The Case of the Needy Networker

The other day I found myself in a conundrum of my own making.  I had accepted a coffee date with a woman I met in a social group we both belong to.  I arrived 5 minutes early, got my coffee and waited.  She showed up fifteen minutes late, sat down, a mess of chaotic energy, and launched straight into a story about how she was new to Austin and nothing in her life was working.

About thirty minutes in, I tried shifting the conversation to something lighter.  She kept pushing the subject back to career, in particular her career.

I realized at this point she knew what I did.  She knew I was a career coach.  She knew I did leadership development and mindfulness work for organizations.  She mentioned she wanted to break into corporations with freelance work, but she didn’t know how.  She was hungry.  And I was her feast.  And the energy was so strong in that interaction, I could feel myself being devoured by her desperation.  It was a sticky, yucky feeling in the pit of my stomach, and I had to get away.

I tried to shake her off and change the subject again, to shift the energy of the conversation, but then she really dug in deep. Then the flattery started.  How I was a trailblazer, how I was an adventurer, how I had built a successful business as a woman, and I am an inspiration to all.  How she just wants to be near me and learn from me.

Honesty is the best Policy

I offered a few pieces of advice and said, “I can’t wear my coach hat out with everyone in a social setting.  I’ve got to protect my own energy, and to do that I have to establish boundaries with folks outside of work.  I hope you can understand.”  And then I made my excuses, picked up my purse and left, considering I’d already been there almost an hour and a half.

Sometimes we call these types of people “toxic,” but I think that’s a little unfair.  There is no such thing as a toxic person.  There are only people who treat us the way we allow them to treat us.  We unwittingly find ourselves locked in toxic situations, often referred to as emotional blackmail situations, by our own poor understanding of boundaries and our need for another’s approval.  And then the gremlin kicks in:

“You’re such a bad person if you don’t sit here all day and sort her problems out.”

“People are going to think you’re selfish if you don’t help her.”

“You’re a coach.  You’re supposed to believe in abundance and giving to everyone!”

As a woman in a caring profession like coaching this happens a lot.  We don’t get up and leave when we should.  We take the phone call in the middle of the night from the crazy family member that we know will piss off our spouse.  We spend way too much time listening to someone else’s woes.  We say yes to things we really want to say no to.  We worry other people will think we are selfish if we don’t help.  Or maybe we subconsciously enjoy it, as we initially get to feel like the savior, the martyr that always swoops in and always saves the day.  And then that role becomes too overwhelming and draining, but we don’t know how to give it up.  The bottom line is on some level we feel obligated, and so we take way too much responsibility for other people’s problems.

ITs not easy to walk away, but you can do it

Getting up from that table and walking away was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in recent history.  She had laid a gigantic boulder of problems right at my feet.  But it was the right thing to do.  For me, and for her.

But just because you know what you should do at the time doesn’t make it easy in practice.  It did get easier upon reflection, when I realized how loving and caring and giving I am with folks who have actually earned the right to it:  friends, clients and colleagues where I have built deep relationships over time, based on respect, mutuality and reciprocity.  These are all by the way the foundations of what real networking is based on.  Sounds like a topic for another blog post…

Think about the relationships in your life.  Who in your life might you be taking too much responsibility for at the moment?  How might you be emotionally blackmailing yourself to do things for them?  What might a conversation to set yourself free look like?

Shelley Pernot is a leadership and career coach who is passionate about helping her clients discover their strengths and talents and find a career that utilizes them.  Reach out to me here for a free consultation to learn more about the coaching process and how it may benefit you!