(Note: This is based on one of the prompts from Robert S. Kaplan’s book What You’re Really Meant to Do.)
It’s not in my nature to ask for help. In fact, it’s kind of a core tenet of my personality that doing so is a sign of weakness, confirmation that I’m in over my head and unqualified for whatever it is I’m doing at the moment. I’ve worked to overcome this in the last few years and am much better about it, but I’d be lying if I claimed I didn’t feel a slight twinge when doing so.
It would be hard to count the number of times in my career, much less my life, I should have swallowed my pride and asked for help or advice from someone in a position to offer either. There are times I did so and there are countless times I didn’t, most of those followed shortly by a feeling of wishing I had.
Much of the time things work out fine. I’ve always been a firm believer in the Jim Rockford approach, which is that a clipboard and a confident attitude will get you in the door most of the time. You bluster your way into and through a situation and it all tends to work out in the end. Sometimes…not so much, but those are learning opportunities, right?
For me it’s come down to a matter of perception. It’s not that I want to be seen as stubborn and unwilling to learn; It’s that I want to be seen as self-sufficient and capable. Asking for help, in my mind, signals the exact opposite.
All that being said, the last year and a half has been an exercise in getting more comfortable in asking for help and counsel. Many friends have come through for me in big ways, whether asked or not and even if it’s just in providing a lead, even if it doesn’t go anywhere. Hell, most of my career has been because friends helped me out. And I’ve likely gone overboard in thanking them for it because the voice in the back of my head says I’m not worthy of such generosity and support. The same can be said of family, who I’ve had to turn to time and again for advice or help.
I’m the first to admit that if I’d been more comfortable asking for help and advice over the course of my career – and life in general – I might be in a different position than I am right now. Guidance might have been offered that would have steered my path in a different direction. But I didn’t, so I’ll never know. I’m just going to have to deal with that.
Asking for help – really asking, with clear requests and no self-esteem issues clouding those petitions with endless caveats – is something I’ve had to get pretty good at. It’s still something I’m not totally comfortable with but I’m making progress in growing.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.