“I don’t want to be a burden.””
“She’s got enough going on without adding my troubles to it.”
“Why would anyone want to help me?”
In my office, and in my life, I’ve watched a lot of people struggle with the weight of their problems all on their own. Like some sort of Sisyphean punishment, they feel doomed to carry the weight of their circumstances alone, on their own feeble shoulders. When I bring up the subject of asking for help, the excuses for why that’s not an option come pouring out – something about bootstraps, or why they don’t deserve the help, or the shame of begging. But should a friend in need ask for their assistance, these same people are often quick to offer a hand, a tissue, a home cooked meal, a small loan, a precious hour of their time. Why are we so terrified to ask when it feels so good to give?
I’ve struggled with asking for help, just like anyone else. Some things are easier to ask for than others – editing advice on your cover letter and a ride to the airport are easier requests than helping you through rehab or loaning you money for rent. But I’ve watched people struggle through even the small requests. “What have I done for them that they should drive me to the airport?” The underlying question being “do I deserve to ask for this?” and the follow up fear being “can I withstand a rejection?”
When we ask for favors we think in terms of a mighty tally sheet. Have I done enough favors for this person to warrant asking for one in return? But when we give, we think in terms of intangible exchanges like love and friendship. When we give, we don’t break out our tit for tat calculator and make sure you’ve done enough things for me to warrant you this favor. So when I’m struggling with something on my own that I know I could use some help with, I remember, people love to give, and they give for love.
Amanda Palmer describes the act of giving as a collaborative exchange. One in which this act of giving says “I love you.” So I keep this in mind. Asking is not a one-sided beg for something beyond what I deserve. Asking for help is offering an opportunity to connect in an authentically human way, to collaborate on a problem and invite someone into a precious part of my life where I am vulnerable. And inviting another to sit in that vulnerability with me and connect, is the greatest gift I can give.
This post was inspired after a first reading of Amanda Palmer’s autobiography, The Art of Asking.