What to Do When You Feel Helpless

“For some time now, I have been telling a close friend to try something. It will make his life better. He agrees, but keeps making excuses to avoid it. It’s so frustrating. What should I do?”

I want to ask MS Dhoni this question. I think, I know his answer, though. He will curl his right palm into a fist and cover it with his left palm. Then he will say, “After one point in time, there is nothing you can do. Simply focus on yourself and hope that your friend comes around.” Again, I’m speculating. With Dhoni, you can never be sure. When the Indian team performs dreadfully and expects a dressing down from him, Dhoni just drops his kit bag and walks off to his room. WOW!

But this isn’t about Dhoni. It’s about you and me. Sometimes, we think we know the importance of something for someone associated with us (personally or professionally). But try as we might, the idea just doesn’t get through to them. We repeatedly explain the significance, give them ‘third and fourth chances’, spend time thinking about their shortcomings (or discussing them with people close to us), and waste tremendous amounts of time and energy trying to motivate them. It doesn’t generally end well.

For instance, someone I know made hiring mistakes for his organization. I tried telling him, but he wouldn’t listen. Six months later, he said that he thought he had made ‘a few’ incorrect hiring decisions. I had to visit the barber to make my hair look normal again because I pulled so much of it out.

To another, I suggested an idea that would provide amazing returns in the long run, but would take time to get off the ground. I think he didn’t like it, because he sounded like, “What are you smoking, buddy?” Three months later, he pitched the same idea back to me. Back to the barber.

How Can I Motivate Someone?

People won’t do something even if its benefits are staring them in the face. Can you motivate them? Maybe. Push them, coax them, threaten them, try management feedback techniques like the sandwich method…. But it rarely works. You might see a ten percent improvement. But the reward to effort ratio is probably not worth it. It just takes too much out of you. Only when a human feels like he has thought of an idea does he embrace it. Until then, you keep burning energy and frustrating yourself (and those around you) by trying to get this person ‘on the right track’.

I’m so engrossed in writing this post that it’s past breakfast time. Mom has called me thrice. Each time, I’ve responded with “in a few minutes”. A few minutes ago, she walked into my room as if she were going to hit me with a frying pan.

“Why don’t you just tell me once and leave it at that?”, I ask. She is a mother, she says. She mumbles something about not being able to do anything about me, and walks away. Well, what can I do about her?

There is one thing I can do. And so can you. Detach.

quotes on letting go

Accept that it’s the person’s choice and that he will bear the consequences. Detachment allows you to be kind to them. And trust me, they deserve kindness as much as you.

“Me? What are you talking about? This is about someone else!”

True. But as you read this, there are people who want to tell you what to do – spouse, parent, child, relative, friend, peer or even a stranger. There are people who believe that you should do something for your own good, but don’t tell you. They are practicing kindness with you. It’s only fair that extend the same to others. If you have to choose between being right and being kind, choose the latter. You cannot be right all the time.

If you detach from someone, it doesn’t mean that you don’t care about them. On the contrary, you give them a chance to improve themselves. And you give yourself a chance to gain inner peace.

Dhoni doesn’t try being right, even if he knew the game is drifting. Instead, he leverages such opportunities to help players learn from their mistakes. Surely he knows what bowlers should do, what fields they should set, and how batsmen should handle situations. But if he tries being right all the time, the team will depend on him like a creeper on trees.

Is This Wrong?

What’s wrong in that, you ask. It’s a small price for making people do the right thing. Well, we initially love the idea of things going well according to plan, don’t we? Of people reaping the rewards of what we told them to do. But gradually, this becomes unsustainable. We create robots instead of thinking people. And with time, we lose our minds.

Let people figure stuff out for themselves. ‘But they need me’ is the biggest misconception and cause of agony in mankind. We come to live our own lives. Our journey begins and ends with us. Others join us for some time. That doesn’t oblige them to do what we want them to.

Don’t blow a gasket because someone won’t listen to you. Instead, focus on being a better version of yourself. And be kind. Detach. This will allow you to love the people for who they are rather, than who you want them to be. And it will allow you to love yourself. With love comes happiness. And with happiness comes success. This success, for you, will be living life on your own terms. Isn’t that what you dream of doing every morning?

header image source: Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center


  1. Mithila Menezes June 10, 2016
    • Vishal Kataria June 12, 2016
  2. waqar June 27, 2019

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