How Do You Ask For Help?
"Sometimes, I just get overwhelmed that I have to do everything on my own," I told my friend T. "I often feel like I'm building things independently as an entrepreneur and freelancer and it's exhausting."
T listened patiently. In our previous conversations, he'd empathized with the feeling of loneliness we sometimes encounter in pursuing our passions. T's a musician who's often composing and rehearsing solo.
"I've always had to take care of everything on my own," I continued to explain. "Ever since I was little, my parents weren't available to help me, and I essentially had to help raise my younger siblings, too. I paid for everything for myself since high school until now. I've had to figure out everything in life on my own. And I'm tired. I would really like for someone to help take care of me for a change."
"Okay," T held space for me on the other end of the phone and let me go on.
"When I talked to one of my mentors recently, she encouraged me to ask for help, so I don't feel like I have to go at everything alone all the time."
T's kindness infused his next question, "So, what do you need?"
"What do you mean?" I asked, confused.
"Earlier you said you needed help. But, what do you need help with? I didn't actually hear you ask for anything."
I was astonished. In all the sentences prior to his question, I felt like I was being both vulnerable and exceptionally clear in asking for exactly what I wanted. I needed help. I paused, unsure of how to proceed. Here was a man ready to offer his assistance, yet he didn't know what I'd like for him to do.
"I..." I stumbled. "I don't know. I thought I was telling you exactly what I needed, but you're telling me you don't know what that is?"
I thought back to what we'd been talking about. I expressed that I needed help, but I realized I had no idea what that looked like.
"Dammit!" I burst out exasperatedly. "This is probably why I never get what I need! I can't even effectively convey it, even though I think that I am!"
I'd realized this pattern before, but I thought I'd gotten so much better about it. Apparently I hadn't. I was still having difficulty articulating what it is I really wanted, partly because I didn't know. I'd been standing in a solitary and defensive stance for so long, I had no idea how to move from this place into one of vulnerability. The other part was that I was too scared to ask, fearful that my needs wouldn't be met, so it seemed rational to avoid that pain by not even putting it out there in the first place.
T gave me some time, then followed with a gentle, "Go ahead. Ask me for something."
"What." I sighed.
"Ask me for something you need."
"But... what if you say 'no'?"
"Okay, those are two words you can banish from your vocabulary right now," T asserted in a firm, yet nurturing tone.
"'What if.' That question never leads to anywhere productive. You don't know what's going to happen, so why worry about it? You can ask me, and I can give you one of two answers: yes or no. But you won't know until you ask and either way, it's okay."
I thought about it.
"Okay..." I said slowly, the words forming on my tongue though not quite moving past the barrier of my lips. I hemmed and hawed for a minute or two more.
"It doesn't have to be something big," T said. "You can start with something small."
"But... what if the small thing feels really big?" I asked, unsure.
"What did you just say?" T responded, making a point.
"I said, 'What if...'" and then I caught myself. "Oh."
"Okay, let's try again," T repeated, nudging my courage along. "How can I help you?"
"Well," I swallowed. Took a breath. "If it's not too much trouble and you aren't too tired, would you like to come hang out with me and keep me company?"
"No no," T corrected. "Don't start by prefacing your question with doubt. Just ask me. It's okay. Make it simple."
I took another breath in. Then, I quickly let out, "Okaywouldyouliketohangoutwithmetonight?"
"Yes," I could hear T smiling on the other end of the phone. "I would love to. Now, let me just get my things together and I'll be over in a bit."
Once he answered in the affirmative, I hung up almost immediately, squirmy in the seat of my mod up-cycled rocking chair.
I did it. I asked. I asked for what I needed.
A few minutes later, I smiled. Not only had I asked for what I needed, but I was actually going to get it.
I put myself out there and now a dear friend was preparing to come over and keep me company, which is exactly what I needed to soothe my heart from feeling like I always have to do everything solo. It was good practice for when I have a bigger request, or even for lots more small ones, so that I don't find myself parched and deserted on an oasis of my own making.
This was my baby step towards asking for help.