I’ve been spending a lot of time mentoring and coaching people I know (friends, family, non-profits, and such) and I’ve been doing it for free because it felt like “the right thing to do.” After all, I’ve had people do this for me in the past, so I felt good about being able to pass this kindness forward and help others out too.
The problem is that it has lately started to feel like too much. I felt like I was losing myself by always making myself available. “You need me, just call me anytime,” I’d say. And I meant it. I wanted to be able to help them through their rough times so they could emerge victorious on the other side.
But then I started to notice that, besides taking up more of my time than I realistically had to give, I also began developing this feeling that I was responsible for the people I was helping. It’s almost as if their happiness was in my hands and that meant that I was directly responsible for their ability to succeed – at least partially. It was a heavy load to bear.
Then one day one of the guys that I had coached a short while back called and said that he wanted to see me. He wanted to take an hour of my time and go over some things that were bothering him. The next words out of his mouth kind of caught me off guard. “How much do you charge?” he asked.
Charge? I’d never charged anyone for this service in my life, I thought. However, knowing how drained I was feeling, I told him that I would think about it and get back to him.
This one was a little tough for me because I had never really thought about what my time was worth when it came to helping others succeed. It was just something I did, not something I set out to earn a living doing.
Certainly, a lot of experts in helping professions will tell you that there is a lot of benefit to charging for this type of thing. Not only is your time valuable, but when someone has to pay for your services, they tend to take it more seriously. They’re more committed to the process.
Anyway, after giving it a little bit of thought, I called the guy back and gave him my figure. He was more than happy with it and we set up a time for him to come in. Then, when he arrived 15 minutes late, I reminded him that he now only had 45 minutes left of the time I had set aside. He agreed, we talked, he paid me, and he thanked me and left. And for the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel drained.
This taught me not only the importance of setting boundaries to protect my own personal health and energy supplies, but also that having an exchange also helps offset the things we sometimes give up for others. It doesn’t have to be a money exchange either. You can exchange services, like coaching for coaching, or come up with some other agreement that makes it a win-win situation for you both.
Let’s face it, none of us has an unlimited supply of energy, so protecting what you do have is vital. That’s why I’m more careful now about how much I give so that I can be my best whether at work, with my family, or anywhere else that is important to me.
Take a look the boundaries you have set (or not set) in your own life. Are they where you want them to be? Are there certain areas of your life that are more draining than you’d like? What changes can you make so they become win-win’s for everyone involved?
Setting boundaries and enforcing them isn’t always easy, but it is worth it. For you and everyone around you.