Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Stir Your Own Beans (Mind Your Own Business)

I was reading an article about the diet of pioneers on their journeys to the West.  It said a party of four was advised to bring: 600 pounds of flour, 400 pounds of bacon, 200 pounds of dried beans, 120 pounds of biscuits (probably the “hardtack” kind, not fluffy ones), 120 pounds of dried fruit, and pounds of other items such as seasonings, sugar and various chemicals.

Although meat was hunted and fish was caught along the trail, often beans were the main food.  The article commented that both men and women cooked on the trip, but one thing was a no-no: Cooks didn’t go to other campfires to give advice. They stayed at their own wagon and–to use the phrase I adopted for this article–stirred their own beans. 

Don’t you wish people you interact with at work would heed that advice? We all need to spend more time stirring our own beans and less time stirring the beans of others, so to speak. (I’m sure there’s something vaguely off-color about that analogy, but it still makes sense to me!)

There are certainly times when advice or help is asked for and you can give it briefly, then step back and let the person take care of things on their own. There are also times when the outcome is your responsibility and you need to do more than give advice, you need to correct or completely change the way something is done. (Even then, you need to be certain the change is really, truly necessary.) Those situations involve minding business that is yours or at least partly yours. 

The advice or false help that isn’t needed or wanted is when it is merely meddling. For example, you’re working very hard–maybe rushing–on a project or task that you have expertise in and experience doing. In the middle of that, someone who has plenty of his or her own work to do and knows nothing about what it takes to do your work, gets involved under the guise of helping. 

*”I know you were placing those orders but I went ahead and did ours so you wouldn’t have to.”
*”I saw the handouts on the copying machine so I distributed them.”
*”I know you said you wanted to contact people personally, but I was in the meeting so I told them about it already.” 
*”You said you’d bring it, but I wasn’t sure you’d remember, so I brought some too.”
*”I know you use that vendor, but I’m sure you can get it cheaper if you just check around.”
*”I put those tools away because I didn’t think you were using them.”
*”That’s no way to do it. Here, move over and let me show you how.”
*”I know it’s not my business, but really, don’t you think you should do this instead?’

 If you try to explain why the advice isn’t very helpful the rescuer will usually insist it could be helpful if only you would see it their way. Finally, if you’re not very gentle about it, you’ll get a huffy, “I was only trying to help.” as Mr. Fixit or Ms. Rescuer hangs up or stalks off.

The bottom line: Most of us have enough problems handling our own work without trying to tell others how to do theirs. If something being done by someone else will harm your own ability to work, that’s one thing. But, if you just think you have a better idea, can show how smart you are, want to rescue people and make them grateful to you, or whatever your other motivation might be, stay at your own campfire and stir your own beans.

This is a cookbook with some good recipes and interesting tips from pioneer times.

March 1st, 2012 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Life and Work, Service to Customers, Clients and Coworkers | 6 comments


  1. THANK YOU! I won’t do it, but I feel like giving a couple of people in my office a can of beans and showing them this article. They will get up and come over to where I’m working and say things like, “You have been working on that that for an hour and it should have only taken ten minutes. What are you doing wrong?” Where do people get the idea that everyone has to be rescued by them?

    Comment by Dani Girl | March 2, 2012

  2. I like Stir Your Own Beans. Says it all!

    Comment by Guest | March 3, 2012

  3. I have never seen a man try to show up another man or help out when he wasn’t asked (in fact, they’ll stand and watch someone mess something up without helping). But a lot of women can’t seem to resist jumping in to tell people how to do things better.

    And talk about sexist….just let a man be doing something a woman thinks is her turf and she treats him like a mentally defective idiot. I hate to say it but a lot of women deserve the stereotypes that men place on them and this is one area where it really is true.

    Comment by Marker | March 4, 2012

  4. Hello Ms. Tina! The one you could have quoted from my work is “I put your tools away.” We have one guy who will see a tool on a counter and put it away “to help”. He has been threatened with his life if he does it again.

    The person writing about this being a woman thing is partially right and I can prove it….we tell the guy who puts things away while we’re working with them that he’s acting like an old lady who fusses around the shop all the time. I’ll bet no one tells women who are meddling that they’re acting like a man.

    Sorry Tina….you have my permission to slap me the next time you see me. LOL LOL

    Comment by smartaleck | March 4, 2012

  5. Good thoughts and I enjoyed reading the comments. Something funny that you might hate to hear….we have a man in another section who tends to butt into other people’s work and is always looking over your shoulder to correct how you’re making coffee, putting paper in the copying machine, getting faxes off the teletype, etc. We tell him he’s acting like a little old lady. Wow I guess we do stereotype don’t we? I never thought about it until I read that comment.

    Comment by F.C. | March 4, 2012

  6. This is great advice! But I take exception to the idea of some people who wrote that this is mostly about women, because it isn’t. At our work, which is mostly all men, several of them poke their noses in things they don’t know anything about, all the time. If any of us say anything we get the remark about only trying to help. Sure!

    Comment by P.J. | April 4, 2012

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