Why is asking for help so hard? These days I have a list of things I need help with, and it always brings up so many uncomfortable emotions: guilt (that I need help in the first place), shame (that I might not be worth it), fear (of being rejected), worry (that I will be judged)…and on and on. Maybe you can relate. My needs run the gamut from splitting and stacking wood, plowing my driveway, shoveling my snowy paths…to finding support running my business, to finding support for my upcoming book tour and promotion, both of which are not unlike needing support for my children to find the schools, friends, jobs, communities which will understand them, buoy them, help them be all that they want to be in this precious life of theirs. (And WITHOUT guilt, shame, fear, worry, etc.) I’ve never been a helicopter mom, but my kids know that I will try to move mountains if need be, whether or not I fail. I’m there for them. And just like my children, I want my writing programs and my books to find their way in the world in their most fulfilled, honest, natural, and supported way possible. Which means…darn it…I have to ask. But asking for help with all things related to the workings of my non-mother life…is not easy. Traditionally, in fact, I suck at it. Again, maybe you can relate.
I think it’s so interesting that so many of us are over-the-moon happy to ask for others. Not just for our family, but for friends. Or friends of friends.
Your child is having a hard time with the college application process?
Let me connect you with someone I know.
You’re coming to Montana and you want to go into the backcountry on horseback?
Let me connect you with a stellar outfitter.
Your son is moving to Seattle and wants a job in the restaurant business?
Let me make a few phone calls.
You want to publish a book?
I know some people…
Asking on someone else’s behalf? Easy. Fluid. Comfortable. But on our own? Not so much. Why is it so hard to ask for ourselves?
I see it all the time. It’s endemic in our culture, and it’s not because Americans are known for being particularly polite or humble or understated. Uh-uh. We’ll paint our faces and scream at a TV screen for our favorite team. We’ll go to bat for a community stop sign in a dangerous intersection, or fight tirelessly for our wandering rights and open spaces, or a single mother with breast cancer who needs someone to watch her kids during her chemo treatments… We’d give a kidney for our child, but would we ask for one for ourselves? I hear this case for radical self-preservation often in my line of work: “My children need their mother.” Does push have to come to that sort of dire shove in order for us to take a powerful stand for our deepest needs, never mind that of our woodshed? All-too-often, the answer is yes. Push has to come to shove. And I am so guilty of this. See. There it is: guilt.
It’s time to heal this wound.
How? Well, I suppose it has to start with a pay-off. Because let’s face it: we’re not going to do anything unless there’s a pay-off. So what would it take to feel good about asking? What if it even felt great to ask for help? Think about it for a moment. The last time you were asked to give help or advice in your area of expertise…what did it feel like? I bet it felt good. Were you resentful? Or was it an honor? Did you judge the askee for being weak, or did you feel that her ask made her powerful? Did it model what’s possible for you the next time you are in need? Because…you know that time is around the corner. It always is. We’re all in this beautiful and heartbreaking thing together. Maybe it’s time that we started acting like it.
Now flip it: If you know that it feels good to give, then why, when it comes to asking, does it feel so horrible to admit our lack of knowledge, or physical ability? Why does it feel desperate? Weak? Pathetic, even? What if it didn’t? What if it felt great to say, “I am not good with numbers. Can you explain Quicken to me?” (Note: don’t ask teenagers. They’re mean. Note II: Once they turn twenty, they’re much nicer.)
Enter: trust issues. Dirty secret: For me, certain sorts of asks feel more clean and clear and less shameful if I pay for that help, even if it’s a financial stretch. That’s its own kind of ask. But the hard core ask—the one that asks you to trust and to show your raw bleeding heart…those are the asks that can’t possibly come with a price tag. Like: “I’m having a meltdown. Can you come over and talk me through it?” That is one of the scariest “asks” I can think of. I’m pretty horrible at asking that ask. And yet that’s the exact moment when it’s most vital to put guilt and shame and self-worth issues aside, pick up the phone, and call a good friend. Of course, if you do this every day…that’s different. That’s for the therapist. I’m talking about basic human-connection-community-kindness asks.
Every time I’ve had the guts to ask for help in this way—the kind of help you don’t pay for… (and ‘tis true that you have to be wise who you ask), it’s felt so good. There is a natural ease. Flow. And every time I wonder: what took me so long?
Solutions: I’ve always thought it would be a beautiful thing to re-create the old ways. To have a chore day with a good friend. Every Wednesday either I come to your house, or you come to mine, and we do each other’s laundry. Dishes. Gardening. And we chat. I recently heard of a woman who bought an RV and who travels around offering her gardening services to friends and friends of friends in exchange for a place to park her vehicle. How lovely is that? Is there any shame in that? Not that I can see. Can you imagine the real and raw conversation that comes along with gardening side-by-side with someone who is there to help you, and for whom you are offering help? Win win.
Expectation: But does every successful ask require a reciprocal? If you ask for listening, loving support from a friend, does that mean that there’s an inherent quid pro quo? I hope not. But I do hope you’d be open to it. Even so…there’s something so powerful in giving without expecting anything back. And something so powerful to receive without knowing that you are expected to give. Can we create that paradigm? Can we be that friend or community member?
Example: My mountain woman musician friend came over the other day, knowing my back was out, and knowing my guitars were long overdue for a re-stringing. How did she know? I asked. She showed up, and before I even knew it, I heard the scrape scrape of a shovel in the hard-crusted snow. A few minutes later, we were making my instruments playable again, and maybe myself too. We laughed and it felt like I was a girl playing hookie from school, no matter what shape my back was in. I felt so truly grateful. The ultimate gift: she expected nothing in return. She genuinely loves to give. It’s always been hard to accept that about her. She’s SO giving! I think with my back out…there was no other choice than to receive. With the glow in her eyes, every time, I know that it’s a gift to both of us. When she says, “You’re welcome,” it comes straight from the core of who she is.
So, knowing this…why is it so hard to apply this You’re Welcome concept to our own asking? I’m sure that’s a job for the therapist too, but I think it’s important to admit the problem collectively, so that we can own it collectively, and perhaps solve it collectively. I mean, not only does it feel good to give, but raise your hand if it makes you feel special too. Smart. Connected. Maybe even wise. Uh-huh.
Small story: Recently I spent two hours on the phone with a young poet. A friend of a friend of a friend asked me to speak with him about his future as a writer. He began with so much gratitude and a tinge of, “I’ll make this quick and painless.” But I loved every minute of it. I charge good money for consultations like this. But there was zero resentment. It was given with my whole heart. Why? Sure, I wanted to help my network, and this young man, but it was as if I was speaking to myself at that age. I was giving the young me the help that I wanted so dearly in that time of my life, and yet was too afraid to ask for it. I felt like Rilke in his Letters to a Young Poet, and I borrowed from that book as we spoke. In fact, I power-loaded this young poet with so much information, that I think he was the one who wanted the conversation to end. Uncle. Enough. I get it. But I got off the phone feeling so sated. Dutiful. Connected. I’m not sure how he felt, but whether or not he was able to receive all that I gave, I know that I gave this young poet very very good gifts. And I thought, sitting there on my living room couch… maybe in NOT asking for whatever reason…I’m actually depriving people from feeling this exact satisfaction and even elation.
Ask away! So in that spirit…shame and guilt aside, last week I started asking for help for my upcoming book tour. My publisher is doing incredible things on my book’s behalf, but these days, so much of the onus is on the author. So I started to look at my book like a child or a mentee. I want it to find its way, so I shook the shame off of me, and started to ask in the way that I would for my son or daughter or a client or a friend of a friend’s friend’s sister’s god-daughter. And what do you know? I got a world of Yes. A world of kindness, and what I suspect was very much the way I felt in my living room after the phone call with the young poet. And I thought: asking for help can be a tremendous gift to the giftee. Time to let go of a very old story that serves absolutely no one. Again: Have you ever lost respect in someone who asks for help? I haven’t.
Consider this: What I’m coming to find, the more I ask, is that when the right “ask” comes across the right person, it’s a joy for them to help. It feels good to know that something you know about is like manna to someone else. And really think about this: NOT asking…because you’re afraid for whatever reason, can actually deprive others from being given the chance to help.
But…what if they say No?
No doesn’t mean that you’re bad. That you need to take your ball and go home and curl up and never see the light of day again. It just means No. Or whatever it means. It’s really none of your business. If you’ve asked in a responsible way, then the No can be just as responsible. And the Yes can be bright and beautiful—like this perfect universal opening and connection. You need eggs? Well I have chickens! Perfect alignment! You need eggs and I have elephants. Sorry. But I know a gal who has chickens… Or maybe I don’t know a gal who has chickens. But my No is just a No. I don’t have chickens! Good luck and safe travels! Thank you for asking. If you want to go on a safari with me, we’re all set. But please know this: It honors me to think that you think I have chickens. Or know someone who does. See what I mean? I repeat: When we hoard our asks, it actually deprives people of being given the chance to give!
So in the spirit of new beginnings in a new year, here goes: (Gulp. No gulp.)
- Ask for help. Even if you don’t believe you’re worth it. You might just be giving someone a powerful gift.
- And when you are asked, please: let the askee know that you are honored. If you say YES, please let them know that you are giving this help freely. That it is your pleasure.
- If you have to say NO, please be kind and supportive, with good boundaries, of course. Maybe even try to find someone else who can help.
- And if you say YES, but you really mean NO…that IS a job for the therapist.
- Be brave. Know that what you need is important. And what you give is important. You don’t have to do this alone.
To my readers: Thank you all for being a kind and safe community. May we spread the love in the ask and in the give. Happy New Year!
I’ll start the “ask” momentum: (with a bit of a cringe, but to walk the talk…)
Would you consider:
Showing up on my Book Tour (schedule to be announced on my website)
Telling your friends and bringing them to my book events
Hosting an event in your neck of the woods
Sharing about my Haven Writing Programs
Giving to the Haven Foundation to enable those in financial need who long for the opportunity to have this life-changing experience!
What are you going to ask for today?
I will be launching my new website, and announcing my Book Tour so stay tuned…
We’ll be starting in NYC on March 3rd, with Lee Woodruff!
Come join me in Montana and find your voice! Write your book! Court your muse…all under the big sky. You do not have to be a writer to come to Haven. Just a seeker…longing for community, inspiration, support, and YOUR unique form of self-expression using your love of the written word!
Haven 2020 Schedule:
February 5-9 (full with wait list)
October 28-November 1
Go here for more info and to set up a call with Laura!