The Rescue Game

I remember when I was a new manager several years ago.  I was between two mental spaces: I was so ambitious about doing a good job and getting recognized, and at the same time, I was eager to learn how to be the best manager for my employees.  Now, I thought to myself, I get the chance to prove I am the BEST person for the job. 

A few months passed and I began to feel the pressure of my new role.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t the increased workload or the demand to make leadership-sized decisions as I originally forecasted. My pressure was self-inflicted and came from the employee I desperately tried to save from her own self-destruction.

Her name was Sarah.  She was a young twenty-something who was intelligent beyond her years.  She had such large ambitions for herself and could woo a crowd with her knowledge on particular subjects.

But Sarah struggled greatly in her job.  I discovered that she had essentially slipped through the cracks and really wasn’t as knowledgeable about her role responsibilities as she led others to believe.  But that wasn’t the worst part.  While working with her, I learned that she had a lot of the same character flaws that I currently dealt with:

  • She let her emotions drive her actions.
  • She lacked follow-through, which always led to more issues
  • She didn’t have self-awareness, especially in the most obvious times.

These struggles kept Sarah from excelling at her work.  They also kept me from firing her, because when I saw her flaws I clearly saw myself.  I saw the internal battles that I faced – the ones that very few people were aware of.  In many ways, I saw Sarah in my mirror reflecting back at me.  As a result, I was desperate to  “save” her in an effort to save myself.

I spent an unnecessary amount of time trying to heal Sarah. Our side conversations became less about work and more about her personal struggles.  I felt like her therapist rather than her boss although I strategically connected everything back to her job so she couldn’t tell the difference.  And while we saw minimal breakthrough, I kept pushing to see more.

But it didn’t work. Nothing worked.

After seventeen months, and by the demand of my own boss, I finally had to terminate her employment.  I could no longer exhaust so much energy on her.  I could no longer make excuses for her lack of progress.  I had to pull the plug. It was one of the hardest leadership-size decisions I ever had to make because for me, it was more of a personal defeat.

I wanted her to overcome her personal struggles so badly so I could prove to myself that I would do the same.  But when she failed, it was a reminder of the stories I told myself about my own failures – the ones that automatically replay in my head when I don’t need them most.

After Sarah left, it took me quite some time to make sense of the entire experience with her and to move on.  I had to learn to separate her failures from my own.  It wasn’t easy, but I eventually got there.  Through my own resolutions, I discovered that there were numerous other Sarahs in my life that I’ve tried to rescue:

  • I’ve spent my life trying to save my mom from her own self-destruction.
  • I spent years trying to save my ex- from the unfruitful life he wanted to live.
  • Regularly, I attempt to save relationships that probably aren’t meant to be saved.

I was the best person for the job alright – I was the best person to play The Rescue Game with Sarah because my pattern was all too familiar. But through this experience, I actually did do some healing of my own, and I learned a few things that I now carry with me when the urge to “fix” people comes along.

You can’t save those who don’t want to be saved. While I’ve heard this before, this is the first time it resonated.  People have to desire their own self-improvement in order for change to actually happen.  As the helper, you can’t be that for them because it has the opposite effect than what you planned.  More importantly, let them go if they want to go.  It’s okay. It’s usually for the best.

Some people are only in your life for a season. If we’re going to be truth-seekers and chain-breakers, we MUST accept that some people leave when seasons change and that is also okay. The best thing we can do for ourselves is to appreciate the lessons they taught us about ourselves and encourage the next person. (Encourage, not fix them.)

You are NOT your flaws. You’re just not.  You aren’t designed to be, so don’t wear that jacket.  You’re intricately made, and while we all have areas to grow (which will always be the case) we should recognize the journey towards growth and not obsess over the destination.

I’ll probably never see Sarah again, but looking back years later, I appreciate what she did for me.  She taught me some lessons that she will never intended.  For that, I’m forever thankful.  Secretly, I still hope I did the same for her.








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Elana Cole is an author, educator, and coach who is passionate about helping others in their personal journeys towards a more beautiful life. She is the author of "The Midnight Experience" and creator of Empowered Narrative, a blog about transforming the way you live and love.

2 thoughts on “The Rescue Game

  1. This is a great read. It help others see how you have grown in each experience you have with making leadership decision but also dealing with your weaknesses.

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