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.

Stronger together!


We are stronger together!

In a spot in the old city of San Juan, Puerto Rico, there is a place called Plazuela de la Rogativa. It stands on a high spot just inside the wall on the west end of the island and it looks out onto the harbor. The statue -pictured here – commemorates a night in 1797 when the island was being attacked by British warships while most of the city’s men were off fighting elsewhere. Here is the story, as told on

So the bishop and his congregation took it upon themselves to march through the city in an attempt to get the saints to help them. While they marched through the city they sang hymns and carried torches in their attempt to invoke help against the potential attack.

This procession of unarmed men and women was more effective then they had ever hoped it would be. On seeing the torches of the procession the British fleet came under the impression that the reinforcements had unexpectedly arrived early. The march scared off the potential invaders who left immediately abandoning their siege.

This story is often told as a way of demonstrating the power of religious faith. I am not a religious person, but I understand the power of being committed to a community and a set of ideals. This story is powerful not because of its religious message, but because it illustrates the way that a small group of organized, committed individuals working together can overcome an objectively more powerful group. In this story, cooperation trumps force. This is similar to what is meant by a quote generally attributed to Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” 

organization-152809_640It is what the “Organize!” fish poster illustrates, and it is the logic of unions and social movements.

When you look at the goals you are trying to achieve, look around you and try to identify allies that you might have overlooked, and ask whether the goal you are trying to achieve might be of importance to others. Even purely personal goals can be easier to achieve when we have the support and commitment of allies. I would not have been able to finish My Mother’s Cross without a team of people who believed I could do it and offered support and encouragement along the way.

We are stronger together!