When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody’s help in any way
But now these days are gone, I’m not so self-assured
Now I find I’ve changed my mind and opened up the doors
~”Help” by The Beatles
Have you ever noticed something, seemingly for the first time, and then you hear or see it everywhere? You finally learn the definition of “the canary in the coal mine,” and then three friends use it in separate conversations.
Lately, I’ve been hearing and reading the suggestion to allow people to help me:
- In David Whyte’s “Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity”:
Sooner or later we admit that we cannot do it all, that whatever our contribution, the story is much larger and longer than our own, and we are all in the gift of older stories that we are only now joining. Whatever our success at work, in the financial markets, or in the virtual worlds now being born, we are all in the gift of much older work, we are all looked after by other eyes, and we are only preparing ourselves for an invitation to join something larger.
- In “A.P.E. [Author Publisher Entrepreneur] How to Publish a Book,” Guy Kawasaki repeatedly writes about the importance of asking for help, often in untraditional ways, from the initial writing stage through to the publishing and marketing stages.
- In “Intuitive Eating,” the authors write about the common tendency to eat when what we really need is support and/or nurturing, something that we can often easily receive if we only ask for it:
When you find yourself reaching for food when there is no biological hunger, take a time-out to find out what you are feeling…Call a friend and talk about the feelings…Talk to a counselor or a psychotherapist.
- In my Kaufman FastTrac NYC small business course, we discuss establishing a personal network of individuals who can broaden our perspectives, provide information and feedback, and be objective.
The ubiquity of the advice to ask for help caught me by surprise. (Sort of like that ‘w’ in the word answer. Really? Was that always there?) Why does asking for help seem counterintuitive? Why is it so difficult? I can only surmise that my resistance stems from my fear of appearing foolish, a wish to have my proverbial shit together (or at least seem to), and my striving for perfection.
When the shoe is on the other foot, however, and I am asked for help, I am more than happy to oblige. I feel a sense of purpose and connection with that person, as if I’m growing and nurturing not only that relationship but contributing to a bigger picture in which we are all interdependent. Why not extend such an opportunity to others by allowing them to help me?
In “Ocean of Dharma,” Chogyam Trungpa writes:
We can afford to open ourselves and join the rest of the world with a sense of tremendous generosity, tremendous goodness, and tremendous richness. The more we give, the more we gain – although what we gain should not particularly be our reason for giving. Rather, the more we give, the more we are inspired to give constantly. And the gaining process happens naturally, automatically, always.
I spent this past weekend with my parents, my sister, and her family, including my 4.5- and 2.5-year old nieces. The girls reminded me of that instinctive drive to “do it myself,” and how that seems to be the very definition of growing up and becoming independent. At the same time I found myself asking my mother for help: I always find it difficult to maintain my meditation practice whenever I am away from home, but by asking my mom to sit and practice with me, we both benefited. This simple act of asking for help strengthened our connection and broadened our perspective.
Perhaps the definition of growing up is not the ability to be completely self-reliant but rather knowing when, how, and who to ask for help. Allow me to be your canary in the coal mine: Have you been helped yet?