I consider myself fairly tech-savvy, but when I was setting up my website, I had no idea how to set my blog as the main content of the site. I spent about an hour fiddling around in my settings, growing increasingly frustrated, but determined to do it on my own. Then my friend John, who had a WordPress account of his own, sat down and did what I hadn’t accomplished in an hour in about two minutes. Could I have saved myself some frustration and used my talents in a more productive way? Of course. So what was stopping me from asking for help?
Helping others is the foundation of community.
Well, what stops anyone?
1. Weakness. Many people fear that asking for help is a sign of weakness – a sign that we don’t have the skills or knowledge to figure out things on our own. A sign that we’re not independent or self-sufficient. In the modern era of the Internet, where all the knowledge of the world is at our fingertips, it’s embarrassing to admit we don’t have the time or resources to get the answers or results we need.
2. Burden. Others think, myself included, that if we ask for help, we are placing a undue burden on someone else. We don’t want to take up someone’s limited time or energy or cause them frustration, so we try to slog through it on our own.
3. Imbalance. If someone helps us, we’ll have to reciprocate in some way down the line. We fear our relationship will become unbalanced if we ask for a favor. How many times has someone offered to buy you a coffee or dinner, but you didn’t want to feel like you were “owing them”? How many times have you interpreted a gesture of kindness as something that would need to be repaid at a later time?
4. Stubbornness. People who are busy often claim that only they can do something; that anyone they ask for help will just “mess things up” and they’ll have to waste their time redoing it “the right way”. Instead of taking the time to train or teach someone something to relieve some of their own burden, they insist on doing everything themselves.
5. Control. When you insist on handling things yourself, often you are clinging to the idea of being in control. And if someone comes along and helps you, you’ve lost control.
Why drown, when you can ask for help?
Hopefully, it’s clear to everyone that all of these “reasons” we don’t ask for help reside in fear. Fear of losing control, fear of being perceived as weak, fear of owing someone, fear of taking up others time. So why is asking others for help really a sign of strength?
1. Empowerment. When you ask someone for help, you empower them to share their gifts, talents or strengths. One of my close friends recently went through a journey of self-discovery and is eager to share her thoughts about holistic living, spirituality, getting back to nature and nurturing the creative self. Listening and being open and learning from her experience has helped me with my own personal growth. Another friend is starting his own publishing company and spent four hours sharing his research and passion with me to get me on board. How many friends in your life could be a teacher to you if you let them?
2. Happiness. Ask anyone if they like to give or receive Christmas presents more and most will say give. It makes us happy to do something nice for others. Giving activates parts of our brains associated with pleasure, social connection and trust. Scientists have found it’s good for our health to give and promotes social cooperation and connection. And giving doesn’t have to be money or a present – it can also be time, labor, a specialized skill or a listening ear. For example, helping someone cook or prep food, helping someone set up their resume or business cards, editing or proofreading some writing for someone, helping someone in the garden.
3. Sharing. Sharing a task with others leads to less frustration. It allows you to maintain focus and energy. It’s fun! When my sister and I shared an apartment, we did Sunday cleaning together. We’d put on some music, each take a task and get to work. The work went quicker and was more enjoyable knowing I wasn’t doing it alone. Sharing can also mean giving others a role. As a teacher, my students would fight over who got to wipe the board or get the crayons because it made them feel important to be a helper, to have a role in how the classroom was run. It meant their voice and their actions mattered and contributed to something greater than them (a community).
4. Trust. Asking others for help shows that you trust them. By asking someone for help, you’re sending the subtle message that you value their opinion, wisdom or judgement. That you think they’re an expert in their field or have a good artistic eye, or can think outside the box, or simply that they “won’t mess things up”.
5. Flawed. One of the greatest lessons I imparted to the students I taught was that I was flawed. That teacher made mistakes. Sometimes regularly. Teacher spills coffee on her shirt – silly teacher! Teacher sometimes mishandles a situation and offers a sincere apology. Too often, authority figures are viewed as all-knowing. But the truth was I learned as much from my kids as they did from me. Realizing and admitting you’re not perfect is not losing control; it’s being open to new learning experiences and growth. How beautiful is that?
A quick story:
Last summer, I was in a motorbike accident in Cambodia. Stunned and bleeding, I sat in the dusty town square with hot tears running down my face as my friend went back to retrieve my motorbike from the tree I’d put it into. One by one, a group of village women began to gather around me. One reached into her bag for some ointment, tetching as she gently swabbed it on the cut across my face. We had not a word of shared language between us; but they recognized me as someone who needed help. I was overwhelmed by their empathy and compassion. These women – who came from one of the poorest corners of the world – gave me something I desperately needed in that moment. To be seen. To be cared for. If you don’t think you have anything to give, you’re wrong. And if you’re too proud to ask for help, ask yourself how many beautiful moments arose out of people helping each other.
Smiling through it all, post-accident
Leave a story of your own in the comments, about a time you asked for help or a time you helped someone else and how it may have changed your perceptions.