Learning to Ask For Help

I recently spoke at an event focusing on creativity and business where I was asked to reflect on what I had learnt from starting my own business and what advice I would give to other entrepreneurs. As someone who is very new to the entrepreneurial space, I am always wary of giving advice. However, this time the advice was easy: ask for help. If there is one thing I know it is that I got to where I am today by asking anyone who would give me a chance for help!

“From what I’ve seen, it isn’t so much the act of asking that paralyzes us–it’s what lies beneath: the fear of being vulnerable, the fear of rejection, the fear of looking needy or weak. The fear of being seen as a burdensome member of the community instead of a productive one. It points, fundamentally, to our separation from one another.”

Amanda Palmer

I was in my second year of varsity when I watched Amanda Palmer’s Ted talk “The Art Of Asking” that quite literally changed my life. Amanda speaks of the power of reaching out to the community around you and the incredible depth of human kindness and camaraderie available to us if we are only brave enough to reach out and ask. And in that act of bravery, in reaching out, others reach out in return.

After watching her Ted Talk, I decided right then and there I would try to continually overcome my fear of potentially being embarrassed, rejected or ridiculed and just ask for help when I felt lost, confused or unsure.

Somewhere along the line, we adopted this idea that asking for help is something to be ashamed of. I am not sure where or how we picked up this mindset but I see it everywhere: this lingering feeling of shame or guilt because you think you should be able to do it on your own. You think you should be able to make it work without help from anyone; that asking for help means you are not worthy, or hardworking, or talented enough to make it work on your own.

The fact of the matter is that humans are social creatures and we all rely on each other in different ways. And asking for help is more than okay because it’s normal. It is part of being human. Some of the best ideas have been generated by people who came together to help each other. It is scary to be vulnerable. To show that you are not completely certain. But this is what life is about: it is about being uncertain and overcoming it to do something wonderful.

I would not be here today if not for the multitude of people who have helped me along the way. From the support of my parents to some advice I got from a stranger at a business conference to the 50 people I begged to like our Facebook page. Arnold Schwarzenegger puts it beautifully: “Like everyone, to get to where I am, I stood on the shoulders of giants”. Quite simply, we are all here because of one another. Nothing is done in isolation and yet so many of us try to do it that way.

The ease with which some people ask for help usually means that they are unphased at the possibility of being rejected. I am not one of these people – I find asking for help terrifying and yet the more I ask people for help the easier it gets. And if they do then you are no worse off than you were, to begin with. So you may as well ask.

It sounds easy, right? The truth is it is something most people struggle with because being vulnerable will always be scary. We are hardwired to stay within our comfort zones and when someone says “no” to us, no matter how rational we are, it is difficult not to take the rejection of the request as a rejection of us as a person. We are afraid that we look bad in that moment and, thus, we want to avoid that embarrassment.

I’ve had to remind myself that being vulnerable is okay. The individual can only say no and the no is simply no. It is not a rejection of who you are nor is it going to look bad.

Practical tips:

  • Reach out to a friend and ask them to introduce you to someone you admire or someone you can learn from.
  • If you own a business ask a friend to share your post about it!
  • Reach out to someone you admire and ask them if they would be willing to meet or chat with you.
  • Ask people for their thoughts and advice even if it frightens you.
  • Receive help from others with gratitude and an open mind but don’t be afraid to disagree (or not use) what was offered to you if it is not a good fit.
  • Keep your eyes open. There is always something to be learned even if you don’t initially think the help is relevant.
  • Remind yourself: Asking for help is a sign of strength and not weakness. If they say no, they say no.

Remember though: help only works if you do. People are more willing to help you when they can see you are putting in the effort to help yourself.

I have found that being resourceful and open-minded are two of the most powerful skills to guide me in the business world. I often feel unsure of my direction and learning to reach out to others and hear their own experiences has helped me identify where I wanted to go and how to get there. It has also made me more willing to help others even when I feel like I don’t have that much to offer. Sometimes just being in conversation with someone of a similar position or problem can help alone.

So seize the day. If there has been something you need help with challenge yourself to ask for help. Asking for help can look like anything: a chat over the phone or coffee, some recommended literature. Anything. Find what you feel comfortable asking for and then ask. It gets easier each time.

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