After a particularly good coaching call last week, I sat back and asked myself:
“Why is it so hard for most of us to ask for help?”
In the call, my client Melissa was telling me how overwhelmed she’s been recently. She felt like there was no way she could finish everything she needed to do in the next few weeks, and she desperately wished she could ask for help or support from the people in her life.
I flat-out asked her, “Well, why can’t you ask for help?”
Melissa immediately responded with all kinds of excuses … and they all felt way too familiar to me. Uncomfortably familiar.
Not only do I say these same things in my own head, but I hear them from clients all the time.
THE REASONS WE DON’T ASK FOR HELP
If you’ve never uttered (or thought) a variation of at least one of these excuses, I will be shocked:
“I could really use Sarah’s help with this, but I know how busy she is right now. I shouldn’t bother her. I wouldn’t want to impose.”
“I’ve got way too much on my plate right now, but I don’t want to burden my team by delegating any of it.”
“What’s wrong with me that I can’t do all of this on my own? I should work even harder to prove I’m capable of handling this.”
“I’m afraid I’ll look dumb if I ask for help. I should try to figure it out on my own so no one ever knows how much I’m struggling with this.”
The tricky thing about these excuses is that you can convince yourself that you’re not asking for help to be considerate or to prove that you’re hardworking and smart.
But the truth is, all of these reasons boil down to one thing: a big ol’ heap of fear. It’s scary to put yourself out there and ask for help! You might get rejected, ignored, or judged.
THE GREAT PARADOX
What’s funny to me is that, having coached hundreds of people, I intimately know how much people want to help others. They crave it! Knowing that you’ve had a positive impact on someone is one of the best feelings most people can imagine.
In fact, most of my clients come to me feeling frustrated because they feel like they’re not doing anything that makes much of a difference. They want to make a positive impact on other people (especially the people who matter most to them), but they don’t always know how.
So when you don’t ask for help, you’re actively blocking the people in your life from a potential sense of joy and fulfillment.
You can’t say, “I want to make a difference for others,” and never let others make a difference for you.
Imagine how sad your life would be if no one ever needed your help, guidance, advice, talent, love, or friendship. It would be a lonely, unfulfilling experience.
Sometimes, the greatest gift you can give someone is allowing them to help … allowing them to have a positive impact on your life.
And if you’re worried about looking dumb or weak if you ask for help, realize that … most people will respect the hell out of you when you ask for help, support, or feedback. Plus, it makes them feel honored, flattered, validated, respected, and all kinds of other warm fuzzies.
Trying to do everything alone doesn’t prove you’re smart; it only proves you’re stubborn.
WE’RE NOT MEANT TO GO IT ALONE
As humans, we’re social creatures, and we crave connection, collaboration, and support. It’s just how we’re wired. And yet, we keep ourselves stuck, isolated, and overwhelmed when we cut ourselves off from the help of others.
So many of us nowadays try to do everything on our own, and it’s flat-out unnatural. It’s driving us crazy, making us unhealthy, and leading to a greater mass feeling of isolation than ever before.
I want to remind every single one of you: You’re not meant to do it all alone. In fact, it’s high time that we all embraced the fact that we simply can’t do it all alone. And what a relief that is!
HOW TO MAKE ASKING FOR HELP FEEL BETTER
After I gave this same impassioned soapbox speech to my client Melissa, she felt immense relief.
She then asked me a brilliant follow-up question: “How can I ask for help in a way that feels better for me and for the other person?”
If you’re wondering the same thing, here are a few ways to make the whole experience feel more like a win-win:
- Acknowledge their awesomeness. If you’re asking someone for help, advice, support, etc., it’s usually because you know they have something really valuable to contribute. So tell them how amazing they are! Be upfront about why you chose them as the very best person to help. This is not about sucking up. Fake, forced compliments feel icky and gross all around. But genuine, heartfelt praise? Nothin’ better.
- Be specific about what you need. Even people who really want to help you will have a hard time saying yes if they’re not fully sure what you’re asking for. Do you want them to do a quick read-through of your cover letter before you hit “send” on a job application, or are you asking for a full-out intensive edit? Be clear and specific, and you’ll avoid lots of misinterpretations and resentment down the road.
- Give them an out. If you know someone is extremely busy or going through a tough time, it can feel even more uncomfortable to ask for their help. Sometimes, it can ease the pressure all around if you give them an out. Something as simple as, “I know you have a lot going on right now, so I completely understand if you can’t make time for this right now. No hard feelings!” They’ll be grateful for your acknowledgment … and that you gave them a choice.
- Appreciate their effort. This one is pretty obvious, but still worth saying. Once they’ve offered their help, show your gratitude! Again, people love to know that they’ve made a positive impact on someone, so share with them how much they eased your path.
I want to hear from you now: What stops you from asking for help? And how much of a relief would it be to finally ask for what you need?
Kristen (+ Rachel)