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The Things which hurt, instruct. —Benjamin Franklin
Good intentions can lead to disastrous results when the premise is faulty. There is a dark side to the Wealthy Accountant left undiscussed until now. People walk into the office, call, email, text, and leave comments asking for help on a variety of topics. Accountants typically want to help those in need: real or imagined.
This desire to help sometimes crosses over into a dark realm. Not everyone wants help, even those asking for it. A cry for help in too often a cry for attention and your friendly accountant is often too slow on the uptake to realize it is a ruse until it is too late. Employees, clients, readers, and people in general all want a piece of someone willing to feed their addiction for attention.
I see a pattern emerge in my behavior when I hear a cry for help. People profess to want life better and I am willing to share ideas to help make their life better. Usually it involves money since I am an accountant. Before long it becomes obvious the individual requesting help is not really interested in help; they want a willing accomplice in their personal dramas.
The closer someone is to me the more likely they can pull me into their dramas. The mere fact of increased time spent together increases the chance of a dependence developing. Kind soul that I am, I feel people prone to drama still need help when they call out. We might pass a stranded traveler on the side of the road, but what about a client or employee? When you see a client weekly or an employee daily a co-relationship develops. Each party begins depending on the other for support and acknowledgement.
These relationships are inherently unhealthy. Employee/employer and client/accountant relationships need a solid wall between the individuals. Without the wall a player in the drama will eventually want to dig deeper into the other person’s personal life to increase the drama further because there is no other way to increase the drama. I hate drama, but sometimes people want to inject drama into my life and that is when I pull back.
Thirty years of business creates a lot of stories of clients and employees who have used my gentle nature to their advantage. Once I understand there is no desire for self-improvement I start to disengage from the matter. The drama-master always seems to want to turn up the volume to keep the co-relationship alive. That is when the kind Wealthy Accountant becomes an Ass (yes that is a capital A).
Walking the Line
There is a fine line between helping and sticking your nose where it does not belong. A few years back I had a client (also handled the office IT) who went through a divorce. He was in the office every day and refused to leave. He wanted to talk for hours about how bad his wife was and how to stick it to her. In most cases divorces are the result of behavior by both parties; this case was no different. My empathy was low from the start because I knew some details from prior conversations. After enough of my time was wasted it was easier to hire a new IT firm than listen to more drama. He was a nice guy, but I just did not have the time or the desire to listen to such talk.
Employees can be worse! Because I have a small office and see employees daily it is too easy to get caught up in their personal lives. I try to dissociate, but periodically my empathy rises off the charts over problems an employee has. It always ends bad as bad luck turns to drama and then I finally reach a breaking point and take a pass. Once again I am an Ass.
My empathy is high for most people. When someone suffers a loss I feel it too. I try to keep distance with employees. However, the closer an employee is to my office the greater the risk her dramas will spill into my life. If money is tight I am willing to share ideas I share with readers here. I encourage people to read my work so they can use my experiences to their benefit. Special cases require personalized advice. Money issues are generally easy to fix if you want them fixed. If you are unwilling to cut back or quit smoking I can’t help you; if another tattoo is more important than dealing with money issues my empathy evaporates. Mrs. Accountant has even babysat an employee’s child until she could find permanent daycare. As you can imagine it ended bad. In less than a month the drama spilled into my life and it was all over. For the client or employee is goes from bad to worse. They are their own worst enemy.
Breaking the Bond
My ability to help works best when I keep a professional distance. Employees still tell me about their life in passing and it allows me to understand where they are in life. Most people want to share without trying to manipulate the other person; they just want understanding or need to get it out. I’m okay with that.
The danger zone comes when the passing interest is turned into a raging demand. Everyone backs away different. In my case I tend to start paying less attention. You are still the client or employee and your life is none of my business. I listen because I care about you, but after a while you need to take action and responsibility for your own life. By backing away slowly, some people consider this an insult and retaliate. Gawd, I hate that! I still care and want to help, only from a greater distance. It is your life.
The drama queen/king takes the insult personally. It usually devolves into personal attacks. A recent employee had serious personal problems and decided when I was no longer willing to listen to her problems daily and make her the center of attention she would dig into my life and hurt me. You can’t hurt me, but you can hurt yourself. (We can all make this statement. You allow yourself to be hurt; no one can do it to you.) Talking behind my back or using any failure I ever had in life will not increase my empathy; it will end all empathy. I am an open book on my life, including failures. I don’t dwell on failure, but I sure like to learn from the experience.
Once trust is betrayed by someone I helped the dark side of the accountant emerges. I will take some abuse, understanding everyone has days. After a pattern of manipulation and abuse emerges I move on. The dichotomy must make the diss more acute. I go from genuinely caring and helping to total disregard. How can a relationship go from one extreme to the other? For most of us, especially me, it is disrespect of my time and compassion. If you want to use me as a weapon or tool I am going to turn on you eventually. The kind of tool I am talking about is from a negative context. If you use me as a tool to improve yourself or learn a new skill or build a business I am fine; if you use me as a tool to play games or manipulate others katy bar the door.
Walking Into the Light
Optimism comes naturally to me. I think the best of people even after they betray me. In my opinion people do what they do for reasons that made sense at the time. I could be wrong (would not be the first time). I tend to forgive easily.
What people forget is how many people want a piece of me daily. The request for help from clients, family, friends, employees, and readers is unrelenting. We are not talking about a few minutes of advice either. This is full-blown work! There is no possibility I could do all the work myself.
I have a lot of acquaintances, but few close friends. My distance should never be construed as a lack of interest or not caring. As a member of the human race I need quiet time to think and reflect. Some people get it, others not so much.
It feels good to be wanted. When I am asked to speak to a group I feel good inside. It also allows me an opportunity to know the group more intimately for a few days without as many outside demands. After the conference is over I remember the people I met, but don’t keep close connections with most. I hate that too. I wish the world were smaller so I could have a more in-depth relationship with people like me. Life is not that kind.
The world changes the more people demand from you. The way I treat clients and employees evolved over the years as demands on my time grew. It brought out the dark side of the accountant. I tend to demand more than ask in business settings. I also tend to have less tolerance for drama; either fix the problem or live with it. As a business owner I have no choice but to outline the project and expect everyone on the team to participate.
The Kind Man of Cruelty
The working title of this post is the header of this final section. My original notes were to discuss how I handle stress. I wrote: I am not a yeller or swinger when upset. But I can be a real ass and not let it go until I burn it out. Dealing with emotions as a Stoic to just let stuff go. I knew what I wanted to write about once I had enough time to think it through. I changed the premise of the post to suit my new thought process. I still want to address the original thought.
I am not violent ever. I don’t think I ever raised my voice to a client or employee; I don’t hit either. My real problem is I want to over analyze a situation after it fails. In a way that behavior helps me learn lessons; it also causes problems as I can’t move on until I let it go. When I finally reach that place where I write someone off I don’t immediately move on. I allow an opportunity for redress. It never really matters. I moved on long ago, while still holding on to the old, destroyed relationship. The emotions are wiped clean.
Stoics should know better. By holding something in that long and letting it burn you up is counter-productive. As a stoic I have a lot to learn. Stoicism is a journey, not a destination. My writing shows I remember stories from a long time ago. What you read here really happened with only modest changes to make the story fit the format here and sometimes to protect characters in the play. A long memory is good and bad. If you learn from it without angst it is good; if you dwell on it endlessly without a lesson learned it is bad.
There is a solution for dealing with people like me. (Okay, just me.) When I pull back it probably means nothing at all. Staying in touch is never a problem. The problem starts when the person I back away from forces themselves into my life. My backing away is really a request for respite. Give me my respite and our relationship will continue on into the future. You, me, everyone needs a break now and again. A relationship can be destroyed for no other reason than someone was not given enough room to breathe. If I pull back due to some unwritten offense, it will pass as I digest it. There is no reason to confront you on a slight that is no more than my interpretation of words or an event. After I digest it I will move on as if nothing happened because nothing did. If the issue is forced, out comes the dark side.
Now I am going to take a nap. Don’t bother me. It has nothing to do with you.