Asking for help

Jun 20, 2008 at 12:05 a.m. ET

I have no idea why, but I've never been particularly good at asking for help. I always felt like I had to do it all myself or else it meant I was a failure. Even as I encouraged friends to ask me for help when they needed it or offered myself to help a friend, I wouldn't ask for help myself. Ridiculous, I know.

Help ButtonContrary to what I thought, asking for help is not necessarily a sign of weakness. There is no way any one human being can do "it all" alone. It's physically and emotionally impossible. When would you sleep?

A time of crisis

My real breakthrough in learning to ask for help came during a crisis. I truly had no choice but to ask for help at that time. Even so, it was hard to do, although I knew that my long-time stubborn insistence to always do things myself – and even when help was available and being offered to me - sometimes came off as arrogance.

I was so appreciative of the help I received during that crisis and recognized the giving and receiving of help among friends could make so much so much smoother. And still, after the crisis was over, I tried to go back to that do it all myself ways. I'm sure I looked like such a fool.

It took a long time to get it into my thick skull but I've learned over the years that asking for a little help – and offering it in return – actually is a part of building community.

Asking for help from those whom I would help

Just a few days ago, Alfs needed to get to a baseball game before I'd be home in the afternoon. I fretted and stressed, and then it dawned on me: ask for help. I knew another mom that would be taking her son to a game at the same time, our kids know each other well, and if the situation was reversed, I'd say yes in a heartbeat, so I called. As I dialed the phone, I still felt guilty for not being able to do it all myself.  But a few minutes later, after forcing myself to ask, it was all set. No problem. The day was smooth.

I don't want to over-step and over-ask, of course. I always ask myself what I would do if the situation were reversed. I ask when I really need help, and I ask when I would jump in if asked in the same situation. It's a simple litmus test.

More community for the kids, too

One of the wonderful side effects of finally feeling comfortable enough with some friends to be able to ask for help when I need it is that I've widened my kids' safety net as well. They, too, feel that there are people they can call on when they need help. They are learning to offer help in return, too.

It's going to take a long time to retrain myself to really feel comfortable with asking for help. It's just me. But I've started down that path of contributing to and being more involved in the community and there is no turning back.

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