Asking for help has never been easy. As a child I believed that working hard, persevering, and striving for independence was the way to be. And since my mindset has always been to do it myself, asking others to lend a hand, especially with something I could somehow figure out on my own, is not easy for me. Even though I could save time, attempt challenging tasks more safely, and end up with a more refined end result, I almost always chose the solo route. My belief has always been that if I could accomplish a task by myself, I would be seen as successful, capable, maybe even better than those who needed assistance. I’m not sure how I developed that belief but it’s been part of my thinking for a very long time. Whatever the psychological underpinnings, I’m not very good at asking others to help me.
I am a fan of Stephen Covey. In his work on defining the behaviors of highly effective people, he talks of an evolution from dependence to independence and finally to interdependence. It is not enough for us to be independent and expect to live well in society, especially in this global society. He contends that we must collaborate and recognize how we need each other to grow into our best selves and accomplish our best work. From personal experience the beginning of a most successful business partnership began when a friend asked me to co-present a topic with which he was less familiar. This collaboration led to almost a decade of some of my best work and I’m convinced, could only have happened through the interdependent relationship we had developed. It all happened because of a request for help.
I actually enjoy helping others and appreciate when friends and family ask. It enhances my sense of connection, I feel good being there for others, and it sends a message that I have value. If I receive these benefits from helping others, it is likely that others will feel similarly if I ask them for help. My hesitation though, comes from a rationalization that everyone appears to be so busy dealing with the challenges of their own daily lives, that even if they gain something from helping, they are still being inconvenienced and I’m still adding more to their list of things to do. As I think about it though, perhaps this is a way of justifying my old habits and beliefs. Perhaps I can have faith that if they are too busy, they will simply say so.
I truly value the idea and practice of interdependence. I love the idea of Amish barn raising. In an article in the Family Handyman, Alexa Erickson writes, “Barn raising combines socializing with a practical goal of building or rebuilding a barn, and allows for everyone involved to feel helpful. With all hands on deck, no one has to work too hard, while also getting an opportunity to catch up with friends and family.”
In fact, for a period of time, many years ago, my family joined with two others to cut and split enough wood to feed our wood stoves for the winter season. Each of us ordered about eight cords of uncut tree trunks delivered in sixteen-foot sections. We would spend entire weekends together at each home cutting, splitting, and stacking. The children played with each other, we ate meals together, and we were able to get more work done than any one of us could have accomplished alone. And, we had fun in the process. I’ve tried to replicate that over the years. More recently, I asked a group of friends over to help me with the spring tasks of weeding, pruning, and mulching my gardens. I provided the meals and the after party! Once again, we got a tremendous amount of work done and had a great time doing it. A few weeks later, one friend asked us to help her start a garden. In one day about a dozen of us turned over the soil, built a fence, and planted her garden.
I cherish those times. For me they were brief but powerful experiences of being in community. And each one began with a request for help. Perhaps this is as good a time as any to begin to think of ways we can help each other.
Help Me if You Can
“When I was younger, so much younger than today…
I never needed anybody’s help
In any way…..” so go the lyrics of the famous Beatles’ song and they are so not true according to my experience. I have always needed help from infancy to old age. Asking for it? Well that’s another issue! In my early years I discovered if I played coy around the right people someone would say, “Do you need a hand with that?” Of course I did so once it was offered I jumped at the chance. Funny expression about needing a hand. I guess it is derived from the concept that most situations require lifting or carrying things hence additional hands are always welcome.
My situations were usually more involved. As the years progressed that coy technique became a little counter productive as I was supposed to feel a bit more self assured (borrowing another lyric from Help). I think that is the root of difficulty for me to ask for help. It would show my weakness, my insecurities at a time when I was maturing into adolescence and supposed to be coming independent. HAH! So I struggled. I had great ideas but many went unfulfilled because I just couldn’t get the words out, “could you help me out here?”
I wonder if it is a guy thing? Or I just know many insecure guys. When I have asked for help I have always been rewarded not just by the actual project but by the camaraderie and friendship that it enhances. But why is it so difficult to get those few words out? Other things are easy to say like, “I’m sorry,” “I Love you,” “Could you please leave me alone?” et al. But those “I need help” words just won’t come out easily.
Funny thing is, I love being asked to help somebody. Oftentimes just offer help before being asked. Love being asked for advice because that means somebody thinks enough of my intellect or opinions to seek it out. Makes me feel important and smart. Much more important to me than physical help as I carry the remains of a scrawny little kid around with me who couldn’t do much physically or mechanically, or technologically as Hen and Wal will attest to. Anyway, you get my drift! Let me know if I can be of any help!
Well George, the rest of that stanza goes:
But now these days are gone, I’m not so self assured
Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors
That hones in on an interesting point. As we get older, what’s our greatest fear? A survey of seniors indicates that it is the fear of being marginalized – because we are no longer instrumental. Here’s the dilemma: we’ve reached a point where we realized that it’s not a crime to ask for help, but worry about the consequences of being seen as incapable or ‘past it’. Those consequences for older individuals can result in real life changes (such as how much independent living you may be allowed to engage in).
So when do you ask for help? Laurne Sanderson nailed it:
I need help
It’s so hard to admit when I ask myself
If I need help
I need help
The question is HOW to ask for help. Now I had an elderly friend who sort set the right tone. He looked at asking for help as not “doing for me”, but rather “doing with me”. The focus is participation – helping one another. He would invite folks to work with him. Another friend adopted a “home and home” approach where one visit is devoted to a project of his choosing – and the next visit is the partner’s project choice. These are effective ‘guy-solutions’, due to the reciprocity inherent in the activity. No one feels indebted or inadequate. (Actually, most of the time, we are inadequate together, but in a good way)! In fact, struggling through projects with someone else — or several ‘someone elses’ — is a terrific opportunity for learning and laughing. At the least, it establishes a basis for later legends.
George mentions that he feels good when asked for his opinion. Of course! That just underlines the fact that he is still instrumental… the problem is when you are never asked for your opinion. That’s why I think it is important to build a social network of friends who can be asked for their opinions. It’s as important for them to be asked as it is for you to get the feedback.
It takes a village to raise a codger, so start early!