Holly Richardson: Why is asking for help so hard?

Holly Richardson (2019)

“I do it myself!”

If you’ve ever seen toddlers or preschoolers learning a new skill, like putting on a shirt or using a zipper or putting toothpaste on their toothbrush, you’ve undoubtedly seen them assert their desire to “do it themselves,” maybe even with a stomp of their little foot.

So perhaps it’s understandable that as we become adults, we continue that streak of independence and internalize that desire to “do it” ourselves. Then, we layer on societal messages that we “should” be able to do it ourselves and we don’t need to ask for help. After all, if we just take a look at social media, we will see plenty of examples of people who are doing it all, all by themselves.

Except that’s an illusion.

The reality is no one does “it” all by themselves (whatever it is). It’s just that it is sometimes so darn hard to ask for help.

Maybe it’s imposter syndrome that tells you that everyone but you has life under control and knows all the answers, so asking for help reveals that you are in over your head.

Maybe it’s that you made the choice to have kids/go to grad school/have a career/run a marathon/create a business, so you think the process is all on you.

Maybe it’s easier to do it yourself.

Maybe you didn’t realize how much you had added to your plate over time and their cumulative effects.

Maybe you believe it’s a sign of weakness to ask for help.

Maybe it’s that streak of “I do it myself!”

I don’t know if your kids are like mine, but some of them have learned some painful (and expensive) lessons about money after being scammed online — something they probably could have avoided if they had asked for help or even just additional information from their parents. In fact, I myself learned a painful lesson when I bought my first car ages ago and signed the papers not having researched or asked questions about financing and interest rates. I signed up for a car loan at 18% interest. Yikes!

In 2007, M. Nora Klaver wrote an entire book on this topic: “Mayday! Asking for Help in Times of Need.” The reality is, most of us have never been taught how to ask for help, and we’ve probably done it poorly. We might have thought we were looking for assistance, but we really wanted a pity party. We might have tried to guilt or coerce people into helping us (um, sorry kids). Or maybe we simply asked the wrong person who had neither the will or ability to help us.

Klaver broke down the process into seven steps: name the need, give yourself a break, take a leap, ask, be grateful, listen differently and say thank you!

As you ask, be direct. Don’t make the person you are asking guess what the request really is. Please don’t be passive aggressive in your approach and “punish” the person you are asking for not understanding the request you did not articulate. No one can read your mind.

Accept that the help you get may look different than if you had done it yourself. Let go of perfectionism and the need to micromanage. Don’t keep score. Asking for, receiving and giving help is relational, not transactional. Be a gracious receiver and a gracious giver.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength and a willingness to grow. If you are always the smartest person in the room, it’s time to go into another room. I promise, there will be people there to help you. All you need to do is ask.

Holly Richardson

Holly Richardson is a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune.