A while back, I came up against a pretty big issue in my business.
It was something that had to be taken care of, but I kept putting off solving it.
The reason I kept putting it off, was because I didn’t know what to do.
And the reason I didn’t know what to do, was because I wouldn’t ask for help.
I was surrounded by people who had both the knowledge and the willingness to help me. Yet I was stuck in my problem, because I wasn’t willing to admit the embarrassing truth that I didn’t know what I was doing, and desperately needed help.
And here’s what’s crazy: When I finally opened my mouth and asked for help, I received it immediately.
This problem, this thing that had been plaguing my mind with worry and stress for so long, was cleared up within a few days.
And the person I asked for help from . . . Did he judge me? Look down on me? Make me feel stupid?
Quite the opposite. He was happy to help and thanked me for the opportunity.
How many times does this happen to us?
How many times do we sit alone in our worry and stress, when help is right at our fingertips?
When I think back to the greatest leaps forward I’ve made — in my personal life, in writing and in business, I find that they’ve always come after I’ve asked someone for help.
I finally wrote my first novel after I asked for help from a writing coach.
I finally started building a successful business after I asked a friend to be my business coach.
I finally finished my first nonfiction book after I asked friends to give me feedback that would help me improve it.
I finally started dealing with my personal issues after I allowed personal mentors and counselors to offer me their wisdom.
I now realize that every major milestone I’ve ever reached was kicked off by my finally getting humble enough to admit I needed help.
Why does asking for help work so well?
What is it about this simple act that makes it so powerful?
Here’s what I think it does for us:
1. We stop struggling.
There is something magical in the simple act of ceasing to strive, of sitting down and saying, “I can’t do this.” I recently found a great illustration of this.
A few years ago, the scientist Ádám Miklósi did a study comparing the behavior of wolves and dogs. He and his colleagues gave a group of domesticated wolves and a group of dogs a complicated problem to solve in order to get to access to some food.
Both the wolves and the dogs solved the problem pretty quickly.
Then the scientists gave the animals a challenge that looked exactly the same as the first problem, but was impossible to solve. The wolves kept going round and round the problem, trying different things.
No matter how many times it didn’t work, they kept trying to go it on their own, despite the fact that there was a human there who could help them.
However, the dogs, once they realized they couldn’t do it on their own, looked to the human for help, and received help.
When we come up against a problem we can’t solve, we have to give up the useless struggle of trying to do it all on our own, before we can move forward.
2. We begin to solve the problem just by describing it to someone else.
In computer programming, there’s an idea known as “rubber ducking” that comes from the fantastic book The Pragmatic Programmer.
The authors found a simple but very useful technique for finding the cause of a problem: Explain it to someone else.
As the other person concentrates on what you’re saying, they look at the problem with you, nodding their head as you speak (like a rubber duck bobbing up and down in a bathtub).
They don’t need to say a word; the simple act of explaining, step by step, what should be happening but isn’t, is often enough for the root of the problem to leap up and announce itself.
How many times have you figured something out simply by describing the problem to someone else?
I often find that by the time I finish describing a situation out loud to someone, I’ve already figured out what I need to do.
Sometimes there are too many loose threads of ideas in our heads. It’s impossible to keep track of it all, so we start to feel overwhelmed.
When we finally sit down and say everything out loud, we’re able to sort through those threads, throw out the useless ones, tie the useful ones together, and come up with something that can help us move forward.
3. We get an outsider’s insight.
Up until now, you might have been tempted to think you could manage nearly everything about being a writer on your own.
But the real value comes from getting outside help. We all need each other. We all have different types of expertise, in different areas.
The friend who helped me solve the big issue in my business immediately gave me a short book to read, connected me with a company that could help me, then personally walked me through the solution process.
When I was flailing with the second draft of Your First 1000 Copies, I sent it to a good friend and she personally walked me through eight pages of notes on how to make it a better book.
When I’ve struggled in my marriage, I’ve sought out counsel from men who have had long, wonderful marriages.
Finding someone who can help with your particular problem, whatever it is, can save you years of frustration and heartache.
Personal Embarrassment vs. Professional Embarrassment
Of course, the biggest battle we face in asking for help is dealing with our own pride.
Oh, how we hate to admit we don’t know what we’re doing! Especially in a space where we feel like we should know what we are doing.
But the truth is, when we don’t ask for help, we’re only holding out for worse embarrassment down the road — on a bigger scale.
Now when I send an early draft of a book to friends for feedback, I tell them, “Please be brutally honest. I’d rather hear it privately from you than publicly from strangers on Amazon.”
No matter what kind of problem you’re facing, there are people who have walked that road ahead of you and are willing to help you along the way.
Don’t suffer in silence. Reach out and ask for help.
That breakthrough you’ve been waiting for is right around the corner.
- Miklósi, Adám (2003). A Simple Reason for a Big Difference: Wolves Do Not Look Back at Humans, but Dogs Do. Current Biology, Volume 13, Issue 9, 29 April 2003, Pages 763–766. ↩
- Hunt, Andrew and Thomas, David (1999–10–20). The Pragmatic Programmer: From Journeyman to Master (Kindle Locations 1859–1865). Pearson Education. Kindle Edition. ↩
March 4, 2015