It struck me recently, when I was sick with a brutal post-vacation cold, just how tough it can be for me to ask for help even when I need it. I rarely get sick, but this time, it hit me hard. For the first time in the nine years I’ve been running my consulting firm, I had to cancel a speaking engagement because I physically couldn’t leave my home (as someone running a business, it really sucked to have to do that!). It was a rough few days in bed, both physically and mentally, because of all the things I knew I should be doing, but couldn’t.
Looking back on those few days, I realized that I didn’t tell very many people I was sick. I told my parents and a handful of my friends, all of whom offered to help. But I said no. And the one person who I would have relied on to help me, my boyfriend, was traveling on the other side of the world, so I was on my own (a traveling boyfriend just isn’t the same as when he’s at home!).
I’ve reflected on some of the reasons I said no to help even when, in truth, I really could have used some meals, medicine, and sympathy! It also made me think about how many of us, particularly women, struggle with accepting help when it’s offered, let alone when we should be asking for it outright.
Why do we struggle to ask for help?
Growing up as a feminist, I absorbed the idea that to be a strong, independent woman I should be able to handle everything on my own, and that asking for help was a sign of weakness. Instead, I was socialized to believe that I should focus on giving help to others. Obviously, all of this is misguided — and frankly, a deeply flawed thought resulting from internalized gender bias. Thinking this way doesn’t serve me as a person, a professional, or a feminist.
The reality is that many women are socialized to be giving. But giving without taking just isn’t healthy, or realistic. It can take a toll on our well-being and our self-worth, and hold us back from accomplishing our goals and dreams.
There are deeper reasons for resisting help, too. I’ve come to see that one of the reasons I’m personally uncomfortable asking for and receiving help from others is that, somewhere along the line, I learned to believe that I’m not worthy of having others spend time caring for. I know I’m not alone with this one — for many of us, this kind of thinking ties back to receiving conditional love along our life journeys, both in childhood and adulthood. This can make it difficult for some of us to feel worthy and to love ourselves.
How can we get more comfortable asking for and accepting help?
I’ve been thinking about these challenges for a while now, but fighting sickness on my own was the kick in the ass I needed to shift my attitude. Sometimes all it takes is a few simple actions to kickstart meaningful change — so I decided that going forward I would seize small opportunities to rely on others for help. And I jumped on it ASAP!
Shortly after I recovered, I hosted a party one afternoon at my home for 30 of my girlfriends (side note — daytime parties are highly underrated!) Many of my girls asked me if there was anything they could do to help, and this time, I said yes. I decided that I’d tell anyone who asked to bring either an appetizer or a dessert, and I asked a couple of others to bring items too. The result was not only less work for me, but also a dessert table to end all dessert tables! For me, the simple act of saying “yes” was a solid first step to accepting and asking for help from others.
My tips for getting comfortable with accepting help:
Go deep about your reasons
Some deep self-reflection work will help you figure out what’s at the root of your tendency to turn down others’ help. You need to know what’s getting in your way before you can address it and move forward.
When you’re about to say no, say yes
So many of us are wired to automatically say “no thanks” when someone asks if they can help us. When you notice that you’re about to say these words, stop yourself and try saying yes instead.
Identify what you need and then ask for it
When I was getting ready for my party, I realized that I could really use some help, so I made a mental list of what I needed. Then I accepted the help that was offered to me, and I also went out of my way to make a couple of specific requests to friends. It might feel uncomfortable asking at first, but I must say — to sit back and watch my friends come through for me was a huge reward!
Do you struggle with asking for help? If so, what simple gesture of help could you allow into your life as a first step?
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