We all want to feel like we are ‘being useful’ but sometimes, we are being used. Today, I want to share a little story with you about how one of my friends had to learn to tell the difference.

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A chat with Dan

I recently met my friend Dan for the first time in a while. We had coffee and a chat. As things do, we naturally ended up chatting about work.

Dan is someone who loves to help others. When I read Arnold Schwarzenegger’s book last year (called ‘Be Useful’) the first person I thought of was Dan.

However, there is a major difference between ‘being useful’ and ‘being used’ and as long as I have known Dan, he has struggled to differentiate between the two.

As we were chatting, this issue cropped up again.

Dan works night shifts in a factory but he had been out of work ill a few months previously. 

Whilst recovering, he received a message from a colleague (Joe) asking if he could swap shifts in a few months time.

Dan has never been one for swapping shifts as he believes in taking responsibility for the shifts you have been assigned and managing your holidays properly.

However, as he was being asked months in advance, and Joe did not give a reason for the shift swap, he assumed that it must be something important/serious so, he reluctantly agreed to it.

A few weeks later, after Dan had returned to work, another colleague let slip that Joe had asked for the shift swap because he wanted to go out drinking with his mates for the night. There was a big party in town and the boys did not want to miss it and as Joe had used up all his holidays, he had decided to get Dan to work his shift for him.

Dan was fuming when he heard this as he would have said no if he had known the reason for the shift swap.

‘Being useful’ or ‘Being Used’

Dan asked if I could help him clarify his thinking about the situation before he decided on the correct course of action. The following are some of the questions I asked him and the answers he came up with:

Why did you say ‘Yes’ to the shift swap?

I thought it was something serious and I want to be able to help people when they need help.

Are you really helping Joe by agreeing to the shift swap?

No, I don’t think I am. I am enabling him to evade his responsibilities. When he took a job doing the night shift, he knew that there would be things he wanted to do which he would no longer be able to do., There are events which have to be missed. If you don’t have the holidays, you are going to have to say ‘No’ to some things. Learn to prioritise. That is the consequences of working night shift.

Who is responsible for you not realising the reason Joe wanted the shift swap?

Ultimately, I am as I should have asked why he wanted it. However, I also feel that he took advantage of my absence from work and deliberately avoided telling me why he wanted it as he knew I would not agree if I knew the actual reason.

So what are your options?

I could just accept that I have agreed to it and do it or, I could decide that it is time to set a boundary by saying ‘No’ and making it clear that I won’t be swapping shifts except in the case of an emergency.

The Aftermath

Dan decided to take a couple of days to determine the right course of action for him.

In the end, he decided to set a boundary. He rang Joe and told him he would not be swapping the shift and that in future, he would only consider shift swapping in the case of an emergency. 

Joe was not happy and their relationship is a little strained at present but Dan feels good about himself and he is starting to see the difference between ‘being useful’ and ‘being used’.

Conclusion

Next time you are asked to help someone, first ask yourself if by saying ‘Yes’ you are ‘being useful’ or ‘being used’. Stop saying yes when you are ‘being used’ and only agree to help where you are ‘being useful’. Because sometimes, you are not helping someone, you are just enabling them to avoid their responsibilities.

My Life; My Rules

If you are having difficulty setting healthy and effecitve boundaries, learning to do so will drastically improve your life.


'My Life; My Rules: How to Set Healthy Boundaries' will teach you to do so.

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