Asking for Help

Last week I hit the wall and had something best described as a mini meltdown.

The initiative I’m directing, while incredibly exciting and meaningful, is huge. Even though I’m blessed with a stellar team as well as a decent personal capacity for chaos and big picture thinking, the reality of a provincial project that is attempting to impact the quality of life in communities is one big hairy beast.

I found myself identifying with those guys on the Ed Sullivan show who spun plates on the tops of sticks and then ran back and forth to make sure they were all spinning at the same time. While they made it look easy, some of my plates were definitely crashing.

I knew that I wasn’t using my time and energy as effectively as I could and that if I didn’t find solutions soon, I would risk putting the initiative, my health, and my colleagues into a detrimental state of chaos.

Intellectually, I know that no one person has all the answers. I also have the advantage of experience that has taught me the richness and innovation that results from collaborative decision-making.

Yet, even then, I hesitated to ask for help. After all, wasn’t I supposed to be in charge? Wasn’t I supposed to know what I was doing?

So why was it so hard for me to ask for help from my colleagues? Was it, as the Chinese proverb stated, “easier to go up into the mountains to catch tigers than to ask others for help?”

Truth is that asking for help makes us vulnerable.

After all what if people change their perception of us? What if they refuse to help or think of us as being incompetent? What if at some point, they use what we share against us in some way?

When I thought about it, those simply weren’t realistic concerns in my current situation. I trusted my team and knew I could ask them for help. I knew that with them I would be safe and my vulnerability would be respected and honoured. I was also reminded of a quote from someone who once said, “If you can’t ask for help, you can’t be trusted”. 

The bottom line was that I needed other perspectives to solve complex issues. I had to trust and ask for help.

The truth is that every one of us has times where we feel overwhelmed by our particular situation and the demands and responsibilities of life, work, family, and friends. It impacts our feelings of competency and our sense of control and balance.

When we encounter this in ourselves it is really important to be able to reach out and ask for help.

If we don’t, the chances are our challenges will continue to grow and we risk spiraling into even greater chaos.

However, in order to reach out and ask for help we need to trust. In order to trust, we need to know our vulnerability will be respected and honoured, that we are safe.
While it may seem risky, I learned that the benefit of being vulnerable is that it also increases levels of trust. 

When I did reach out to two of my colleagues for help, their response was far better than anything I might have imagined.

First of all they validated my feelings of being overwhelmed by recognizing the responsibilities I was carrying. That in itself made me feel better. 

I was also surprised to learn that they were quite willing to carry more responsibility themselves.

Best of all, the two of them sat down, without me even being present, and strategized solutions for what they could take off my plate.  Most importantly, they’ve carried through with their commitments, gently and kindly reminding me on several occasions, to back off of what is now their responsibility.

When work and life are intense, it is critically important to be able to ask for what you need and to know you are supported. When we fall we need to be confident that there are others who are there to catch us.  This in turns leads to the grounding that results in more clarity, innovation, and growth.

I recently heard that the driving vision for one successful CEO was to have a company where all the employees would be his friends. While it may be somewhat utopian of an ideal, having a community of colleagues who are friends we trust is a worthy goal. Not only does it make a significant difference to the quality of the work, I can personally attest to the fact that it also makes for a rich, fun and rewarding environment.

Posted on 11-16-08

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