Are You as Good at Asking For Help as You Think?

“She’s not going to ask you…” This statement was part of a conversation between two friends of mine. About me. 

I thought I was good at asking for help. I thought I did it all the time. 

Turns out, I’m not. Turns out, I don’t! 

Of all things, getting an air conditioner installed is what precipitated the exchange between my friends. And my revelation. Kinda crazy, right?

Here’s the backstory: I live in a brownstone. On the fourth floor. Which means, it can get hot as hades in my apartment. Beneficial in the winter, not so much in the summer. 

I haven’t had an AC unit for several years. However, it’s also been the case that our summers have been unusually cool in recent years, so I haven’t really needed one. My ceiling fan and floor fans did the trick. 

But much like almost everything else about 2020, this summer is different. It recalls to mind the heat and humidity New York City is typically known for in July and August.

In the beginning of June, weeks before our first official heat wave of 2020, my friends Jeffrey and Carol, offered me an air conditioner – one they no longer needed. I happily said yes. 

And although Jeffrey offered to install it, as well, I never called to make those arrangements. My reasons made sense in my head, at the time. Looking back, I see them now more clearly as blatant excuses:

  • I had a crazy virtual speaking schedule in June and July. On one hand, I didn’t want it to be just about what worked best for me; on the other, I didn’t see how I could be flexible. 
  • I didn’t want to impose or be a burden. Gifting me the unit was already more than I could have asked for.

Two Shocks

Until Jeffrey asked me point blank why didn’t I call him, until I heard myself utter those woefully weak reasons above, until he shared the conversation he and Carlton had about me, I would have argued with you for forever and a day that I’m good at asking for help. And that I do it all the time.

But alas…

Even as he was installing the unit this week, the conversation in my head went a little something like this: Why didn’t I call or text and say, “hey, when can you come by?” Why was it acceptable for me to be in a hot-ass apartment – aka a sub-optimal situation to say the least – when (a) it wasn’t necessary, AND (b) I had options? 

With these questions came more. Like, where else in my life and business am I unintentionally making “do” with less than ideal conditions – be it by adapting or tolerating. Where do I defer an ask because it feels too much like an imposition? There’s a lot to unpack here in terms of my “whys,” and this space may or may not be the vessel for exploring that. 

Are you beginning to get the sense that this piece has very little to do with an air conditioner? Good! 

I’m sharing this story because I bet I’m not alone when it comes to realizing the gulf that can sometimes exist between how we see ourselves and how others do.

And having it pointed out to me that I wasn’t good at asking for help was a humbling shock to my self-identity. Especially since I consider myself to be highly self-aware. 

A Few Lessons

I took the feedback about my asking skills to heart, recognizing that I needed to explore both sides of the coin: asking for help and responding to it when it is offered. 

So, I have been noodling on what I’ve dubbed my “air conditioner” moment all week. In the process, a few lessons have emerged. I’m sharing them in case it turns out you, too, are not as good at asking for help as you think.

Asking for help is…

A skill

Honestly, I forgot that asking for help is a skill. Therefore, like any skill it needs to be examined and cultivated. 

Doing so will help you understand the instances when you do it with ease, with trepidation, or not at all. The clues are there if you look. Because like any skill it needs your attention and intention if you want to improve it. 

An act of self-care

Prior to my “air conditioner” moment, I’m not sure if even I would have described asking for help as an act of self-care. I do now. 

If me and my fellow non-askers adopted this stance, I believe we’d see more clearly how getting better at doing so can increase our: 

  • capacity to receive (which means giving ourselves permission to be less self-reliant);
  • opportunities to show appreciation (because when we accept help we give others a chance to “give”); 
  • level of self-trust;
  • ability to express kindness…to ourselves!

An invitation 

An invitation to observe yourself by paying attention to when you ask for help, and how often you do so for yourself vs. on behalf of others. Similarly, how often you embrace it when it is offered. Noting how you feel when you do ask/accept and your reasons for when you don’t.

Yes, asking for help can be hard and feel vulnerable. It can also be a sign of strength. Furthermore, here’s a conclusion I’ve come to – at least as of this writing from my now air conditioned apartment. 🙂 Asking for help is a mirror for your relationship with others…and with yourself

So, be sure to explore when and why you don’t ask for help. And be sure to surround yourself with friends who will (lovingly) call you on your stuff. Thank you Jeffrey and Carlton!

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