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The Consequences of Not Minding Your Business

by Roman Oleh Yaworsky

Fixing Things is Not Always Beneficial.

A North American native medicine man once told me this story:

One day a man was walking through the forest feeling very good. He had just finished helping someone else out, and he sought more of that same feeling by performing positive gestures for others.

As he was passing a large rock, he noticed that around its edge, a small tree seemed to be struggling, and so, the man decided that here was something significantly good that he could do. With all of his strength, he flipped the rock out of the way of the small tree. With pride, he looked down at the cleared ground and was shocked to notice that he had totally disrupted the lives of all of the small animals and creatures that had built their homes under that rock.

There is a popular expression ‘Mind your own business.’ People that take on responsibilities for others, especially tasks and duties that are not their responsibility, are often not minding their own business; they are often not taking care of themselves, and more often than they realize, they are actually disturbing the business of others.

I have observed the consequences of not minding your business in the corporate world. What often happens is that those people, who take on the tasks of others, get more tasks. Because they are overworked, socialize less or simply lose their enthusiasm, they are often ignored by management when deciding who will get the promotions. Because these overworked people are the ones supporting others, it is invariably the others who prosper and advance instead of them. Take Phil, for example:

Phil was a programmer assigned to specialized research in a university department. Aside from being a programmer, he was also an expert with anything to do with computers. Many people, even from other departments would often go to him for help in repairing their own computer systems because everyone knew that if there was a solution, Phil would find it.

Although he was incredibly helpful, Phil was not very respected by his boss, and was constantly overlooked for promotion and funding. It may have been that his bosses simply took him for granted and knew that he could make do on a shoestring budget more easily than most.

Out of eventual frustration, he moved on to another job somewhere else. After he left, of course, all of the computer systems, including the one Phil had used, had to be upgraded at considerable cost, in part, because nobody else could get the old systems to work. The irony of course, is that Phil and everyone else could have had much newer and better equipment from the beginning, if he were not so overly helpful to everyone else, and if he had minded his own business.



Fixing can have serious consequences.

 Many organizations fail, or become less effective, when a serious situation is ignored for too long because there is always someone around to patch it over or ‘fix it.’ The result can be very much like bad electrical wiring or plumbing that carries multiple temporary patches and fixes. Over time it can lead to disastrous consequences.

Sometimes, the serious situation involves personalities: people who are not doing their jobs properly, or whose behavior is interfering with the work of others. At these times, having someone come in and ‘rescue’ that situation may have the serious consequence of leaving an important issue hidden, when it truly needs to be made visible or resolved, as soon as possible.

Who is Minding Your Business?

The following partial list may be used to better understand when and why you should be minding your own business.

• There is a major flaw that needs to be corrected. The flaw could be in procedures, personnel or equipment, and your meddling may be preserving that flaw until it becomes a bigger problem.

• People who are good at getting you to help them are often assessed as people who get things done. Those who do things for them are often assessed as repair people or useful people. Please notice that people who get things done are promoted , whereas useful people are kept where they are because ‘they are useful.’

• When you help someone who otherwise is not capable of doing for themselves, you bear some of the responsibility when they get promoted and you do not.

• In not minding your business, you may cheat someone out of their learning through trial and error, and of making mistakes on their own. Remember the saying: Best to teach them how to fish, rather than give them the food.

• In stepping out from your responsibilities, you may cheat someone out of taking pride in their own accomplishment, and be able to say, “I did that!”

• When not minding your business, your own work suffers and you may not get the recognition you desire. Employers usually don’t find out, or care, if you are helpful to others. They do care, however, if your own productivity suffers.

Originally Published 2010
Copyright © 2010-2012 by Roman Oleh Yaworsky
All rights reserved.