing with people who value them just as much as you do – people who have the ability to move forth to accomplish amazing goals.

The others? Don’t worry, you’re not being cruel – they’ll come to you… when they’re good and ready for change.

If you're good and ready for change, then seize your opportunity. Sign up for a consultation today, and make the decision to finally get the damned smart advice, the business action tips, and the income-generation strategies you need.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. I’ve seen a lot of people who, when offered exactly what they said they just wanted, suddenly make up some new reason why they “could never do that.” You realize no matter what you do they are hell-bent on not ever going past the point they say they want to pass.

    • You and I see this a lot because we do consultations. Most listen, nod, say it’s good advice, and add a, “Yeah, but…”

      A very few go on to action the suggestions we make – and THOSE are the ones that leave me grinning. I had a client the other day say she took my advice and made $14,000 with one launch. Makes me want to cheer, lol.

      The mention of “hell bent on never getting past the point” reminds me of a guest post I wrote for Joost de Valk on the other day about magical wands, and it came from someone who’d said: “I know I need better design to get more clients, but until I get more clients, I’m going to have to wait on that design.” Huh?!

      • James, are you sure you didn’t think – damn! I should have charged more for my services! 🙂

        I see this all the time too – people paying for advice sessions, then on the follow up call you ask them how they got on since the last time, to find they are still doing the same think. To be honest it’s energy sapping and disheartening and makes you wonder why you ever got into the ‘advice business in the first place!

        Interestingly enough you often get the vibe from your first interaction from these type of people as to whether they are going to be a action orientated or not. Probably the best time to discover that you can’t fit them in for another month….

      • James,

        You’d be shocked at how much sense it makes to someone strapped for cash. They’re not thinking from a business point of view. They’re thinking about how they’ll have money left over for next month’s bills.

        I fell into that camp till I made the decision to save up a certain amount and then invest it all in my business. I’d still be giving myself that excuse if I hadn’t already saved up the money.

        Now I’m getting a new website (granted it’s The Client Machine by Freelance Folder), working on branding and relaunching my blog and writing a free ebook to offer to newsletter subscribers. Because I have the money saved for the sole purpose of investing in my business, I’ve hired someone to format my ebook and joined the A-list blogging bootcamp to start things off on the right path when I relaunch.

        Okay, I just realized I’ve rambled on. My point is that when you don’t have the extra cash to invest on your business, waiting till you get more clients to invest makes perfect sense.

        • Well, actually, having come from that very position of zero money and zero to invest… I actually do know how much sense it makes to focus on buying food versus buying business improvements.

          But there are a lot of actions we don’t have to spend money on – and this is what I’m talking about. Suggesting someone change the wording of their existing copy costs nothing. Pointing them to a free theme skin that’ll be more effective than Kubrick costs nothing. Mentioning that saving up for X goal might be worthwhile versus spending Y dollars on a useless ebook… well, you see how it goes.

          Actually, even your comment shows that while you couldn’t take financial action right away, you were taking other actions – you weren’t making excuses and holding yourself back. You were looking for ways to achieve your goals and making them happen, no matter how long it took to save up.

          The best investment – that doesn’t require cash – is simply deciding on a goal and starting to do what you can with what you have to make it happen.

          (On a side note, I recommend the Client Machine as a great theme for starting out. It’s clean, looks professional and does the trick. Also awesome to hear about the rest of your progress! Woot!)

    • This habit of creating “reasons why I can’t” instead of actual *results* is so common amongst coaches and therapists that some psychologists have published entire tomes on the art of creating “ordeals” to improve client results.

      Basically, by creating obstacles (hoops to jump through) before you allow people to work with you, you’ll actually filter out all the folks who “could never do that”… long before they start wasting your time.

      A high price point for consults can be that obstacle… but I used to get clients to keep a two week journal of 300 words a day before I’d seem them, simply because of the *effort* required. The ones who couldn’t be bothered never got back in touch to schedule their first session.

  2. Thanks. I needed to hear that.

  3. Hello,
    First I wish you the best for 2011 with solid health and getting anything you’re after : )

    @James: as I am preparing a website to help people with video tutorials aimed at Internet Marketing technical subjects, I am asking myself the exact question you are covering in your article: will my website be helpful to people in the choice of subjects I’ll be thinking about? I know already that there will be people who will say in themselves: “I don’t need you to show me how to do it, I just want it to be done for me… by someone who knows what he’s doing… because I don’t have a single clue…”
    But they won’t say it, if asked: they may say “yes I need this help”, but infact they may say that just because they would be ashamed to say “I don’t understand why you want to help me with this” (even if you explain it to them.)
    And also: I think about the value percieved in the content: free VS paid: I am thinking of creating a balance, but will most certainly analyse other websites in the same kind of subjects.
    I know that I just have to test, ask questions and understand the needs of clients in other websites and forums, then I’ll be able to offer solutions to “general urgent needs.”

    @Michael Martine: they are discouraged? They lack self confidence or are they scared from something? What do you think is the reason?

    • It sounds to me like you know exactly what you need for your website: 1) videos (etc) for people who want to know how to do it themselves, and 2) a service where you do the work for people who don’t want to do the work themselves. If you don’t want to actually do 2, why not hire someone or work with an outsourcer who does?

      As for the “I don’t understand why you want to help me,” part, that’s often someone’s low self-esteem talking. They might feel they don’t deserve a helping hand or kindness, and so it’s confusing to them. Nothing you can do about that… because it’s up to them to do the work of realizing they’re worth helping.

      • 1) “It sounds to me like you know exactly what you need for your website”:
        yes: detailed steps about how to execute certain tasks: but the fastest and easiest way possible, the challenge will be to focus on “complementarity” between many modules, and give an understandable context, plus the possibility of picking just what one would need at the same time.

        2) “a service where you do the work for people … why not hire someone or work with an outsourcer who does?”:
        Absolutely! This is certainly what I’ll be doing If I am already working on a project and can’t do everything alone.

        3) “As for the “I don’t understand why you want to help me,” part, that’s often someone’s low self-esteem talking. They might feel they don’t deserve a helping hand or kindness, and so it’s confusing to them. Nothing you can do about that… because it’s up to them to do the work of realizing they’re worth helping.”

        I did not know about this psychological trait, it is very interesting.

        Thank you James for your cool reply!

        Karim AKA SSG

    • I’m pretty sure it’s something like learned helplessness. Or just that people don’t actually want their condition to change because they’re used to it. Most people, most of the time, sadly, seem to be nothing more than walking bundles of bad habits.

      • And most of those habits got ingrained in their childhoods. Change is hard and knowing what to do is not in any way related to actually doing it. Which is why there are so few exceptional people in any given profession – but their “secret” isn’t anything other than implementing what most other people know they should be doing.

      • Not always learned helplessness, not always bad habits. In many cases, it’s fear, plain and simple. Take the person who says, “I know I should market more, but I hate marketing…”

        They’re really saying, “I know marketing more would bring me success, but I’m actually scared that people will think I’m sleazy, or that I’ll fail, or that I’ll get more work than I can handle, or that someone will laugh at my course/ebook/service, or that I’m not sure I have the expertise/skills it takes, or that…”

        FEAR. Fear is the biggest obstacle, bigger than learned helplessness, bad habits, childhood issues… FEAR. And when it controls you, you can’t do anything….

        … until you choose to shatter it and live without it. Watch the action then!

      • Learned helplessness is what happens when you help someone and condition them to find all solutions to their problems through YOU. It’s kinda the opposite of what James is on about here, really. Learned helplessness occurs through *too much* assistance.

        As James said, the beast we’re dealing with here is really fear. I’d add that it’s also ignorance, to be totally frank and brutally honest.

        People who don’t have the commercial chops to know a smart piece of advice or an opportunity when they see one… tend to be the people who even the experts can’t help. In my experience, the most successful a person is the more open to learning, change and advice they are. It takes a special kind of fear-driven small mindedness to reject help from the people (like James) who are infamous geniuses.

        • How about different learning potentials? Abilities to focus and concentrate for longer periods of time? Some people can dive deep in water and retain their breath much longer than the majority. It takes technical and physical training.
          Same thing for learning I think, it can be trained and developed.
          Maybe a way to help people to learn better about what they need to do, is using ludic interactive techniques; learning by playing? I don’t know if consultants use this or not, but it may be a great way to get rid of individual frustrations or barriers during consultation/learning sessions.
          Now it remembers me of a very cool physics teacher we had who was insanely creative and so entertaning! He had that huge creative power to transform any complicated course into a super fun story/scenario, AND make everyone participate and take action, we never knew what he was going to invent for the next course, but at the end anyone could understand the courses, without exception!

  4. Glad you posted this today James. I’ve just been in a facebook discussion with some WAHMs (Work At Home Mums) where someone was asking where they should leave business cards. I pointed out that there were better marketing techniques that would actually get results – and got shouted down. By someone (an Avon rep) who went on to recommend getting 100 cards for $5 and putting them everywhere you can.

    Yep, I’m stepping away now. They don’t want to hear, I don’t want to waste time arguing. I have real clients who are actually serious about their business who need my time.

    And I know you’re going to remind me of “Don’t help them!” many times this year!

    P.S. Michael, love the beard!

    • Hehehe, you ALWAYS have stories about suggesting ideas and having your audience argue with them… and yet, I know personally you’re a smart cookie with good ideas.

      My recommendation? Change your audience. Or, smile and say, “Sure, that’ll work too. I guess it depends whether you want to spend the day driving around or spend it making sales.” 🙂

    • I believe the correct term for that is “littering.”

      You should leave business cards in the hot little hands of someone who asked you for one because you just blew them away with the value you brought to an encounter.

    • Hey Mel, here’s a tip:

      Just ask them to keep track of the actual number of customers they get from that approach ….. then divide the total profit by the number of hours they spent littering cards about the place… then deduct $5 for printing costs, then some $$$ for fuel.

      Pretty hard to stay cocky when you just calculated that your breakthrough marketing tactic results in a less than minimum-wage return on investment.


  5. Oh I so agree – I find people who want to work with me are at that stage where they are ‘ready’ – there’s no point trying to persuade someone who isn’t!


    • And the people who are ready to work are the ones that make you want to shout with glee, rejoice and do a happy dance. It’s awesome to be part of that energy and victory, isn’t it?

  6. Definitely brilliant and oh so true. Add to that the lovely ability to completely try to defeat any suggestions you give them too (this goes for folks who *need* help but simply refuse to acknowledge that fact as well).

    Gets tiring after awhile! Let them be happy in their misery and focus your attentions on what gets you the best returns.

    • It IS tiring. I know there are tons of reasons we can’t do the things we say we want to do, but there’s always a way around it.

      For example, I want a Maserati, for example. Maybe I can’t have one right NOW, but I sure could have one if I actioned a list of steps and a plan to get myself one. So there you go – that means I don’t *really* want a Maserati, and I’m perfectly happy with a Mazda. 🙂

  7. Great post. It really is fruitless to waste your time and energy on people who don’t really want to be helped, and yet people do it all the time!

    • Well, they do it because 1) it’s tough to spot sometimes, 2) their genuine need/desire to be helpful gets in the way of not helping, 3) they’re seeing the situation from their perspective. It’s often a two-way street of “yeah buts…”

      “If you just did this…”

      “Yeah, but I can’t because…”

      “Yeah, but if you just did this…”

      “Yeah, but I can’t because….”

      Someone has to drop the ball so it can start to roll, eh!

  8. This clicks with me on so many levels, not just business ones.

    I’m chasing money, I’m chasing money, I’m chasing money…

    • *grin* You go, my friend.

      Actually, the notion of “chasing money” has been valuable to me. (Thank you, Mr. Shallard.) I have a tendency to “protect money” versus “chase money” (many freelancers have this issue, actually). Since I decided to change my philosophy, grit my teeth, get steel in my eyes and start muttering, “I’m chasing money,” to myself (sometimes several times a day), I’ve noticed far, far better success… and far more action on my part, too. (And I wasn’t one of the slow ones to begin with!)

  9. The hardest part for me, on the consumer side, is finding individual and personal guidance, as opposed to links to ebooks. I love ebooks; don’t misunderstand. But HELLO, sometimes you MUST talk to a client on the phone. It isn’t easy stumbling around but I’ve learned a lot in the past 4 years, and have found several people who actually give me individual attention. Not easy when you blog about (and are passionate about) the American West, Western lifestyle and Western wear, bullriding, etc. I just want to add value, add value, add value.

    • Could be a bit of looking in the wrong places – I know many people (myself included) who offer personal attention. None of them are easily accessible, no, but that’s a good thing. Having an access barrier in place makes sure that the clients we work with *wanted* to work with us – they did what it took to get that attention they know can help them out.

      On a side note, I love your niche. Up with horses 🙂

  10. Who would think trying to help someone could be so complicated?

    In Special Ed. we have a term called “learned helplessness.” I think this is one of the categories you described–people who have learned to be helpless. And the solution is to NOT help them, make them do it themselves.

    I’m looking in the mirror now and hoping I see “steel” in my eyes.

    Lots to think about. Thanks.

    • Learned helplessness is a real bitch and an action killer. (And incredibly frustrating for those on the opposite end of the spectrum!)

      But that’s not me, nor you, thank goodness! 🙂

  11. This is true about EVERYTHING, even Care Giving for my demented mother. When she still had a little bit of her mind left she said something to me that made me upset, “Susie, you care more about my health than I do” … then she laughed. I helped her anyway and she lost 100 lbs, improving her physical health.

    Helping my mom has been and is the most painful and frustrating experience of my life; the way one feels when someone doesn’t ask for help but we help them anyway. Exactly as MWP has outlined here in this post filled with wisdom.

    • I think that if we’re going to help people who don’t really want it (or believe they can achieve their goal), we need to walk into the situation knowing it’s going to be harder than pulling teeth from a shark. That you have to swim to. Without snorkel gear. Or goggles. And it’s salt water. And that’s after you’ve been stung three times by jellyfish in the surf.

      (Good for you and your mom, btw!)

  12. Love this post, James. Last month, I wrote a guest post called “The Power of No”. This is my motto for this year – say no to more things so I can say YES to the things that really matter.

    So many people want something for free. They want free advice, free services, etc. But, if you ask them to pay for it, they go running for the hills. Those are not the people who are going to use what you’ve given them. Those that pay have something invested and are far more likely to do something with it.

    Now, I’m not saying we should NEVER help or give. But you’re right – sometimes we have to say no so we can do more for the people that matter, including ourselves.

    p.s. You DID give me free advice once upon a time, so I hope I’m the exception to this story. I DID do something with it and am so very grateful!!!

    • There are always exceptions to every story 🙂

      Saying no is one of the most healthiest, self-beneficial actions you could take, and you’re right: it lets you say yes to all the things that really matter, make a difference and help us stay happy and jazzed. I fully approve.

  13. You know, I just had the thought that this maybe this is sort of like what happens when a sadist and a masochist meet.

  14. I learned this lesson working with troubled teens long ago. (I’m a psychotherapist by training). I’d offer help, give then easy ways to reach their goals and, for some, I’d always hear the word “no.” Finally, I said to one kid: “I could offer you a lollipop, 2 ice cream cones and a trip to Disney World and you’d still tell me to go to he…” He looked at me and said, “Wow, that is so true.” He then went on to actually make some changes , but I had to show him that he was in his own way, not me.

    In my business, I am directly marketing to one kind of person – the person who takes action. I have many blog posts that directly say – “If you are a whiner, don’t work with me.” The result is a group of clients who are wonderfully motivated, energized and happy to do the work. Ahhh…

    • Both my writing coach program and my website/web copy critiques say it plain: If you need back-patting, gift-wrapping, and rah-rah you can do its every 30 seconds, I’m totally not the person for you. And, invariably, I work with people who don’t need me to babysit them – s’awesome!

    • That’s one of the really tough things about doing therapy with children. Because most of them aren’t paying for it (their parents are) … they don’t have much buy in. In some cases, they’ll actively sabotage the therapist’s efforts as an act of rebellion against their parents intentions.

      However, when someone forks over cash, it tends to hone their attention somewhat fiercely. There is a learning in that for everyone in “helping people” game.

  15. Wow, this post ties in with some of the frustrations I have in the classroom. I always seem to have students who don’t want to take my help, who don’t want to further their learning. I can’t just leave them be though or I wouldn’t be doing my job.

    I am passionate about teaching and am constantly trying to find new ways to motivate my students. I think some of those kids have everything done for them at home. They don’t know how to do things by themselves, or they are scared to make a mistake.

    It’s a hard thing to overcome. Still though, teachers can take your message to the classroom and let their kids make mistakes and fail. That’s how we all learn.

    • Your comment reminds me of the teachers that end up being the ones so fondly remembered when students are 30 or so. “Oh, wow, yeah, Mr. Jones! I remember him… he was awesome. He taught me…”

      But if you looked back at the time that kid was actually in Mr. Jones’ class… he was probably goofing off, picking on the teacher, only listening with half an ear and writing notes to Suzie.

  16. “When you stop helping people who don’t really want it and start helping those who’ve specifically sought you out, intentionally and with purpose, then great things happen.”

    This is SO good and something I needed to here today.

  17. Sadly, I’ve encountered these people many times. Once or twice I was even married to one. What I finally decided is they don’t want help. They’re not really asking for advice. They just want you to listen to their tales of woe and sympathize with them. So I listen and nod my head and act shocked that they’re not making money/saving money/getting a better job/whatever. Then I get back to work, because I do understand what it takes to make a real change, and hanging around with these folks won’t do it.

    • Being in a relationship with people like this, whether through love, business, or other, is tough to deal with. And the problem is that we’re usually in that relationship because of our own need to learn a few lessons.

      So I suppose in that sense, it’s a win, right?

  18. Patrick Vuleta says:

    There’s a scientific explanation for it all. The brain releases dopamine when we receive information. Because we receive constant information online, people get addicted to a cycle of new information. And they get bigger ‘highs’ from the anticipated value of the information, not the actual results.

    People will buy an e-book, read a website, hire a consultant just to get some information rather than the actual results. They don’t actually want to take action. They’re primary motivation is to constantly get new information.

    Now you’re right that giving information away freely won’t help anyone at all because without some accountability on their part they won’t have enough motivation to actually take results and overcome that endless cycle of seeking out new ideas and second opinions. Sometimes this can be very strong and not even high consulting fees is enough to give them enough stake in a matter to overcome the cycle. But it’s going to be infinitely worse with free information.

    Of course… there’s the other end of enthusiasm…

    “James! This is a cool idea!”

    *5 minutes later*

    “James! Better idea!”

    • “James, I know this is the fourth email, but I SWEAR IT’S THE LAST!…” Hehehe I do the same, y’know. Once I get thinking… boom!

      There’s a scientific explanation for some people, agreed (and that’s a good one, thanks for mentioning it), but in my cases, it’s just plain psychology.

      • Patrick Vuleta says:

        True, science is rarely the sole determinant of action.

        I think it all interacts. People are always held back by their fears and preconceptions, and their body will falsely reward them for essentially doing nothing. As such, they don’t need to go beyond those fears to feel good. We’re always able to justify things in a way that removes uncomfortable feelings.

        That’s getting rather airy fairy though. People could just get of their butts.

  19. this is a fault of mine because I want to help everyone.

    Sometimes i need to shut up and let ppl know I’m not going to help you, but here’s a book you can read, now leave me alone.

    You’re right. Ppl aren’t going to change if they don’t want you and most times they’re asking questions they already know the answer to but want you to give them advice they would rather hear, but when you give them the right advice, but not what they wanted to hear, they don’t accept your advice.

    that what pisses me off the most, because why’d you waste my time and ask.

    yeah, i’m going ballistic, but this post touched a cord of ire in me.

    • I like to take a different perspective about it. It’s not that they don’t want you or your advice, it’s that they aren’t ready to overcome their issues, or they aren’t serious about that particular goal. It’s not about you – it’s about them.

      And that’s okay. Everyone struggles with something, right?

  20. I like this one 🙂

    I’ve kinda learned to split this into 2 categories in my coaching:

    1. People with pert but’s. As you say, everyone can come up with “buts”, and I can deal with those as long as the intention to get past them is there. These but’s are small and pert enough to deal with nimbly.

    2. People with big but’s. These are more problematic. These folks tend to want to want to change, and aren’t normally ready to change. Their big but’s make it safer to stay seated, hold back and play it safe.

    There’s a 3rd category too; those who I call “negative swimmers”. These guys not only have big but’s but will constantly find ways to keep other people sitting on the couch with them, or they’ll even sit on everyone else to elevate themselves, make themselves feel more important or keep others down.

    Great post James.

  21. Thanks for the thoughtful reminder – some folks are just more comfortable with their problems than with doing something, however insignificant, about them. Offering advice without agreement that change is truly what they’re committed to is a waste of everyone’s time and energy.

    As a life-long “fixer” it’s taken me some time to recognize the difference between someone wanting a catalyst or an audience. Your post is valuable reinforcement to pay attention before jumping in.

  22. Oh, yes. It’s pretty arrogant to try to change people anyway. And sometimes the best thing we can do for people is let them have their stuff & accept them where they are.Powerful change happens in that kind of a situation. Great post!

    • Mmm… There’s a difference between wanting to help people change and be part of the support and assistance they might need, and that of wanting to change people to suit your own tastes. I don’t believe wanting to help is arrogance (which is a blatant ownership or show of feelings of unwarranted importance/pride).

      But yes. Powerful change can happen when people are left to carry out their own mistakes and hard knocks. Some achieve great goals!

  23. Exactly… as a massage therapist one of the most frustrating clients were the ones who wanted you to do all the work. But hey, if one doesn’t change their 24/7 habits — one hour sessions two times a month will not make all the bad stuff go away.

    I know some therapists who “fire” their clients who don’t follow their homework. It’s seen as a bit harsh in the industry but who wants a client that says, “I go to Mr. Xxx. He’s ok but can’t seem to make my lower back pain stop.”

    • Oh man. That must be so frustrating.

      Hmmm.. I wonder what would happen if you had a guarantee of some sort… “If you do the homework and exercises suggested religiously and STILL don’t see improvement, I’ll reimburse you 33% of your sessions.”

  24. Your post hit home. When it comes to my writing, some things I am willing to change and some things I want to change but can’t or don’t know how. I had to stop writing for two years after my husband, my only source of income, left me and my kids. I tried and struggled for the first couple months after, but finally gave up after falling through on a couple of projects. Two years later, I am back. Squeaking by on child support each month (I have no idea how rent manages to get paid, but by the 20th of the month it usually does), but I know I need to start supporting myself fully. I had a tough time getting a job after being a WAHM/SAHM for 8 years, so I enrolled in school. One semester left and I’ll have my AA degree in Behavioral and Social Sciences with a Certificate in Early Childhood Education. In my “previous life” I was a legal secretary and paralegal.

    My kids are still little and need me, so I’m not ready for full-time work. I’ve decided to use this last semester (when I’ll have financial aid to support me), to kick-start my freelance writing career once again. I know the topics I want to write about, the clients I want to work with, the niches I want to create. But… there are things holding me back. I have asked colleagues for advice and a few for help. I’ve known most of them for 4 years or more and they trust me, so that helps. Except, I hear their words and I still feel stuck. I’m scared.

    I don’t know how to market. I always had my work drop into my lap it seems. One good client and I was referred to others. I was given leftover work by my colleagues. I fit in with everyone and probably had more handed to me than I deserved. Now I’m starting over and some of my favorite writers have moved on to new things, higher places. I feel like it’s 6 years ago and I’m starting all over.

    I don’t know the first thing about being a successful affiliate marketer, how to write a compelling writing resume, or how to quote large projects or write a squeeze page. I can type out a 500-word ghostwritten article on How to Choose the Best Floor for Your Home’s Needs or a moving blog post about how my childhood trauma affects my parenting skills… but the writer in me, the one who makes money doing quality work, the one who makes a name for herself… is scared.

    I just spent two years finally getting over the biggest failure of my life. I’m not sure I’m ready to hurt again, but I’m sure willing to give success another shot.

    • Think about it this way: You’ve been through worse, right? You can handle this. 🙂

      One thing you can do to immediately start helping yourself feel more confident and extra-ready is to begin actioning what you’ve listed above: learning more about what’s currently scaring you. The more we know, the less we’re worried about it, right? The more prepared, the easier the steps.

      • Yep, and I learn by doing, so I need to sometimes just do it and evaluate it after. Yesterday I did a tutorial script for the first time and I was nervous to get started, but when I was done I was so glad to have had that experience. I spend too much time worrying and not enough time just jumping in. I need to jump! Thank you for the reply.

        • Hi Diane, sounds like you have been through a lot but you are moving forward.

          This quote helps me: “Courage allows the successful woman to fail–and to learn powerful lessons from the failure–so that in the end, she didn’t fail at all.” (Maya Angelou)

          My best advice is to pair up with another person who is doing what you want to do. All of us are scared and just trying to learn–plus, all of us need help.

          Most of the information you are looking for is free online. James keeps pointing us to the straight and narrow, so you’ve already made some great choices. Be proud of your accomplishments.

          • Hi Mary, thanks for the quote! 🙂

            Pairing up with people is how I succeeded the first time. It was easy then to find them — they were all at the WAHM forum boards under Writing Moms. I still have those contacts, but as I said, they have moved on to other things — moderating social networking boards, throwing Twitter parties, being Lifetime Moms. One successful writer, Carson Brackney, was a close friend and at one time a business partner. I think he went back to a real world job.

            I need to find new people to network with, in addition to my old contacts. I have started getting more involved again with Twitter and blogs, but it just hasn’t been as easy to network for me. I’m kinda sad to have been left behind, in a sense, from my colleagues who didn’t go on a hiatus for 2 years. That’s where the feeling of failure comes in I think.

            I am writing samples and applying to a few places this week, hopefully that will boost my self-confidence. Meanwhile hanging on tight to my one client and Demand Studios account. 🙂

            This blog is a great place to start. I do need to be more vocal on the others that I read.

  25. Oh My Gosh! I love this post! I went on a rant last night about how some people make no effort to change the things that bother them–which makes the serendipity of encountering your post the day after I wrote mine amazing!

    You are right–we can’t help those who refuse to help themselves! When I did not like my life, I whined, I complained–but I also grabbed every chance I could to improve the situation, whether it was picking up cans alongside the road, selling Tupperware and Amway, or picking up two free dogs from the Wal-Mart parking lot (the dogs are what paid for my escape eventually).

    There are those of us who keep trying until we make it, and there are others who almost seem to enjoy whining about their problems, who won’t take the least little step to improve their situation even when you put the darn path in front of them! They expect you to do it all, and when you won’t they even get mad!


    Anyhow, great post! I’m surprised at the coincidence of the post, but glad as well. I needed this. Thanks!

  26. [face-palm]

    So I’m talking to a friend (or possibly a relative, I’m not saying) who’s complaining about the job market, and I ask her ‘can you write out specific instructions for someone to get control of their household finances’?

    ‘Of course’ she says, ‘I tell people how to do that all the time’.

    ‘Great. That’s an ebook you can sell.’ I said.

    ‘Oh I could never sell online. I don’t write that well anyway. And I’m too busy’ she quickly countered.


    So I take a deep breath and try again. “Dear, you are *unemployed*, you know the topic backwards and forwards, and people will happily pay you a few bucks for you to help them. Once it’s set up, it makes money while you sleep. The cost to get it going is nearly zero. I’ll host it for you for free and help you set it up.”

    She paused a half-second. “Well I’ll think about it. Did you see all the snow?”

    [sigh] When you’re ready, I can help. Until then…I’m out of sympathy. And there are people waiting who actually *want* help.

    Great article, James. I wish there was a magic pill (or kick in the pants) that would shake people out of their unhappy but comfortable rut, but there isn’t. Learned helplessness is in some ways akin to addiction. It’s a convenient, ever-ready self-deception that excuses inaction. And it’s a tragic waste.

    Another tragic waste is repeatedly trying to help people who don’t want it. Lesson learned!

    • Hmmm, this doesn’t sound like learned helplessness to me. It sounds like fear, limiting beliefs and excuses – which isn’t the same.

      Learned helplessness is when someone has learned that a certain action is dangerous/hurtful and stops doing the action to make the pain halt. But when the pain is removed… they still repeat the “action” of not doing anything.

      Think of a dog that gets kicked each time it reaches for a bit of food. After a while, it would stop reaching for the food. And when the man that kicked it had a heart attack and died… the dog wouldn’t leap to eat. He’d still assume he’ll be kicked if he reaches for the food.

      I would’ve asked the woman something like, “Why could you never sell online?” She’d give me an excuse. And I’d ask about that. And dig deeper and deeper until she got to something like, “I’m scared some young Gen Y is going to laugh at me as I stumble around.”

      I have an upcoming post on Monday that discusses excuses and fears. You’ll find it interesting!

      • It’s both, really – I won’t go into a long history of endless discussions on why every opportunity is met with an excuse to do nothing (but complain), but will just say that she believes that her actions will have no effect, so she doesn’t take any action at all. I will try the follow-up digging discussion as you suggested though, all it can do is waste more time

        Unfortunately I won’t be able to read Monday’s post, as…I’m washing my ASCII and …uh… polishing my pixels. Besides, I might see something of myself in it. 😉

  27. Hi James —

    This post makes me recall the multi-day training I took years back to become a caregiver for people with AIDS (back when most people rapidly died of AIDS). One of the big parts of the training was studying an essay called “Is Help Helpful?”

    The teaching was that so often, it isn’t. Often our “help” is driven by our own needs — I’d feel better if you had more food in the house, so I do your shopping for you, even if letting you slowly do it yourself one shopping bag per day (because that’s all you can carry down the street and you can’t drive anymore) would be better for your self-esteem.

    What I learned — before you help, ask. “What could I do that would help you most right now?” You can really save a lot of time this way, and avoid “helping” people in ways that are counterproductive.

    One thing’s for sure — in business, you can’t help anyone have the passion and drive to make their business a success. That either comes from within or it doesn’t.

    • Ouch. That’s a very thoughtful way of looking at it – the most positive, well-meaning intentions and kindness… can cause the very thing we’re trying to avoid. I’m so glad you posted the bit about carrying the groceries.

    • SuperSimpleGuy says:

      Hello Carol,
      What do you think is the best way to ask a person what she needs right at that moment, when this person is very introverted in “need matters”, and generally never talks easily about what she needs really?

  28. I used to be a computer instructor. My wife and I were their top two instructors based on student evaluations. Didn’t matter though. We’d get students in our classes that we’d see repeatedly playing Solitaire, even after we warned them not to wander off. At first I got angry, but realized they didn’t want help. They did not want to learn. For whatever reason they had, it was beyond my control, so I concentrated on the students who were eager to learn more.

    • Yeah, I’d say this is like Peter Shallard’s comment above – the students aren’t there because they want to be there. No wonder they’d goof off!

  29. Wow! That. Was. Amazing.

    I feel this way often, and you just said it so well and so brilliantly. Seriously, thank you. I have learned the hard way not to work to help people who just don’t want to be helped {I still have to KEEP learning this lesson unfortunately.

    I started to realize that I would share all this advice to friends and family and they would not take it, and then when all my readers started to take my advice, I realized the second part of what you said.

    The people who want help and are willing to change will come to you and take what you say to heart. Let us all take what YOU say to heart in the coming year.

    I’m one of those people who are willing to change if you teach me. I’m excited to learn more from you.

    Especially the thing about making money, because, er, I’m not too good at that part.

    Room for improvement! 🙂

    • You wrote: “I still have to keep learning this lesson, unfortunately…”

      It generally takes everyone a few misfires and attempted tries before they ‘get’ it. Think of it like the practice you put in before mastery – you get a little better at it each time until finally it clicks and…

      …. aaaaahhh, freedom and victory!

  30. Very good advice, once the helping hand is withdrawn, it will either force the person in question to snap out of their self-pity mode or continue on in ignorant bliss. It’s ultimately their choice and no one can help them or make the decision for them.

  31. This is so true. It took me about a year of practising therapy to work this out.

    The job got a lot easier after that.

  32. Define irony. There’s so much truth in what you wrote here and that’s why they call it ‘unsolicited advice’ – they may politely listen but they may never take it. It may sound harsh, but sometimes, making people realize their mistakes on their own makes them learn more from the experience… than you spoon-feeding them everything they need to become better. Time is more than gold these days so I’d spend them on those who value what I have to say. Now, that’s having a big burden removed. Why should you even feel responsible for someone’s misery?

  33. This reminds me of a time. . .

    I once worked with someone who complained a lot, about personal and professional things. I was distressed because she was distressed. So I tried to help. Right? Giving her advice, tips, suggestions, trying to find solutions. Her response was either “Yeah, but. . .” or “Don’t tell me what to do!”

    It took me a while to realize that (1) my trying to “fix” things wasn’t actually helping, and (2) I didn’t have to feel anxious when she was upset.

    That made a huge difference for me — and our working relationship. I wasn’t ruffled by her drama, which made it easier to keep things neutral and easy between us.

    Thanks for the reminder, James.

  34. So to help people we have to help them less…i like it!

  35. I started to read this post today and I couldn’t stop shaking my head in agreement! I was approached by someone last year that wanted a blog setup for her homebased business. All she knew is that someone in a marketing firm told her she needed a blog. No direction on what she would do with it, but that she needed one urgently. I thought I could help out and provide her with tips and ideas based on her business. I setup the blog for free as a favour. And started to work with her. As we worked together I could tell by the distracted look in her eyes that this blog was not going to be used for much. And why? Perhaps because she received it plus all of my consultations for free and therefore she didn’t value it. Or perhaps she really wasn’t in a point in her life where she was ready to go online. Who can say…

  36. Dang James, this was like dunking your head in a bucket of ice water….Good Stuff!

    There is a saying (may have been mentioned in the mountain of comments above) that says:

    When the student is ready the teacher will appear.

    When we’re young I think we often times feel we can help everyone. Then, at some point, we start to realize that it takes two teams to play the game….so sometimes we just need to keep practicing until the other team is finally ready to play.

    Thanks for the great read James. You’re as good as they get.

  37. People get a payoff even for destructive behavior and the comfort that they get from this payoff is something that they value more than the uncertainty that comes with living in the territory of courage.

    The courage it takes to make a decision to do a 30 Day Challenge where you promise yourself to, for only 30 days, try out a new empowering behavior. The courage it takes to say “No!” to something you’ve been putting up with and face down whatever the consequences are. The courage to admit that you need help.

    And the thing is, we ALL have problems. Just because we lounge in comfort and cowardice doesn’t guarantee the problems are gonna stop showing up. In fact, the problems that come from avoiding tough decisions are in my eyes cause worse pain than do the ones that ask you to step into your edge, into the fear to face a fear that passes once you see break through the other side.

    Tony Robbins taught me a long time ago that the only people who don’t have problems are dead and that life is about creating a better quality problem for yourself, like, the “Problem” of having to buy new tires for your BMW that cost $1,400 vs. the $400 it used to cost for your Nissan Altima.

    I like what you say about “Not helping people who aren’t ready for help with their problems is actually helping them”. The core of their identity actually likes their problem and I imagine that deep part inside might actually resent that I would try and get it evicted. And then, surprise, surprise… bad feelings surface in that person when they’re in your presence and they don’t even know why. Or maybe they do.

    Either way, Thank You James for the reminder to mind my own damn business when someone starts talking about a problem and hasn’t asked me for a solution! I need all the help I can get keeping my big mouth shut. Hahaha

  38. Brilliance!

    I teach people how to sell. In a nice, feel-good have fun but MAKE MONEY way. I hear all kinds of excuses about why people refuse to develop this skill – and then watch them continue to struggle.

    From now on, I will smile, and say – you have to read this post. (and then provide a link) And explain that I can’t help someone who isn’t ready.

  39. I’m having a hard time following which comment belongs to which original poster… as they come to my inbox… but someone mentioned The Client Machine. Thanks for the information or recommendation. I have blogs already set up, but some of them need to be refreshed. I currently link all my comments to my personal blog because my professional one is in the middle of being reorganized. I’m always happy to have new recommendations.

    Also, I think the biggest point is this — don’t offer help unless it’s asked for. If someone takes the time to ask, they are usually ready to take action. I also like someone’s idea of asking if they need help and how best you can help them. If someone is complaining, they likely need help but don’t know what kind they need. I’ve made complaints to friends about marketing and they email me a couple ebooks unsolicited… did I ever read them? No. Because I didn’t really want an ebook. I just wanted to vent about the frustrations of marketing. Sometimes we just need to vent, but don’t really need help.

  40. Its so true giving unsolicited advice , is such a wast of time and energy , the problem boils down to one thing
    You give advice because you my care

  41. And you just want to get though to the person

    • Sally Jensen says:

      What I am learning is not even to offer free advice to someone that has asked for help because they would still rather pay someone $1000 bucks a month for the advice, similar to a call I just had.

  42. James,
    I’ve been away too long!
    This is an awesome post, and I think it does a great job helping to balance out some of the “should I sell my advice or should I give it away?” debate all of us who do work online constantly find ourselves embroiled in. Obviously, as bloggers, you and I both give away a helluva lot of information for free. But, as exemplified by your message at the bottom of the post, offering your consulting services, there’s a lot more where that come from, and it’s worth the price.
    It’s a valuable lesson to learn as a freelancer, and valuable lesson to teach others too.
    Thanks again!

  43. Oh, I SO relate to this article! Until escaping a few months ago I was a district manager for a global direct sales company. Over the course of 7 years I beat my head against a wall working with hundreds of people attempting to help them build home based businessed. At the start each proclaimed their passion to build their own business – only to then go merrily off on their own way not going through the training to learn about their products or business, not even bothering to return calls – only to resurface if they had a problem they wanted someone else to fix.

    Yes, the one’s who ran with it were absolute gems – and they were the one’s who kept me hanging on for that long. The problem was they were far too small a minority.

  44. “Before everything else, getting ready is the secret of success.”
    Henry Ford

  45. This was utterly beautiful. Exactly what I needed to hear. How exquisite.

  46. Interesting post. Very true!

  47. Good thing non of the posters here are running any government welfare agencies, otherwise, we’d have a lot of dead and homeless people. All in the name of not helping so you can help! There’s a difference between laziness and mental deficiency.

    • Hello Bob,
      In the corner where I live, governement offers help for starting entrepreneurs -offline- (advice, loans, evaluation etc…) but when an entrepreneur is not ready, he/she isn’t open for considering advices seriously, which puts a certain amount of risk on the future of his/her venture.

      Governement can’t help everyone, and before you can receive help, you better get prepared, with the minimum requirements, and it starts by a good planning: If you show that you can’t measure risks and anticipate or minimise them, it’s cool, because you are offered the advice of studying those obvious risks and coming back later, simply because a consultant is here for that.

      Now if you show that there are 100 other important requirements needed to create your business, like minimum qualifications, a qualified team (even without experience, just qualified enough) and that you are not willing to work on them logically and seriously, and keep being all excited instead with crazy uncontrolled motivation, I don’t think the project gets ever accepted for a loan… only the free advice remains, but in that situation, the aspiring entrepreneur is not ready yet, to receive that advice.

      If the entrepreneur keeps coming back to receive consultancy help, only to show that they didn’t work on the previous requirements discussed previously, do you think the consultant is going to waste more time? This may happen much more online, because there is much more free help on the net than offliine.

      At the same time, there is nothing fatalistic in crazy motivation and euphorial excitement for genius business ideas : ) it just shows an incredible amount of energy that HAS to be channelled and used effectively, and it takes a genius consultant to convince the most hard-to-convince crazy visionnaires : )

      What do you think, Bob?

  48. I pretty much stopped doing favors for people unless they are close friends or family.

    I’ve done favors with no expectation of anything in return. In one case I helped someone land a job that launched his career. He’s now a big success in that area. It turned out years later I needed a small professional cost-free favor from him. He did not reply to mutiple contacts.

    I thought about all the times I’ve helped others. I’ve never gotten a return from it. I’ve found it’s better to save time and NOT do favors for others any more.

    This is the dirty little secret no one will tell you. The most successful people don’t do favors without expectations of return, and ways to enforce return. It’s just reality.


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