I am awful at asking for help.
It feels like weakness to me: if I have to ask for help, it means there’s something I don’t know, and if there’s something I don’t know, it means I am inadequate–as a leader, as a father, as a mentor and example and as someone others consider smart. It means I’m not good enough to do something myself.
It’s ridiculous when I think about it rationally. I’m human, after all, and I can’t know everything. Not even close. That’s why we have doctors, after all, and lawyers, and plumbers, and electricians, and auto mechanics, and accountants, and bakers. Because none of us can know everything, so each of us knows as much as possible about a few things and stands ready to use our knowledge to help others. It’s the way our societies are designed and organized, and it makes perfect sense–or at least as perfect as anything designed by humans.
But it’s one thing to know I can’t know everything, and it’s quite another to acknowledge that I need help, to swallow my pride and accept that in this, I am unequal to whatever task lies before me. Once I’ve gotten past that hurdle, it’s a simple matter to pick up the phone and ask someone who knows better.
That’s how courage works in a broader sense, isn’t it? We spend much of our energy dreading something, avoiding it because of the outcome we fear. Then we grit our teeth, clench our fists, and take the action we know we need to–and the outcome we feared doesn’t happen. Or if it does, it often isn’t as bad as we expected it to be. And even if it is, we feel better, stronger, more alive for having faced it.
We can accomplish more together than any of us can alone. It’s how we’re designed, or how we evolved, or both. It’s how we live, probably how we’ve always lived. We need each other, whether we acknowledge it or not.
Which means not only do I need help from others once in a while, they need help from me. Sometimes, they have to swallow hard and pick up the phone and call me. Strangely enough, I hate to think anyone would ever be frightened to call me for help, even though I know they do, even though I know it only has a little bit to do with me. Most of the time, I enjoy helping. I enjoy being the one who knows–but even more, I enjoy the feeling that somebody might be able to succeed partly because I helped them. For all they needed me, I needed them, too.
Let’s try to keep that in mind next time we need to ask for help. Let’s acknowledge what we’re afraid of, pick up the phone (or email, or IM, or whatever), and ask for the help we need.
We’ll be better off for the asking. And whoever helps us will be better off for the helping.
And we’ll all be a little more human for the time we spent together.