I used to believe that asking for help was a sign of weakness. Maybe because my father worked a lot and my mother was always home. Growing up in suburban Boston in the 70’s most homes in my neighborhood were full of stay at home moms. These women handled everything from bandages to stitches, from using wheelbarrows in the garden, to using them to walk for supplies during blizzards. My mother didn’t use the phrase “wait until your father gets home!” She decided what needed to be done and did it. I wanted to be that kind of woman. I didn’t want to ask anyone for help, especially a man.
I graduated from Agnes Scott College, a small, women’s college outside of Atlanta. My time at ASC was a wonderful experience. It was such a small, close-knit community of women. Strong women! It was here that I learned asking for help is not necessarily a sign of weakness. We helped each other study, we provided feedbacks for essays. Sometimes we provided distraction for that procrastinator pulling an all-nighter. Asking for help was a good thing. It meant I trusted someone.
In my late 20’s I married a man whose favorite phrase was “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!” I lost the ability to ask for help. I’m 40 now and have been a member of a substance abuse support group for the past several years. After my time in rehab I again had to learn to ask for help. Why would I want to know it all? Why would I pretend I know best? Obviously my best thinking got me here in the first place. I re-learned there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. There’s nothing wrong with saying I don’t know how to do this, can you show me? There’s great strength in admitting I don’t know everything. As a high school teacher one of the best things I can teach my students is that no one knows it all. When they ask a question I can’t answer, I simply tell them I don’t know. Let’s look it up and learn it together.
I think of all the people I know who can’t ask for help, even when they desperately need it. I think of my soon-to- be ex-husband, who never asks for help. I think of his hypertension, his bad back, his out of control schedule. I may have my health problems, but my blood pressure is great, my back has never hurt, and I have time to enjoy my children and friends. Is there a correlation? He would say no. I do. I believe in asking for help.
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