After my last blog post, I was prompted to dig deeper into the reasons why I do not like to ask for help. It turns out that my reluctance stems from a history of failed attempts, an unwillingness to show vulnerability, as well as a desire to be fiercely independent. Together, these factors make for a warped approach to seeking assistance.
It is no surprise that I have missed many cues for opportunities when articulating the need for help would have been timely and fortunate. During my senior year in high school, I took an advanced math class that moved at a rapid clip. There were also difficult weekly tests that the teacher did not grade in a timely manner. I fretted over the absence of information and became convinced that I was failing. Although I grew more dejected each day, I did not once go to office hours. I was too afraid to reveal myself as someone who did not comprehend the material. Believing that I was a lost cause, I did not even study for the trimester's final exam. I failed. When the teacher called me into her office to explain that I had to drop to a lower level class, I was not shocked. But I was dumbfounded to learn that I had been doing just fine up until the final. Why hadn’t I sought her counsel? At the very least I would have passed the exam.
Discernment for good timing is also an important part of asking for help. People need a fair chance to come through for you. Reaching out too late will almost certainly fall short. I did make a feeble attempt to be given a second chance during that one and only office hour with the math teacher. Alas, my solid weekly test scores amounted to nothing in conjunction with my failed final exam. I felt like an abject failure for not succeeding in the first place, and then doubly punished for being denied when I belatedly asked for help. To be sure, I bore my fair share of responsibility in this particular outcome. I could only blame myself for being in that position, and vowed that I would never allow something like that to happen again.
The math class debacle could have served as a valuable lesson in seeking help earlier and more often. Instead, it hardened me against it. I became more resolute in being self-reliant.
I continued to be tongue-tied, especially in the most desperate circumstances. The birth of my first child threw me into a deep identity crisis. My days were as hazy as a dull fog, and I felt a strong urge to run away. I knew that I needed help, but I did not know where to turn. I feared that I was trapped – life would continue like that forever. Someone suggested a parenting group, but I could not bring myself to look for one, let alone go there to air my frustrations and resentments. I wanted someone else to sense my distress, anticipate my needs, and gracefully lend a hand. I was waiting in vain for someone to rescue me. The anguish I felt that no one cared to help was excruciating.
In both instances I was preventing myself from achieving more positive outcomes, though it did not feel that way in the moment. I just felt helpless, hurt, and abandoned. Learning many more lessons in this vein, I finally discovered that being independent does not mean that I should have no help along the way. Even small doses of support can have a big impact. The secret to successful requests is to ask early and often.
Mila Atmos is a columnist whose work has been featured by The Huffington Post, Quartz, and Medium.
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