How do you process changing someone else's life?

Hello my friends,

I had a completely new experience last week and, if I’m honest, I’m struggling to process it.

To give some context, those of you who know me know I work as a researcher at a university. Last week, we were hosting interviews for new PhD candidates and entry-level researchers, like me, were helping out (e.g. showing the interviewees where to go etc.). One of the candidates was a past Masters student who had been in my research group about a year ago and we arranged to meet to have a tea in the cafe.

So, last year, when this student was in my group, I had noticed she was struggling with her mental health (I just recognised depression in her demeanour). I reached out to her, and we had a really open chat about her and her struggles. I also opened up to her about my similar problems and told her that she wasn’t alone in feeling like an “imposter” in the department. It was a very intense conversation and I kept in contact with her for several months after.

When we met up, she told me that she had taken a year to really face her problems and was now in a mental place where she was ready to do a PhD. She told me that without me, she would not have got herself together, that I changed her life and that she would not be in a position to do a PhD without me. I mean, she’s got interviews at Oxford and she said that she wouldn’t have done that without me (?) It’s crazy.

I just feel it’s so much power to have over someone else’s life. She seems so much better and has so much more life in her eyes, but I can’t help but feel a lot of responsibility for wherever her life goes now. What if doing the PhD makes her feel worse? University life damaged her before, and wouldn’t it now be my fault if that happens again? I never told her to do a PhD, only that she wasn’t alone and telling her how fucking brave she is for facing ever day like she does. I still feel responsible though.

I don’t know. I feel overwhelmed by the conversation; by how much power I seem to have over someone else’s life. I’ve not experienced that before. Has anyone else here been that position before? I’d be interested how other people have dealt with this, because I can’t get it out of my head.

Thanks for listening x


Hi dear friend, I can understand why you would feel responsible for what happens to her now. I would probably have those thoughts too, but it doesn’t look like this is a sudden or impulsive decision she’s made. She took a whole year to get her mental health together and then decide. You showed her that she is capable and seeing your success was probably very helpful for her as well. You just gave her a little push in the direction she wanted to go is what I see. :hrtlegolove:


(Long response warning! Get tea if needed lol!))
If I were lost in the woods, and you gave me a flashlight, you would have helped me find my way out of the woods. You would not be responsible for whatever other night adventures I decide to do with that flashlight.

(questionable science time) If you add a catalyst to other chemicals, would you hold the catalyst responsible for the reaction that the other chemicals would have had anyway, if left on their own? Would you attach the catalyst to the identity of the byproducts produced?

You went out, and you shared your light. You PASSED along that light, and you helped her light her own flame. You are responsible for being awesome and wonderful to her, and helping her feel better. She is making all the choices now, as she did before.

Actions have consequences, your actions were to help her. The consequence of that is that she took time to sort through her problems. You didn’t make her decisions for her. Think of it as a burst of energy you transmitted – there is a finite amount you shared with her, she took that energy and transformed it, used her raw materials to create her own energy ball and made her future plans. You did your part.

You are not responsible for a life after you save it. I was told the oft-repeated opposite of that and I too carried a heavy heavy burden of worrying about the decisions of friends who I had helped. But I, like you, intervened at a low point. We don’t have control over what they choose to do.

And here’s a story I found super helpful too, applicable to almost any situation! :

A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross. The young woman asked if they could help her cross to the other side.

The two monks glanced at one another because they had taken vows not to touch a woman. Then, without a word, the older monk picked up the woman, carried her across the river, placed her gently on the other side, and carried on his journey.

The younger monk couldn’t believe what had just happened. After rejoining his companion, he was speechless, and an hour passed without a word between them. Two more hours passed, then three, finally the younger monk could contain himself any longer, and blurted out “As monks, we are not permitted a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?”

The older monk looked at him and replied, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river, why are you still carrying her?”


I’m just going to jump straight to it here, the only way you could ever be responsible for her being in a state of unhealthy mental health and finding it difficult to do her PhD is if you contributed to that in some way. And by that I mean you’d have to really be a bullying voice to her.

We find inspiration through others and I am sure she is so grateful she had the chance to open up and talk to someone.
I’ve only had one person in my life during my struggle actually make me feel like I mattered and it did help set me on the right path.

But to then also put all the little hiccups and mental breakdowns along the way on them would be incredibly wrong of me. We know life isn’t smooth sailing. Without this persons encouragement I would have never ever found the courage to try, but I did.

People can inspire us and it’s up to us to put the work in, and if we hit a pot hole along the way, then maybe reflecting on why we started the journey to begin with is what we need to keep us going.

We can certainly thank those along the way who have helped us, but we also know we do it because we deserve to be kinder to ourselves and we deserve the help.

So thank you for being that inspiration and for maybe being the only person in that moment to have shown her she deserves better for herself!


Dr Hogarth, Oh sweet friend. You are an encourager and a lifter of hearts. You inspire others. But, you don’t make decisions for them. You provide information and encouragement for someone else to make a decision in their life. What they decide to do with that information is always up to them. You don’t get to control that. Nor can you be responsible for that. It’s out of your hands friend. So take a big deep breath, let yourself off the hook for what their future brings to them and celebrate that you got to play a role in them being ready to pursue their life dream (whatever the outcome). You are an amazing friend, person, human being, doctor of all things space, data chaser and creative spirit. You make all of our lives better for being here. But you don’t control a darn bit of it (and be glad for it). You are loved.


From: Lisalovesfeathers

My Dear Dear Dr Hogarth, Swat 2 could not leave you without our love and support. I think its amazing that you sat and spoke with that young person last year, you took the time to let them know their worth and how if they chose to they could do whatever they wanted with their life. I have a little story for you now. If I gave you directions to Asda because you didnt know where it was and on the way there you had a terrible accident, would it be my fault? oh by the way the answer is no lol because I can show you the way but im not responsible for the journey. You are one amazing person, you are loved please stop worrying. Thank you for helping that person. xxxx


I love this post so much! I’ve been in a similar situation (not with school but with being a victim impact advocate). It is so weird to feel like we’re setting someone on a path that we can’t protect them from. I hope that makes sense. What I always have to remember is that it’s up to the other person to determine how the advice or help impacts them ultimately. I think it’s amazing that you were able to help this person. What I find truly inspirational was that you initiated the conversation about mental health. I think that should be the point that you’re focusing on. She was able to get help for something because you initiated the conversation. That’s huge!! Thank you for being such an incredible human!


Hi Dr, Hi D-Bear Mommy,
thank you for sharing. thank you for caring for the D-Bear.
It is not easy, and i think that you have showed someone the door. the step through, she has walked by herself.
if someone would show me the door, i would be overwhelmed and i will every time walk through the wrong one ending up with my head into a wall or sliding downhill.
you have showed someone what that person is worth, and capable of.
you have seen someone grown with showing her a way. it is her decision on what journey she has gotten after that. you are a light for others !
you making me so proud reading this and knowing you. this is amazing.
you are responsible on how you act and how you treat others, how a person reacts or what this person is making out of this, is their choice and their decision.
to make someones day is one thing, to make someone feeling confident , to help someone changing their life is
incredible. be proud of yourself.
thank you so much, you are loved and we are proud having you here, knowing you and calling you a friend. :purple_heart: you matter to us. feel hugged


Thank you everyone here who responded. I feel so overwhelmed by your support, I’m kind of speechless (and typeless, because I’m typing lol). You’re all right with the examples about how you can’t be responsible for a person after just a moment of intervention.

Ultimately, I care about this student a lot. She reminds me of how I was a few years ago; so unsure about who they are and where they’re going. But unlike me, she doesn’t have family in this country to fall back on. I just so deeply want her to be okay, but she’s her own person and whether doing a PhD is a mistake or not, well that’s her journey to make. I have a tendency to go into hyper-protector if I perceive someone I care about being in “danger”, which is a whole other story. But she’s not in danger, she’s thriving at the moment and exploring life.

I just need to get my emotions to align with my logic!