Asking for help
It is almost impossible for me to ask someone for help, and I know why. The result has been a blessing and a curse for me.
Being the last child in a large family there wasn’t a lot of resources left for me. Energy had been spent raising my 4 siblings and the family was on “spin-down” by the time that I made my surprise entrance. My mother was exhausted, and my father was disinterested. It really was as simple as that.
Like most boys I wanted my father’s attention. Since he wasn’t trying to engage with me I tried to engage with him. I had given up on the “let’s toss a ball around,“ approach due to lack of success. However, that didn’t stop me from trying other forays. Asking for advice usually resulted in a negative response. Often something like, “You don’t have problems, wait until you are an adult, then you will have problems.” Crap!
Asking for help on a project would initially be met with “Can’t you see I’m busy.” If that wouldn’t dissuade me I would encounter the “Why do you need to do that! ” shaming gambet. If I continued to push I would be told that the task at hand, “Couldn’t be done.” Dear reader, I’m not trying to cast my father in a negative light. I’m sure that there were times that he would help me, I just can’t recall them. This was the 1960s, it is possible that I was experiencing the “children should be seen, but not heard,” method of parenting.
Often when I would bring a project to my father I already had an idea how to solve the problem. I was looking for reassurance, methodology, and most importantly attention. Early on I would take a “could not be done” project, do it myself, and return to my father expecting praise for my accomplishment. That did not happen
Over time my desire for approval turned into a demonstration of anger. In my mind I would I would think, “You said it couldn’t be done. Look, I did it. What do you think of those apples!” Dear reader, understand that I’m normally not an angry individual. In fact, I only think anger is useful when it acts as a catalyst for a positive change.
There was a part of me that liked the fact that I could do things that my father said were not possible. It didn’t matter if his comments were meant to dismiss me, solving the problem gave me a sense of competency. I started to assume that being told that something could not be done actually meant that the person asked either didn’t want to help me, or they couldn’t figure out the solution. Just because they couldn’t figure out the solution didn’t mean that I could. This was a gift that my father gave me. He would tell me that something couldn’t be done, I would then do it.
I came to believe that there were solutions to every problem. Please understand that a solution can exist, but it may be impossible or impractical to implement. However, when you think with this mindset you are open to many other possibilities. Perfect solutions that are impossible can lead to imperfect but useable options.
I stopped asking my father for help, but I didn’t stop solving problems. People seek me out because of this ability. In fact, my professional career is based on problem-solving.
Everyone has negatives in their lives, you can define yourself by those events, or you can use them to push yourself forward. In good, there is always some bad. In bad, there is always some good. I believe that it is better to think of an event as just an event, and to not assign a “good” or “bad” label on it. Learn from life’s events and use them to your advantage.
Yes, I am good at coming up with solutions. I have been good at teaching myself how to do things. I am independent, but I am not an island unto myself.
There are many benefits of asking others for help. These range from social interaction to learning how to do something more effectively. I taught myself how to play the guitar, but my overall skill and technique are limited. It would have been better to have had someone teach me this instrument.
I know that I need to achieve more balance in my life, and I have been slowly moving towards allowing myself to ask for help from others. I am trying to broaden my circle of “helpers” as courage allows.This process has been risky for me because I still sting from my childhood experience. I do not want to feel shamed, foolish or like a burden.
I have close connections with my siblings, their spouses, and their children. On occasion, I will ask them for their help. These connections have been there for me. I know that if they are able they will help me. With that said, I only ask them for their help rarely.
I frequently ask my immediate family for help. I would say that in this respect my behavior is normal and healthy. I help my kids by giving them rides, they help me by raking the leaves. My wife takes my shirts to the cleaners, I fix her computer problems. In my family, I give and take help multiple times a day. Family connections are… well, family. I think this security has made it easier for me to ask for help from them.
This has not been the case with other connections that I have. I have been good at giving help, but not good at asking for help. I know that my fear is irrational. When I help someone and they are appreciative I feel great. I feel closer to that person and proud that I can offer them assistance. Intellectually, I know that the converse is true. However, knowledge does not always translate into action.
If you have been reading my blog you know that I have a very close friend named Tom. Tom is a general contractor and we met when he was doing some extensive remodeling in my home. Over the number of months that my remodel took to complete we had many interactions and moved from friendly to friendship. Initially, I offered to help Tom with his sorry looking website. Tom took me up on that offer and we completely rebuilt his site together.
Tom has many skills that I lack, but the thought of asking him to help with a project would have been unimaginable to me. Over time Tom made offers to help me with a variety of things. Like me, Tom is a helper. As our friendship grew, so did my trust. Trust is a wonderful antidote when it comes to fear of rejection and shame.
You may recall from a previous post that I recently bought an inexpensive computer desk from Amazon. That desk arrived a few weeks ago. It was in a giant flat rectangular box that was so heavy that I could barely slide it from my front stoop and into my living room.
The box sat for over a week until I had the courage to open it. When I did I was met with dozens of cut out pieces of particle board, hundreds of fasteners, and a multipage “easy to assemble” guide. The front of the box said, “Easy to assemble” and noted that the only tools needed were a single screwdriver and a hammer. Who were they kidding? My heart started to race, and I closed the box. What had I gotten myself into?
The next day Tom was visiting at my house, and in a typical Tom fashion, he made a sarcastic comment about the huge box creating a hazard in my living room. Being a general contractor Tom has many construction skills. However, he also has his likes and dislikes. In the past, he had told me that he hated the tedium of putting Ikea type furniture together. “It drives me crazy. Buy the better stuff. Buy it once and have it forever,” he said.
There was Tom, the box, and me. Without hesitation I said, “Will you help me put this thing together?” Without hesitation Tom said, “Sure.” He returned the next day with tools. We took out piece after piece of particle board, poured out a huge bag of fasteners, and set to work. I watched him as he put post-A into socket B and twist cam 1 into hole 3. Soon my son Will joined us and we all sat on the floor. Tom doing most of the work, Will and I trying to find pieces and interpret directions. In addition to helping, I was watching. How much glue should be applied to a joint? How tight should the screws be tightened?. This wasn’t me having a friend do my job, I was learning from an expert. I was allowing myself to be taught.
Like most projects of this nature, the estimated time to assemble and the actual time were wildly different. Soon a number of hours had passed and Tom had to leave to take care of another obligation. The superstructure of the desk was completed, but there was still more to do.
Will and I set to it. I felt more confident because I had been watching and learning. The X shaped metal bracket was screwed in. Then the decorative back of the desk. After that we assembled the drawers, only making a few minor mistakes here and there. Finally, we stood back from our project and looked… looked at my new completed computer desk. Tom started it, I watched, Will and I finished it… done.
That was not the first time that I let Tom help me, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. The desk project will be a happy memory. Three guys together, sometimes working, sometimes laughing, sometimes swearing.
When I initially opened that big box full of odd pieces of wood I thought to myself, “This is impossible, it can’t be done.” But dear reader there is a solution to every problem. Sometimes that solution is asking for help from a friend.