A friend and I were texting about her role leading an elementary school PTA this year. She explained that it was like having a full-time job without the pay. Currently, she is working feverishly to make sure her school’s fundraiser launches successfully. I shuddered at the thought that she probably was asking people to do things constantly – sponsor the fundraiser, volunteer to help, ask for donations, etc. I realized that while I often encourage others to ask for help, in person and in my writing, I don’t do so well asking for help myself. Actually, I kind of hate it.
I even hesitate if I offer to pay someone to help me. In fact, I was procrastinating when my friend and I had our conversation. I needed to return a call to get a quote for a particular service, and I needed to go to a vendor’s store to ask whether they could help me develop some merchandise for a group for which I was volunteering. But I kept putting it off. My husband Ben can attest to my reticence to make the phone call, whereas he will immediately call and ask for help if it’s on his list or on his mind. I make the list, which includes items that require asking for help, and then try hard to avoid them. Why am I so hesitant to ask for help? How can I tell people to seek help from others when I have such a hard time doing it myself?
The more I thought about my reluctance to ask for help, I realized this pattern is emblematic of a deeper reality. I live with anxiety – thankfully it is not debilitating and is managed with therapy and medication. But that underlying sense of apprehension is always there at some level. I fear being rejected because that would feel like failure. Like most people, I don’t love being vulnerable, which is a requirement of asking for help. I don’t want to feel weak or like I am burdening others. I can talk to people all day long, but if the conversation requires that I request help, I balk.
I’m taking a class that focuses on listening to others, but in the process, I’m learning to listen better to myself. Dissecting the reasons for our own behavior is hard but important work. I’d never connected my underlying anxiety to my inclination to put off asking for help. I just chalked it up as a character flaw. Because I now understand the connection between my anxiety and procrastination, I can give myself grace instead of beating myself up. I can show patience with myself as I work up the gumption to request assistance. I can remind myself that this is my normal “process,” and that I will eventually do what I need to do. That there is no shame in asking for help and that most of the time, people are happy to help.
I know that going it alone is not always an option or the best course of action. While I may never be enthusiastic about asking people to help me, I can make my life easier if I remember anxiety is at the root of my reluctance. And I need to remember that when other people struggle with seeking help, they may be anxious or afraid too. We are all in this together – we all need help, and we can all be helpers.