Ask for help more often

You already know this lesson. You can’t possibly be an expert on everything, you don’t possess unlimited time and resources, and – most of the time – you can’t do it all yourself. Even superheroes work best in teams. Just ask the Avengers, the Justice League, or the Guardians of the Galaxy.

You KNOW this one. So why don’t you ask for help more often?

I do it. You do it. We all do it. For various reasons – some altruistic, some control-freaky, some selfish, and almost all misguided – we take on more of the load than we need to. We don’t ask for help. We instead suffer silently, feeling put out and ill-used and weary to the core. 

Knock it off already. I’m trying to. Because at work and at home, asking for help brings countless benefits:

  • The actual experts have a chance to speak up. If you don’t ask for it, you can’t receive the benefit of anyone else’s knowledge or experience.
  • Tasks and projects often take less time and effort. Duh.
  • You give others an opportunity to contribute and shine. You’re sharing both the responsibility and the spotlight. This builds trust, creates or strengthens relationships, and encourages more frequent collaboration. Others are also more likely to feel comfortable asking you for help in the future.
  • You give others an opportunity to do something for you. Being able to do things for others just feels good. Your husband doesn’t exactly relish taking out the garbage. More than likely, he does it because it’s something he can do to reduce your load. Don’t deny your family, friends, and colleagues the opportunity of being allowed to help.

Now, let’s sort through some of the generally pathetic reasons we don’t ask for help:

  • You don’t want to be a bother. This is my personal go-to. But what I’ve learned 47,000 times over is that people sincerely want the chance to help you. Stop projecting and just ask.
  • You are afraid of looking weak. This one we need to throw out completely. Asking for help is the opposite of weak. Asking for help shows good judgment, a willingness to collaborate, and a desire to get the job done right the first time.
  • You are being lazy. Asking for help does require the effort of making a request. But that small bit of effort should hopefully result in a reduced effort for you overall. 
  • You can do it better on your own. Odds are this one is occasionally true. But as you make the assessment on whether it’s best to go it alone or enlist assistance, remember: by doing it on your own, you learn nothing from anyone else. And others learn nothing from you by being disallowed from helping.

I’ll offer one caveat. Asking for help from someone who’s ill-equipped to give it is clearly not an ideal path. For example, if you are trying to install an air-conditioning unit in your apartment, it’s probably not a fantastic idea to ask for help from your ridiculously frail 80-something-year-old neighbor Rita, who likely lacks previous experience with HVAC installations. And she can’t even help you carry it. Rita can perhaps offer you a bran muffin and/or some time-worn advice. But don’t turn to her for help with A/C installation. Sometimes, however, we don’t have much of a choice, and asking for that help is still the right option. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Rocket Raccoon was unthrilled about leaving the pressing-of-the-detonation-button to the hopelessly naïve Baby Groot. But genetically manipulated raccoon beggars can’t be choosers. 

Asking for help more often is a gift you can give yourself. It’s also a gift you can give your family, friends, and colleagues. You’ll learn from others, and give them the opportunity to learn from you. You’ll no longer be inclined to walking around with a secret martyr complex. And others will have the opportunity to help reduce your load. Whether they’re successful in actual load reduction isn’t the point. Sadly, asking for help doesn’t always result in help being given, or in that help turning out to be genuinely helpful. But the act of asking is already a gift given two ways.