Asking for help

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AFH1

Me and nine other people were blindfolded in a maze that had been created with rope. I remember starting out confident as I followed the path of the rope, having fun in the exploration. The atmosphere was pleasant passing each other as we tried to get the lay of the land. After I’d been around the maze several times, I started to get frustrated, my confidence definitely waning. We began commenting as we passed each other, giving each other clues or sharing our concerns. The tension started to grow as it became clear that we didn’t have what it took to find our way out of the maze. We continued to plug along, each of  us determined we could handle the challenge if we just persisted enough. Finally, after about 10 minutes, I raised my hand and asked the facilitator for help. At that point, I was quietly escorted out of the maze. The way out was to ask for help! The activity continued for another 30 minutes until nearly everyone realized the secret.

AFH2

So what kept us from asking for help when we became frustrated, confused, or perplexed by what was happening? Asking for help is not many people’s first response to a challenge, perhaps because there is a tendency to see it as a deficiency. If I ask for help, I might be perceived as incompetent, I might seem weak or appear needy, I might have to surrender control, or I might be indebted to someone.

AFH3

Asking for help requires being vulnerable. It requires accepting that you are not perfect. It requires understanding that you can’t know it all. It can lead to feelings of weakness or inadequacy. However, when you step back and think about all the changes happening around you, the bombardment of information that fills each day, and the complexity of the challenges you face, doesn’t it seems quite reasonable that one would ask for help and engage others in order to be successful?

AFH6

I can’t remember what made it click for me, but later in that same retreat, I realized that by being so darn independent – not asking for help, not letting myself be in the position of receiving – I was taking away other people’s opportunity to give. I realized that sometimes asking for help is like giving someone a gift. When I considered how much I enjoy being able to help someone else, I could see clearly how my unwillingness to ask for help actually prevented others from experiencing the joy of giving.

AFH4

Having been in a new job with greater responsibilities for 5 months now, I frequently catch myself thinking that I need to work harder, be more responsible, and take care of things on my own. If I just do this, or if I can just get to that point, everything will be OK. But the truth is, despite my striving, the load doesn’t getting any lighter, just heavier actually. Kind of like walking that maze.

AFH5

So I’m challenging myself to notice when I feel overwhelmed by a task or stuck on a project. And to ask myself these kinds of questions as a way to continue opening myself to asking for help:

  • What’s blocking me? Am I afraid of something? If so, of what?
  • Is this an opportunity for me to let go of trying to do it all, all by myself? How could I approach this differently?
  • What if I asked someone else to do this, or to help me do it?
  • Who could I get to play with me on this?
  • Is there a gift here for someone else?

One of my discoveries so far is that sometimes just reaching out to a peer to share my dilemma helps. Having someone listen and understand can move me to a place where I feel ready to tackle what’s ahead.

AFH7

As I prepared this blog, I came across several books related to asking for help. I thought I would share them with you.

  • MayDay! Asking for Help in Times of Need by M. Nora Klaver
  • Help: The Original Human Dilemma by Garret Keizer
  • Help Is Not a Four Letter Word: When Doing It All is Doing You In by Peggy Collins with Deborah Saverance

* Photo taken May 30th 2014 of the clematis growing on the deck railing in my back yard. I love how these flowers help each other create beauty in the world.

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21 thoughts on “Asking for help

  1. Vicki,
    This is so timely. Friday was my last day in the corporate world and I am embarking on an adventure to explore what next steps I might take. To be passionate about work, service to others and taking care of myself. It had never occurred to me (until your blog) that asking for help is essential at this time too! Asking questions, asking what others have discovered, what it was like…
    Thanks as always.
    Connie

    • Diana, thanks for coming by. I appreciate your comment as I’ve never felt myself to be terribly graceful, yet I imagine myself moving more and more that way in the world. I think there’s something about slowing down that opens not only grace but also wisdom in one’s life.

  2. As always, so well put. Those of us who tend toward being “type A, we can do it all” personalities sure need the reminders and messages you convey in this blog post. I may be retired and no longer face the daily responsibilities of my work life and the problem solving that required, but those “do it all myself” tendencies still surface in other aspects of my life. Thank you for the reminders!

    • Smiling, thinking of you, Jedn, and the wonderful gifts you’ve brought into my life and so many others with your can-do attitude and your strong desire to be of service, my friend.

  3. Ah Vicki, a lesson that bears reminding us all that we are not alone, that we are connected and that our first step is to ask for help! Many thanks for being the one to boost us and encourage us to ask for help when needed! You rock! xoxo

  4. It’s a lot about teaming (horrible word), working on a team using each others’ strengths and knowing where you can help someone who is struggling, or someone who does call for help .. never be afraid to ask .. good to hear from you Vicki .. gb

  5. I just got a chance to read this and boy what a great one…I need lots of help these days and always am afraid to ask. This blog has given me a new perspective.

    • G’day Cheryl, guess where I am from ??
      Never be afraid to ask a question, or to ask for help .. Remember the only stupid question is the one that you do not ask. And to ask for help is not an admission of weakness, but one of wanting to learn ..

  6. Reblogged this on E3 Frame Stretches and commented:
    If I’m stuck, what choices do I really have? Funny, when others are nearby we will naturally turn to them and ask for assistance.
    I enjoy basketball becasue it was my first experience of teaming, what it meant to coordinate with others and at the same time get credit for an assist.
    Our pride often depends on our sense of agency-that we are the ones who make things happen.

    As a kid, naturally I wanted to stand on my own two feet and take care of myself. I was raised in a household hwere independence was a hallmark of my parents acheivements. In part that sounds right, you should be able to assert control over your future, but independence is also a statement of responsibility, that we are accountable for our actions. It’s that accountability that forces us to measure up, compare our performance our abilities and ultimately rank them.
    It’s one thing to help a baby who falls down and another to give your friend the answer when they are clearly struggling.
    If you look closely at an assist, a helping hand and giving someone a clue if not the answer there’s no difference. But morally we condemn the latter, deeming it an unfair advantage. No wonder, help is not something that we willingly accept.

    What’s going to make the world change their mind on this? I suggest two things:
    1. There’s some measures of assists, and we could do a better job of following the example of many sports. It’s not just completions that matter, but we can also track the proportion that come via assists.
    2. There’s been a great deal of research into high performing teams , but we still value individual contributions . In part becasue we have a very hard time with collaboration or the opportunities that follow when we give up control.

    The nature of connection doesn’t depend on mutual coordination, or equality. What’s even more astonishing is how little we appreciate the value of sharing an experience with another.

    Sometimes the only answer people are looking for when they ask for help is that they won’t have to face the problem alone. ~Mark Amend

    This post was inspired by Vicki Flaherty’s post and I highly encourage those of you who are stuck to read on.

  7. Pingback: Looking Backward, Learning for Growth | Leading With Intention

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