If you’ve ever been moved to help someone, whether by sympathy for their hardship or excitement for their success, you probably did what most of us do. Made a well-meaning general offer.
“Hey, I’m so sorry for what you’re going through. Let me know what I can do to help.”
“I love what you’re doing! I’m here to help in any way.”
These are not bad offers. They successfully signal comradery and provide a little bump in mood to the recipient. But they don’t deliver the kind of help that sticks. If you really want to do more than signal your sympathy (you are not obligated to do more, so only do if you really want to) you’ve got to get specific.
My nephew passed away two years ago. Our entire family was in shock and mourning. Sympathy cards and thoughts flowed in to my sister and her husband. It was overwhelming to see the support, and it did them good. Many offered to help and meant it, but it’s just too hard while grieving to think of something a friend or neighbor or stranger can do for you, and it feels weird to ask. The greatest help came from those who didn’t ask what they could do. They just noticed something and did it. They bought dinner. They took the kids out to get new shoes. They cleaned the house.
It’s the same for support with exciting projects. I get a lot of emails from people saying they’re excited about Praxis and want to help. I love these emails. It’s great to know people share my excitement for our vision and progress. There are a rare few who do more than signal. They don’t ask, they offer or do something specific. I’ll never forget just after launch when Zak Slayback contacted me and said, “I want to help. Let me manage your social media pages.” He had a good reputation and I needed help so I let him. Then he started doing other things like setting up email newsletters, improving the website, writing blog posts, going to events, and creating marketing material. Pretty soon we couldn’t live without him and he was hired. Others help without asking how by making an email introduction to a business partner or potential participant.
It’s perfectly fine and in many cases preferable to let people know you care. But for those times when you’re really moved to provide support or help a project move forward challenge yourself to not give any open-ended offers. Before saying, “I’m with you and here to help”, think long and hard about what needs to be done and what you are able to do. The more specific the better, even if it’s a rather mundane task. You might have to get creative, but if you learn to offer help in practical solutions instead of generic words you will change people’s lives forever. They won’t forget.
A lot of what we do in life is signaling. That’s OK so far as it goes, but it often muddies our ability to identify cause and effect. Pretty soon we start to believe bumper stickers and ribbons equal change or progress. It’s the same on the individual level and society at large. If you push yourself to figure out what will really help, instead of what will signal your desire to help, you’ll begin to see the world anew.