A Little Help Doesn’t Hurt

St. Petersburg, Russia, fall 2014

Dear Reader,

Is it hard for you to ask others for help? For some people, asking for help is not a problem at all. One of my colleagues is all too eager to ask for help. Sometimes in the middle of a conversation with him when a problem arises, he will pause the conversation to dial up another colleague to immediately get an answer to the problem. I, on the other hand, would rather struggle for 15 to 20 mins, before seeking another’s input. Why is that?

For some reason, I have always been of the “I can do it myself” mindset. My best guess is that this trait of mine stems from the fact that 1. I was a shy child, and that 2. I can be overly considerate. On point 1, being shy meant that asking for help was always a scary task. In grade school, asking for help meant raising my hand and speaking up in front of the entire class. What if I asked a stupid question and embarrassed myself? What if my teacher thought I was stupid and couldn’t handle the work? Asking for help is an admission that you cannot do something on your own. This admission can leave us open to feelings of embarrassment, shame, and insecurity. Asking for help also has the unfortunate side effect of leaving us open to criticism and rejection.

In addition to shyness, another reason I have trouble asking for help is because sometimes I think too much about others, sometimes to the point of preoccupation. Asking for someone else’s help means asking for someone else’s time and attention. I am essentially asking someone to give me something of great value and expect them to do it just because I asked them to. Isn’t this rather selfish? A normal person would probably say no, however, to my anxious mind, I would say that it is totally selfish! I know that I am overreacting and thinking unreasonably, but part of my brain cannot help but classify “asking for help” as an extreme act. For this reason, I always try to do things myself and only ask for help as a last resort… you know, out of respect for others’ time and such.

Today, I had to ask for help. Currently, I am applying for graduate programs, which means writing statements of motivation, research proposals, as well as asking for letters of recommendation. Unfortunately, it is totally impossible to go through this process completely alone. I simply cannot be my three recommenders on my application. No, instead, I had to ask three (!!) different people to undertake the task of writing a letter on my behalf just because I decided that I wanted to go to grad school. I dreaded sending off these emails. I actually made a word document in which I edited my request emails over the course of a few days before sending them because I was nervous. However, I did finally ask. There was some back and forth as well as delayed responses, but they each agreed to write on my behalf. Not only did they agree, but I also received valuable feedback on other parts of my application.

Good things can happen when you allow others to see your problems. While it can sometimes be hard, it can ultimately be beneficial to have more than one brain working on an issue. Humans are generally inclined to help others. Scientists have found that even babies have some sort of innate willingness to be helpful. Perhaps this is because some cooperation between humans is necessary for survival. No one can do it all on one’s own. There is a reason we humans live in communities, form relationships, and share houses. Like it or not, we just need other people. We shouldn’t be afraid to admit that we need help or feel bad about asking for it. We could all use a little help sometimes, Dear Reader, so I hope you are not afraid to ask for it when you need it.

Love,

Raven

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