Asking for help has never been one of my strong suits. I’m getting better at it, but for a long time I was determined to figure things out on my own, due to a potent cocktail of pride, shyness, and plain stubbornness.
I applied that determination to every area of my life. Work: I can totally craft this resume by myself; I don’t need anyone’s help. Running: I can find and follow a marathon training plan on my own, thank you very much. Relationships: Books? Oprah? Asking older, more experienced people for advice? Please!
Thankfully, an even more potent cocktail, called age and experience, has watered that other one down quite a bit. I’ve realized that I don’t and never will have all the answers, and that asking for help is not a sign of weakness at all. I’ve realized the inherent problem behind the phrase “I don’t want to inconvenience anyone” – if I don’t ask for help, it will probably cause much more inconvenience, and maybe even harm, down the line. By swallowing my pride and asking for help, I’m becoming a better employee, co-worker, runner, and overall person.
There’s another side to this “asking for help” business, however, which has proven a much greater challenge. And that is: accepting unsolicited offers of help.
It’s a lovely gesture, right? Someone asking “Is there anything I can do?” So why is it a snap response to say “Oh no, I’m fine,” or “I’ve got this – thanks though!” I know I’m not the only one who does this. Is it because we feel guilty about off-loading some of our burden onto someone else? Or a desire to prove how much we can handle?
These days, I am learning what a load of garbage that is.
I am learning that when someone offers to help, it’s not because they think I’m incompetent. They’re not doing it because they’re convinced they can do it better than me. They’re doing it out of kindness.
I am a firm believer in hard work and perseverance. But now I’m seeing that if I take on everything alone, keeping all the burden and responsibility to myself, I’m like a house whose doors and windows are never opened. Sure, great things can happen inside the house. But how much nicer is it when a cool breeze is allowed to enter? The house feels lighter, cheerier. Healthier.
When I think of moments in my life in which I’ve accepted proffered help without hesitation, most of them are times of great vulnerability – when I physically need help. Immediately after finishing a marathon, for example. Or when I’ve been sick, or hurt. I would like to reach the point where I no longer need to be in such extreme situations in order to readily accept help. Where I can be healthy as a horse, with a smile on my face, and grab that extended hand.
It’s happening. Slowly, but it’s happening. I’m learning that people offering to help is a gift. I’m learning that by accepting that offer, my own time opens up to perhaps help someone else.
Help isn’t a two-way street. It’s a 5-way traffic circle, and it’s way easier to navigate than I ever imagined.