How to Ask for Help 101
I hate asking for help.
It makes my palms sweaty and my insides itchy when I have to admit I can’t do something.
Sometimes I’ll spend hours or days having imaginary conversations with the person I need help from. Research will be done on ways to avoid help, even if they aren’t good options. And when I do FINALLY ask, I shrink and hide behind humor. Then I’ll feel guilty forever, telling myself this person now thinks I’m useless, can’t do anything right, a moocher, and probably just a worthless potato.
Growing up, my mother set (and still sets) an incredible example of how to always save the day. She is truly a superhero, swooping in and scooping everyone up from the danger.
We were taught to take every challenge, step up to the plate swinging, and protect everyone involved.
From stray dogs to troubled youth, mental break downs to life or death situations, my family is the expert at fake it until we make it. We don’t ever admit weakness, hiding behind intelligence or humor or storytelling. But nobody is perfect. And while I did pick up amazing self deprecation skills, I never quite figured out how to accept that maybe I need help sometimes too.
So I’ve always avoided asking for help.
The problem is everyone needs help. We all have strengths but this means we also all have weaknesses. Nobody can be everyone and everything all the time. Life would be boring if we were all great at everything. There’s plenty of YA post-apocalyptic books out there that write cheesy ass stories about this.
I preach this often, encouraging people to seek help and reach out. But I don’t always take my own advice. Big shocker, yeah?
But when you hide your weaknesses, you put them into the shadows. You bury them deep, hoping no one sees. They fester and rot while you work harder and harder to cover to smell.
If you spend all your time hiding your weaknesses, you have no time left to build out your strengths and grow.
I never admitted my weak spots. And I thought nobody noticed. That was wrong AF. So I slowly started bringing them to the surface. It was terrifying. The sweaty palms and skin crawling and tears all came.
It’s scary to admit you are human.
But, once I put it out there? The people who truly love me and have my best interests at heart didn’t run. They listened. They cared. And they held my hand as we opened up the door to growth together. And they offered to help.
I’m realizing that not being good at something doesn’t make you weak. But pretending you aren’t weak is truly the weakest thing you can do.
I also learned that asking for help allows you to innovate and grow in entirely new ways.
One of my major weaknesses is project management. I like to live with my head in the creative clouds, daydreaming and fantasizing about the possibilities. But this is NOT effective when you have deadlines and details. I always tried to just fake being good at organization, especially at work. And it always bites me in the ass.
I got called out for being a crap project manager, and I was mortified.
I felt stupid and pathetic. I wondered if I even deserved to have my job. But then I was encouraged to lean into this weakness instead of be ashamed. To own up to my shortcomings and learn to ask for help. I was so confused.
But I did it. I asked for help. I’m now seeking out advice and collaborating with people who wildly excel in organization. Surprise surprise, the work we create together is infinitely better than it would be if I were alone and floundering.
I realized that if I’m willing to say “I need help,” not only do I get help but I also get a chance to learn and grow. Thus improving my crappy organization skills. Win/win!
I still don’t like asking for help.
It’s still scary. But new things always are. And honestly? I’m far more afraid of staying stagnant and never growing than looking dumb by asking a question.
I’m trying to lean into my weaknesses and be open about who I am, both good and bad.
So how do you ask for help?
This is simultaneously so easy and ridiculously difficult. Fear and shame are huge factors in this. But you can do it. Here are a few things I’ve found work for me:
Be honest with yourself
You can’t admit anything to anyone else if you won’t admit it to yourself. This is some difficult work. One of my biggest weak spots is finances. I’m an emotional shopper who is perpetually afraid money will disappear, so I need to spend it before it’s gone.
And even though I made jokes about being bad with money, it wasn’t until I sat down and really looked at my bank account line by line. I cried. A lot. Then laughed at how much money I spent on teriyaki chicken. And cried some more.
The hardest person you’ll ever have to be honest with is yourself. Be gentle. Imagine how you would respond if your favorite human in the world admitted they needed help. Would you still say the horrible things you tell yourself? No way. You’d be understanding, patient, and offer help. You’d also prob buy them a beer. So do the same for yourself.
Be honest with others
One of my worst fears is that I’ll be too much for the people I love. I’m always waiting for them to say, “Alex, that’s the last straw. You’re too annoying/difficult/stupid/ugly/sad/anxious/messy/broke/etc. I’m done with you.”
TBH, this has happened. And it fucked me up.
I admitted this fear to my current partner. I said I was too afraid to show him my depressed side because what if it was too much? I asked if he would still love me if I showed him the dark clouds in my head.
And he said, “Alex, I don’t know. Because you haven’t shown me. If you can’t be yourself, how can I ever actually demonstrate what I can or can’t handle? All I can promise is that if you’re open with me, I’ll do my best to weather the storm with you. We can figure it out together but not if only one of us is trying.”
I was SHOOK. And that stuck with me. I would never expect to understand a new language without learning. So how can I expect someone to help me if I won’t even tell them what I need help for?
Sometimes you have to take that leap of faith, not only in other people but in yourself. You may hit the ground. It’ll hurt. But there just might be a far stronger net than you expected.
Have you ever been so worried about all the ways you’ll fail something that you gave up before you even started?
This fear has been the biggest detriment to every single goal in my life.
It has stopped me from trying new hobbies, kicking ass at work, building deep relationships, and even loving myself more. It’s so easy to see a weakness and just ignore it instead of trying to get help and get better. So I just never try. But if you don’t even try, how is that any better that failing?
You can’t walk a mile if you won’t take the first step. And you don’t have to walk that mile in one big chunk. All you have to do is take it one step at a time.
Project management doesn’t come easy to me. Maybe it will someday, maybe it won’t. But if I never even try my hand at organizing anything, how the hell can I get better at it? So I’ll try a small project. I can get insight and help from other people. I won’t half ass it then try to use that as an excuse. I’ll treat it like my pride and joy. And if my pride and joy totally flops? So what. I tried. And now I can eliminate a potential process and try something different.
There is always room to learn from the mistakes you make. And that’s okay. Because little by little, you’ll learn. You’ll improve. And someday you’ll look back and think, “Damn. I did that shit.”
No matter what you’re afraid to ask for help with, remember that you’re not alone, and neither am I.
We all make mistakes. We all need help. There is no weakness that is dumb or lame or makes you a shitty person. Because when you step up and own that weakness, you allow yourself the potential to grow and learn and collaborate in ways you never could have imagined.