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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.