Help! I can’t ask for help…

Excellent resume, great credentials, senior title or up-and-coming – on paper you look fabulous and have it all together. But what happens when you feel like something is missing, or a challenge won’t go away, or something you are reaching for stays out of reach?

There is an underlying expectation in the professional world that if you have it together you have it all together and you don’t need help. Asking for help or acknowledging the number of people we need to support us everyday has become something of a taboo, especially in the Bay Area where we say fail fast but we mean only perfection counts. The story goes something like this: I had an idea, I built the idea, I became amazingly successful because of my unique genius. Or if you’re not an entrepreneur: I worked hard, I went to [name of prestigious school], I became [impressive title]. An important thing to note is the number of ‘I’ statements in both stories. If the expectation from the social-cultural mores is that you are solely responsible for your experiences, then it becomes very difficult to reach out to others when your experiences are not going the way you think they should.

Asking for help is scary, it creates vulnerability (someone might say no), and it acknowledges that we are not entirely self-reliant. Humans, even Bay Area amazing humans, are social creatures. As professional women this becomes extremely scary because it risks saying that we are not totally capable of doing it all by ourselves and given the amount of criticism we already face (from ourselves and others) asking for help can feel like a personal failure.

But we can’t do any of it all alone, we need communities, we need support, we need guidance, nurturance, coaching and we need to ask for help if we want to have any chance at all of getting it! So how do we ask for help when that is anathema to so much of who we think we are, indeed who we are told we should be?

  1. Make a list of no more than ten things that you are struggling with. This can be complicated stuff like collaborating with a difficult co-worker or asking for a raise or really simple things like getting the laundry done more than once a week.
  2. Pretend you are your best friend and make a suggestion for how to deal with each issue. If you don’t know what advice you would give someone highlight the challenge.
  3. Answer each suggestion as yourself. Feeling challenged to ask for a raise your BFF-self says ‘just do it’ and your response might be “I don’t know how – I never have.’ If the challenge is laundry and your BFF-self says “Task Rabbit that shit” maybe your response is, ‘but what would my grandma say?’
  4. In any spot where you argue with yourself it means you need outside help. Highlighted challenges or unaccepted suggestions mean you get to reach out to someone for HELP. If it’s a professional issue post something on LinkedIn or reach out to a mentor at the Club – it can be simple, just a ‘hey I need to chat with someone about a work challenge, anyone willing to have a coffee/tea/drink/walk?’ If it’s a life challenge reach out to a friend and tell them you need to be talked into helping yourself.

Once you get honest with others you will be surprised by how honest they get with you – all of a sudden the help is flying everywhere! You might get bad advice, you might hear something that makes you uncomfortable – that’s okay, use it as a way to figure out what is true for you and what is true as a social construct, these are often not the same thing. But the only way to get what we need is to ask!

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