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Why Is It So Hard to Ask for Help?

Time and again, people share with me the difficulties they have in asking for help. When I hear this, I’m grateful they found their way to my office, because their first phone call to me was an example of having done so.

We all have moments in our lives when we require the assistance of others. We don’t ever know all there is to know or have the skills to do everything proficiently or successfully. We certainly don’t expect that of others, either. So it makes sense we would have occasion to ask someone for help at some point.

The biggest reason many seem to have for staying stuck rather than reaching out is fear. People fear they will be rejected or told “no,” fear being seen as “less than” or weak, or fear being “found out.”

Being told “no” does not have to be awful. We do not have to weave a story and personalize the rejection (make it about us). It may be that the person we chose to ask didn’t have the appropriate resources to help us at that time. It’s best to accept the “no” as the answer to our request, not a negation of ourselves. A “no” tells us not to waste any more time and energy asking this particular person, and guides us closer to someone who will say “yes.”

Some equate being vulnerable with being weak, but asking for help takes self-awareness and courage. It’s important to know where our strengths lie and where they don’t. Sometimes the most efficient way to proceed is to focus our efforts where they have the most impact, and implore others to fill in the gaps according to their skill sets, leading to teamwork and collaboration. To be vulnerable is to provide the opportunity to connect and pool resources, thereby resulting in further strength.

The fear of being “found out” is akin to the fear of being exposed as a fraud (impostor syndrome). It can coincide with all-or-nothing thinking or perfectionism—believing that if we don’t know it all, we know next to nothing. In most roles in which we function, whether it be parent, employee, or partner, we are not expected to know it all. There are always opportunities for us to learn and grow. It doesn’t serve us to pretend we have every answer. However, it benefits us and others to know where to go for assistance when we need it, and then to avail ourselves of those resources.

What can you gain by asking for help?

  • You gain the ability to move forward. Rather than staying “stuck,” you know how to proceed. Can you remember a time you hesitated in reaching out? Chances are you felt a certain degree of stress associated with this. You weren’t being as productive as you wanted to be. You may have felt foolish in not being sure of your next step. Not believing you could ask for help might have fueled symptoms of anxiety. That is, until you asked for help and felt the relief of finding out what you needed to know.
  • You gain the opportunity to collaborate. If you’ve been tasked with something to do independently, it’s best to try to do it on your own. But if you’re stymied, seeking advice or assistance gives someone the opportunity to share with you. While not everyone is able to say “yes,” people are often honored by the request. It means you admired their expertise or abilities enough to inquire.
  • You gain the opportunity to learn. Pay attention to who is willing to help and what they are willing to do for you. Really listen to strategies being communicated to you, and take notes so you don’t have to ask the same questions twice.

It’s also worthwhile to think about whether you’re willing to help others when asked. If you tend to say “yes” and are maybe even happy to be asked, then perhaps you can better see the value in asking for support from someone else.

Asking for help doesn’t devalue you in any way. It can enable you to advance, connect you meaningfully with others, bolster your productivity and ability to do things with greater ease, and better prepare you for your next challenge.