I think most of us can agree that a motivating factor in our decision to go into student affairs boils down to a really simple concept. We are genuinely passionate about helping people. We strive to be the hero with the answers. We find joy in leading someone to their “ah-ha” moment when everything suddenly makes sense. Helping others is essentially what makes us, us. It gives us that warm, fuzzy feeling inside. We tend to feel like our best selves when we’re guiding other people to become their best selves.
So, what are we supposed to do when we just can’t figure out how to help someone? Our methods aren’t working. It appears that the person we’re working with just isn’t making good use of the help we’re giving. It’s really easy to beat ourselves up over being unsuccessful. It’s in our nature. We are very conscious of treating each case in a unique manner, giving us the tendency to become emotionally invested in the people we’re working with. I’ve always seen this as a blessing and a curse. We have the capacity to feel so deeply, but when something goes wrong, we often place the blame on ourselves. While I realize this is a struggle that may never subside, I recently had an “ah-ha” moment of my own that brought me some relief.
“There is a difference between helping and saving.”
Wow, that makes so much sense, I thought to myself sitting in my counseling skills course. My professor spoke and I felt the power of his words jolt through me like lightning. He continued to explain the principle that we can’t always be the hero. It’s just not physically possible. We can try to apply theory after theory and concept after concept but sometimes, it’s just not going to work.
We are grounded in the belief that every person has the ability to work through a difficult issue. We work tirelessly to see that through.
We asses the situation.
We use our counseling skills.
We refer out.
We follow up.
We show that we care.
We follow up again.
So how is it possible that someone could not be receptive to that? It comes down to the fact that sometimes there are factors beyond our roles as professionals that we simply cannot break. The challenge is bringing yourself to a point where you can be okay with that. While we want to be a hero for someone, we have to recognize that we aren’t the one making the life changes.
The majority of that responsibility falls on the individual.
I’ve found that adjusting my framework to become comfortable with this concept has given me a new perspective in my approach to working with students. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not always about the big picture. Sometimes a student needs you for one minor conflict and nothing more. And, while your intuition is fiercely attempting to peel back those layers and address some underlying issues, that student may not be in a place where they’re ready to disclose them. So we assist them with their problem, encourage them to come back in the future, and they go on their way. Instead of seeing it as a missed opportunity, consider the impact you’ve already had. That student now knows they have an option. A person who, when the time is right, will listen and care and be that champion they need. Don’t underestimate yourself. It’s okay to not be the hero.