Asking for Help: Succeeding Through Collaboration

I’ve always tried to be self-sufficient. Occasionally, this need for independence runs away with me and I consider retreating to a cabin in the woods; off the grid in a self-sustaining bubble of blissful, unfettered freedom. When I come back down to Earth, I realize that the colleagues, friends and family I hold dear make this fantasy just that—fantastical. Unless, of course, I could convince ALL of them to join me in my escape!

Photo by Max Wolfe, Wikimedia Commons

At the root of this escapist whimsy is a personality trait that has shaped my entire life: I find it very hard to ask for help. The idea that I might actually need help, that there are some things I just can’t do alone, is an anathema to me. In my mind, self-sufficiency has always been essential.

So, imagine my surprise (Let’s be honest. The word I’m looking for is “horror.”) at reaching a point where I was so immersed in so many things that I actually wanted help! Not only was I faced with the realization that I needed help, I’d passed a critical point of overwhelmedness and actually wanted it!

Surprisingly, asking for help didn’t cause my vocal chords sieze and spontaneously cut off my air supply. Nor did the ghost of my ancestors rise up from the grave to admonish me for my craven collapse. On the contrary, having finally reached out to ask for help, I immediately discovered two things.

  1. It’s not that hard to do.
  2. The people that care about you are happy to help when they can.

In my newly enlightened state, I soon discovered that I’m not the first person to struggle with this same dilemma. In fact, there’s a book about it.

If you, like me, are someone who struggles with asking for help, here are three things that might enable you to you reframe the concept of intra-dependence into something that your rabidly self-sufficient brain will find more palatable.

  1. Asking for help is not failure: it’s an indicator of previous success.
    This was the single most difficult concept for me to wrap my head around. If you are a person who hates to ask for help, it’s probably because you’re used to tackling things on your own. Reaching the point where you actually “need” help means you’ve either taken on way too much for one human being to handle, or that you’re in a vulnerable state and can’t perform at the levels you’re accustomed to. Either way, it’s important to think about asking for help when you really need it, in spite of prior resistance, as a reflection of your successfully self-sufficient existence up to this point. (In others words, if you weren’t so darn proficient, you wouldn’t find it so hard to ask for help!)
  2. Asking for help means helping others.
    This perspective may never have occurred to you. Take a moment to consider how you feel when the people you care about (who, like you, never need anything!), ask you for help. What’s your gut response? I’m willing to bet it is something along the lines of “Of course!” mixed with “Thank goodness I can help!” or “It’s about time you let me pitch in!” If it makes you feel good to help your very capable friends and colleagues, acknowledge that leaning on them from time to time may just give them the same benevolent glow.
  3. Asking for help forces you to look in the mirror.
    If you cringe at the prospect of asking for help, take a moment to consider what exactly it is that you hate about it? Is it the actual admission of needing help that gets to you—does it make you feel incompetent? Are you uncomfortable imposing on your support network? Are you afraid people won’t want to help? Do you fear that the people who step up to help won’t do the task correctly? Is there a voice from your past that dictates your choices today? Are you too proud?Taking time to think about and answer these questions will give you greater insight into who you are and what fuels your sense of self (Brace yourself, it may not be pretty!).

Sometimes even the most independent and self-sufficient of us struggles. Accepting this and allowing ourselves to be human (i.e. imperfect) is essential to personal growth. For me, learning to ask for help has led to an even greater appreciation of the people I work, play and live with; while at the same time fostering a more realistic appreciation of my own abilities and limits. No one makes it alone. Turns out, just like most people, I’ll “get by with a little help from my friends.”


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