Happy Thursday! As September begins, I have one question: how often do you ask for help?
When I was on vacation, a family friend shared his experience of starting a new role. It was a stretch job, with significantly more responsibility. On day one, after onboarding, his boss said, “I know we’re throwing you in the deep end. Hopefully, you’ll swim, but if you’re sinking, come to me for help. If you drown, that’s on you.”
At first, I was taken aback because, dang, that sounds kind of harsh. But the more I thought about it, I saw the merit. Personally and professionally, I have seen many instances in which people fail to use the resources available to them. Instead of asking for help, even when offered, they opt to go it alone. This was the case with a communications officer I worked with. Sis never even made it out of her probation period.
Her first big project was woefully behind from day one—in hindsight, she was way too optimistic in developing timelines. Six weeks in, the CEO, seeing that things were going awry, sat down with her to discuss the project and to offer ideas on how to get things back on track. She rejected the advice and other colleagues’ offers for help, insisting she knew what she was doing. When it came to the end of her probation period, she had not scratched the surface of any of her 90-day deliverables. After her departure she reflected, “I shot myself in the foot.”
Not only have I seen people reject help in the form of insight or guidance, but I’ve also seen people reject game-changing resources. I once had the opportunity to coach a brilliant woman who worked in finance. She was a high performer and was diligently stacking her coins to pay for additional certifications. These courses would not only support her career progression but also help her do her current job better. When she spoke of her struggles to save, I asked what types of tuition assistance were available from her workplace. She said, “they would pay for the whole thing if I asked.”
I probed further to see whyshe hadn’t asked, thinking maybe she’d have to stay at the employer for an extended period or that she’d already had tuition assistance, something that would explain why she left the cash offered by her multinational corporation on the table.
In short, she didn’t want to ask for help. She thought she “should” be able to do it herself and didn’t want to feel like her boss had done her a favor. Boo, it’s not his money; it’s the shareholders and there’s a policy that says you can have it…so take it!
But for many of us, asking for help isn’t that simple. It can be loaded for several reasons. We may fear:
Vulnerability and having to acknowledge that we can’t do everything all of the time by ourselves
Being seen as incompetent or incapable of handling our business
Rejection and how we’ll feel if we don’t get the support we need when we ask for it
That power dynamics may shift, and people will lord their assistance over us
Being a burden to others
But probably the number one reason people don’t ask for help is that they think they don’t deserve it. Many of us are still trying to prove our worthiness by how much we do and how much we can do “by ourselves.”
Some of us grew up in families or studied or worked in environments where people may not have shown up for us when needed. So the idea that support is something other people get, not us, has been reinforced.
Spoiler alert: you are deserving of support simply because you exist.
On day one, when my friend’s boss indicated that all he needed to do was to ask for help, he was basically saying that as a member of the team, support was his for the taking, he was deserving simply because he was there. As are you.
When we reach out and ask for help, it means we’ll:
Most likely achieve our goals, and more quickly
Have a less stressful, more enjoyable experience
Build supportive communities where we can offer and receive ongoing support
If you’re someone who wants to be able to ask for help, consider:
Being specific when you ask for help. What do you need and when?
Who is the best person to assist? And when is the best time to ask?
Expressing appreciation and acknowledging the support you received
Finally, beyond asking for help, also consider how you can offer help. In this way you can model for your friends, family, and team the type of support that all of us deserve, and help to build cultures in which we are all able to receive it.
Until next week,
PS Sometimes we need more support than our colleagues, friends, or family can offer. If you find yourself in need of help to move forward professionally, consider coaching. Book a discovery call today.
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