Asking for help

Yesterday I was on the phone with a friend who was feeling paralyzed about a project he’s working on. It was one of those things that happens to me sometimes. I have a task to do that I don’t want to do. I make it much bigger in my head than it really is. I avoid it, and then I feel guilty about avoiding it. Then I can’t get anything else done  because I know I should be working on the original task.

In my friend’s case, it was a matter of writing a proposal for a job, and there were good reasons why the proposal was daunting: the job involved a some variables that would be hard to control, and the working relationships of the people involved were strained. Every time he sat down to work on it, he said, he’d get paralyzed and end up on Facebook. He also said that he knew he could explain the project to someone else, but he was just having trouble writing it down. He hates paperwork, and doesn’t work well alone, he said. My friend was so self-aware that he understood all the parts of the problem he was having. He just didn’t see the solution: Ask someone to help. I offered to spend an hour on the phone so he could talk out the project and get it out of his head and onto paper. Today he’s going to get that proposal done!

Asking for help can be hard for a lot of reasons. Sometimes we think we shouldn’t need the help or that we don’t deserve it. Other times we think that the help we need is too much to ask someone to give. Sometimes we forget that there are people we can actually ask. This is especially true for those of us who work alone.

Who can you ask for help when you need it? It’s easier to ask for help when you know who you can count on. Which friends or coworkers or family members are good at the kinds of things you might need help with? Who do you trust?

Another thing that can make it easier is to be able to offer something in return. When we pay for help we don’t think twice about reciprocity. The cash exchange makes it unnecessary. Social relationships, though, are built on reciprocity.

Helping one another strengthens relationships, and the strongest of those relationships are generally the ones where the help flows in both directions. Know who you can reach out to. Know what you can offer to others. And most of all, know that you deserve the help you need and that you are not alone in needing it.

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