We are a nation founded on individualism and self-sufficiency. We pride ourselves on achieving the “American dream” through self-reliance, a principle long held dear in our Western culture.
But is this independence always a good thing? What do we lose when we insist on plodding along a solitary path instead of reaching out to others to assist?
I recently had a tough lesson on asking for help. If I didn’t ask for help, the situation could have ended badly.
I was at a lake with my children, getting dressed to leave. Looking up while getting my son dressed, my daughter was nowhere in sight. I scanned the beach. Nope. I went to the water’s edge and asked a nearby family if they had seen a one-year-old girl. “No, sorry.” I paced the shore, terrified of the worst possible scenario. I ran to the lifeguard and asked him.
Then I started running around the beach. I knew that might attract attention and possibly some help. I started praying. “I have to find her now. Please. Please. I have to find her.” Suddenly, I hear, “We found her!” A man was with her on a path she had wandered down in the woods. After reuniting with her, I thanked him repeatedly.
The whole ordeal lasted about three minutes. I was lucky and knew there was something to learn from this. Good thing there are good people out there. Good thing I had asked. Asking for (and then receiving) assistance from strangers gave this story a happy ending.
There have been other times in my life when I was afraid to ask for assistance. In building a business, and in seeking guidance with my own negative, self-defeating thoughts. I was too proud to ask initially—I was ashamed to admit that I needed help. I like to think of myself as self-sufficient, independent and capable.
After several weeks of being stuck and not feeling any better, I finally decided to give in and try a new approach (as the definition of insanity is expecting a different outcome from repeated application the same methods). I reached out to several people and found someone who could help me—I hired a business coach.
It can be embarrassing to admit when we aren’t able to do something on our own. Maybe this is why so many of us avoid doing it—out of shame, out of fear of showing our weaknesses, out of feeling vulnerable. Maybe this comes from our core instinct to protect ourselves from danger. But here’s the thing: we don’t live in a world where we might get attacked by a feral beast in the wilderness anymore.
Our worst fears (of death, or maybe of public speaking) are actually linked to some deeper scary things: fear of rejection, a fear of failure, a fear of being disliked. And these innermost fears are often rooted in the past, in an experience we had at a young age. A well-meaning statement from a respected adult (often a parent) can linger in the subconscious of a child for years. When mom told us never to talk to strangers, she may have unwittingly planted a fear deep into the soil of our minds.
Like an invasive weed, this fear can grow into a habitual pattern of shying away from other people as an adult. When we don’t pick up the phone and invite someone to coffee, or when we don’t send that email asking to chat about an idea we have, we miss out on some golden opportunities.
In my case, the state of emergency of losing my daughter took precedence over any fears I had about being “seen” (a real one for a natural introvert like me). Can I apply this to other parts of my life too? Can I pretend that I have to reach out to others and ask for help, like my life depended on it? Can you?
Maybe then you could take someone up on their offer to teach you that wonderful art form you’ve always longed to create, ask that beautiful person that intrigues you out on a date, or take the plunge and collaborate with a trusted friend to make your brilliant idea into a thriving start-up business.
We pride ourselves on achieving dreams with our efforts alone. There comes a point when that just doesn’t work anymore. When no matter what we do, life is not taking us to the place we want to go.
We need other people to lift us up. Asking for help can save our lives by taking us to new places we never dreamed we could reach.
It saved my daughter’s life the other day at the lake. And it surely saved me in more ways that I can understand.
Author: Rachel Horton White
Image: Neslihan Gunaydin/Unsplash
Editor: Katarina Tavčar