I was 20 years old before I ever consciously thought about asking.
I was in Chile, during a study-abroad semester, and one of my new friends was explaining to me the problem with Americans. We were okay on most accounts, it seemed, but we didn’t know how to ask – for directions, for help, for money, for anything. This was confounding. I didn’t disagree, I had just never really thought about my relationship with asking.
So I practiced. I got comfortable with asking. Then I returned home to my university, full of hard-working students with a heavy dose of individualism, and I returned to my old ways.
For awhile, I forgot about asking.
When I was pregnant with my daughter two years ago, I started to once again need help in a really big way, and it was hard. It was hard to ask my husband to put my shoes on for me, it was hard to ask my manager if I could work from home, it was hard to admit that I couldn’t do everything for myself. I started thinking about asking again.
>>Brene Brown, shame and vulnerability researcher, says, “If you cannot ask for help without self-judgement, you are never really offering help without judgement.” As I got to the end of my pregnancy, I was judging myself for needing to put my feet up instead of cooking dinner. When I had a newborn, I was judging myself for sleeping instead of cleaning the house. I believe I was judging other people, too. I had internalized this message that I, and all the other new mothers around me, should be able to do every aspect of womanhood simultaneously.
Once I realized how wrapped up I had been in this false belief, I started to untangle myself. I explored the reasons I couldn’t ask for help – the belief that I wasn’t doing enough, or that I was lazy if I asked for help. As I let go of these limiting thoughts, the shame of asking slowly started losing its grip on me and I started recognizing my needs and asking the people around me to help me meet them.
I recently solidified my belief in the benefits of asking. I read Amanda Palmer’s memoir, >>The Art of Asking. From asking for a tampon at a party, to asking her husband for a loan while she produced her next record, Palmer charts her own path to learning to ask for help. One of the most insightful points she brings up is what will happen if the person we are asking says “no.”
In most cases, not much will change. You may have to reevaluate your options, but you may also feel more open, more connected, and more human. You may feel more generous yourself.
I’ve realized that when we ask for help, we are saying “Yes, I am not everything, I cannot do everything, but I am enough.” Even if there is a “no” on the other side of your ask, you are still enough.
I’m working hard on asking, and in turn, giving. I’m learning to be grateful not only when someone offers me help, but also when someone asks me for help. It means they are sharing themselves with me. I invite you to consider your own relationship with asking. You may find the benefits surprising.
>>Tiffany Frye manages a >>small but growing childcare and coworking cooperative and works as a managing editor for science publications. She lives in Durham, NC, with her husband and daughter.
Americans, I fear, have been conditioned to believe that needing help and asking for help are a sign of weakness. It isn’t. It is a sign of strength. It is a realistic acknowledgement that we are far from the self-sufficient, independent persons we were told to be, because the harsh truth we are reluctant to help. We don’t want to make people dependent. Our neighbors struggling to make ends meet, those in poverty need help, but our attitudes make it difficult for them to ask, and discourage most of us from giving it without the strings attached.
Thank you for writing this and sharing your journey of asking for help. It is nice to know I am not alone.