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Three uncomfortable truths about asking for help

Emma Grey

Someone arrived on my doorstep a few days ago who I’d never met, and gave our family a meal.

It’s her 40th birthday year, and she’s made a deal with herself that she will do 52 ‘random acts of kindness’ — one per week. Helping a stranger’s family with a meal presented her with another opportunity to do some good in the world, and we were very grateful, as we have been for all the help we’ve been given.

I was telling another friend about it, and we talked about how easy or difficult it can be to ask for and accept help. We wondered whether the following factors muddy the waters…

Asking for help requires confidence

Admitting you can’t do it all, and that there are times when you’re not completely independent takes guts. Unless you’re in the grips of an emergency (during which you don’t care who knows you need help) there’s often a ‘what will people think?’ component.

If our self-image and our relationships are built on strength and capability, rather than the arguably more challenging traits of humility and vulnerability, we can miss opportunities to bring people closer to us through offering and receiving mutual assistance.

Asking for help requires trust

“I can’t manage this myself” places us in the hands of others. That can feel precarious, particularly if we’ve learned over the years that people can let you down.

Being able to demonstrate vulnerability and trust, even after being hurt, takes immense courage. Sometimes it feels easier, in the short term, just to struggle on alone. That’s not a workable plan for the rest of our lives, though. None of us can do everything ourselves indefinitely — it won’t work.

Asking for help requires honesty

“I don’t ask for help because I worry you’ll say yes, even if you’re not in a position to…”

It would be easier all around if we could all get on top of our yes-and-no’s. If we can’t do something for someone, we need to say so, honestly. We can become fearful of being a burden and that fear is created in a large part because we’re aware that many people can’t say ‘no’. We worry they feel resentful. So perhaps we’d better not risk asking…

It’s worth it

When my husband died, I made a personal rule to say ‘yes’ to all offers of help. As a result, I’ve been incredibly inspired by people’s thoughtfulness, and have had countless people express how useful it was for them to be able to feel as though they had ‘done something’ in what is an irretrievable situation at its core.

The people who give help often walk away from the transaction feeling better than the receiver. Allowing people to help nearly always gives them a gift.

When this exchange works well, and when it’s part of a mutually-beneficial ecosystem and community, much of the awkwardness around helping evaporates. Be helped now. Help later.

Imagine how much easier all our lives would be if we all made it that simple…

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Emma Grey

Emma Grey is the Canberra-based author of ‘Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum’ and ‘Unrequited: Girl Meets Boy Band’. She’s director of the life-balance consultancy, WorkLifeBliss and co-founder of a fresh approach to time-management, My 15 Minutes. She lives just over the ACT border with her two teen daughters and young son. More about the Author

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