Go Ahead — Ask For Some Help Already

This post is for all of you helpers. You know who you are. You are the ones who take on more responsibility than you need to, who feel overworked and under-appreciated because you don’t know how to share the load, who don’t know how or when to ask for help or even that asking for assistance is not only important but healthy.

I am your people. I grew up believing I could only count on myself. I had no problem helping out others. I learned that if I wanted something done the “right” way, I had to do it myself. It never occurred to me that perhaps someone else might have a better way of doing something or that I might learn something useful from their efforts. I didn’t know how to ask for what I needed, so I told myself I didn’t need anything from anyone else. If someone disappointed me, which happened on occasion precisely because I didn’t know how to ask for what I wanted, I labeled them as untrustworthy and went my own way. It was a vicious cycle. Each time I tried to trust someone and was disappointed, it was further proof I could only count on myself. And so I went through most of my life taking on more and more, trusting less and less. Since no person is an island, I created for myself an untenable situation. I became stressed out. I continually felt put upon. The truth is, eventually, we all can use some help. Wise people understand burden sharing provides insight, camaraderie, and a sense of belonging. Taking on everything solo fosters isolation, frustration, and bitterness.

Every night as I’m finishing with dinner prep and we are about to serve, my husband asks if he can plate some food for me. Most nights I still say no. Most nights I tell him I can get my own. I grew up feeling self-sufficiency was proof of competency. Other people ask for help. I don’t need help. That was the lie I told myself. The more I took on, the more others relied on me for that service and the more exhausted I became. My life only began to improve when I started letting others share the burden.

I’m still learning it is okay to let others do for me. They might not do it exactly the way I would have done it, but that can be good. Sometimes when I let someone else do something their way, it’s a growth experience. Other people can be a great source of fresh ideas if you let them bring their gifts to the table. I’ve learned a lot through watching others do things their way. Sometimes I adopt their method because it makes that much more sense.

So, my challenge to all my control freak comrades is this: find a few moments this week when you are feeling overwhelmed and ask for help. You can start small. Ask for help bringing in groceries or walking the dog. If you’re meeting a friend for lunch, suggest a place closer to you for once rather than driving across town to meet them like you have always done. People who are willing to seek help and rely on others occasionally create for themselves a sense of belonging. I think we could all use a little more of that feeling these days.

I promise you this. Once you start asking for assistance, once you start allowing others to be there for you the way you’ve been there for them, you won’t go back to your old ways. It’s liberating to let go of unnecessary responsibility. And, believe me. When someone is insisting on contributing, it’s because they want to. Understand that accepting their offer doesn’t mean you’re incompetent; it means they feel they have something positive and useful to offer. Maybe it’s not about you at all. Maybe it’s about them and their desire to be involved.

There’s nothing wrong with asking for what will make your life a measure easier. Sharing life’s burdens makes life better. You just have to be willing to let go of a little control. No one of consequence will think less of you.

Mr. Roger’s Wisdom

There might just be a silver lining in these clouds.
There might be a silver lining in these clouds.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ~Fred Rogers

Explosions in two different states rocked our country this week. In less than 72 hours, bombings in Boston and a deadly chemical explosion in Texas stole the lion’s share of media attention. My Facebook news feed first erupted with posts about the details of the damage and then was quickly overburdened with online prayers and calls for donations. On Monday evening after watching about 20 minutes of reporting on the bombings at the Boston Marathon with my sons, I turned the television off because we’d seen everything we needed to see. The damage was extensive, the loss of life tragic, and the implications disturbing.

On Tuesday, the quote listed above from television’s beloved Mr. Rogers began circulating on Facebook. It was shared thousands of times, a much appreciated reminder to look for the positive when everything seems bleak. And so we did. As a collective community, new posts began emerging about the runners who crossed the finish line at the marathon and kept on running two additional miles to Boston General to donate blood for those injured in the attacks. Restaurants offered free meals to those who couldn’t pay. Ordinary citizens rushed into the fray and used items of their clothing to create tourniquets for the wounded. In West, Texas, emergency responders from up to 100 miles away showed up to offer their services in the wake of that deadly explosion. Those willing to help in times of grave tragedy are often too many to count. And in a way, knowledge of the kindness of strangers somehow removes some of the sting from these horrific incidents. Selfless acts of generosity and compassion bring hope. And it sure does make you feel good about human kind to see the best side of people rather than the side you see most days while stuck in traffic or waiting at the doctor’s office or shopping in a crowded Costco.

I have to wonder what would happen in this country if people treated each other each day with the type of consideration, care, and concern they offer during the worst of times. We all rally together to fix meals for a family when we find out someone is having surgery, but how often do we offer to share a meal just because we can tell someone could use a night off? We volunteer to shovel the driveway for the elderly neighbor when she breaks her hip, but why don’t we offer our services as a matter of routine because we are able-bodied and generous of spirit? We sit and stew in traffic, refusing to let the numbnuts who waited until the last minute to merge into the construction traffic into our lane. We look back and notice someone coming into the store but judge that the ten feet they are away from us doesn’t merit our time to wait and hold the door for them. We moan and groan and whine about having to volunteer for things. We complain every time a request is made of us. We somehow figure that donating $10 through a text or dropping some unwanted clothes off at a local thrift store qualifies us for being a good person while we still commit crimes of indifference toward each other each and every day.

Now I am in no way implying that I am my best self every day. My kids can verify that I provide a steady litany of swear words and derisive comments on the highway. And sometimes when I hold the door for someone out of kindness and they fail to acknowledge me I will pop off with a highly sarcastic You’re Welcome as the person walks away. It’s difficult for me to be selfless. Very difficult. Like many people, I work hard for my family and at the end of the day I feel like I’ve done my fair share and given all I have to offer. I do wonder, though, how much better I would feel about myself and the world if I offered just a bit more of my kindest self to others without a flippant attitude or the hope of acknowledgment. I know we can’t all be Mother Teresa, but I do believe that we’d be a lot happier in this nation if we showed up with our best selves more often. If we tried just a bit harder to be a helper every single day, even in the smallest of ways, I have to believe that this country would be a much happier place to live.