What You May Miss When You Don’t Ask for Help

Do you find it hard to ask for help? Do you believe in the old adage, “If you want something done right, do it yourself”?

Many smart people, especially women, are more comfortable doing things alone or assisting others than they are receiving and accepting help.

ask for help
Image courtesy of Death to Stock

Four Common Reasons Smart People Don’t Ask for Help

In reflecting on many conversations I’ve had with my clients over the years, I believe there are four common reasons talented individuals are afraid to ask for help:

  • They don’t feel comfortable letting down their guard. They may fear what might happen if others see their vulnerabilities.
  • Some are ashamed that they experience challenges given that they have resources and/or talents.
  • Not wanting to burden someone else, they believe they should be able to do figure things out on our own.
  • For others, they had asked for help in the past, but never received it or they were not satisfied with the results.

Two Less-Known Reasons Smart People Don’t Ask for Help

Two additional reasons smart people don’t seek out help stem from them not realizing they need it. That’s understandable; you can’t know what you don’t know.

I illustrate each reason below, using myself as an example:

  • What we perceive as problems are often symptoms. And, we are unaware of the root cause. Several years ago, I discovered that my waistline was growing even though I exercised somewhat regularly. I tried to focus on what I ate, but didn’t see any improvements. My mother and friends told me it was probably because I was aging. When I finally saw my doctor, I learned I had fibroids that had grown so large, it was as if I was four months pregnant! I was able to stop telling myself I was “old” or “lazy” and start taking steps to solve the underlying health problem.
  • It is impossible to predict or imagine the full impact of receiving help. For most of my life, I considered writing a solo activity. I enjoyed reading about writing, which is also something I did on my own. Thanks to two good writing friends, podcasts, several writing teachers, editors I’ve worked for, consultants I’ve hired, and other writers I’ve met in workshops, I have learned that receiving and accepting help not only makes my writing better but it also makes my life richer.

My coaching clients and students experience this, too.

Clients sometimes find that what they initially hired me for isn’t what they really wanted. Students tell me they got more of what they didn’t realize they needed. For example,

  • Many clients hire me to help them find a different job. As we work together, they realize that what they’ve been doing isn’t so bad after all. In fact, with some tweaking at home or the office, their work situation can feel a lot more satisfying.
  • Similarly, stay-at-home moms often hire me to help them reenter the workforce. A few will realize their current caregiving responsibilities make it untenable to look for employment. In such cases, I help them see what things they can do now. These might help them in the future when the caregiving is likely to ease up. My clients not only find the smaller projects or endeavors fulfilling, but they also are more energized day-to-day and learn more quickly what they would like to pursue next.
  • Recently students told me they thought they were taking a class to better manage their time, but also learned the true meaning of self-care, how important it is, and how they can better incorporate it into their lives.

My clients sometimes gain benefits they couldn’t have previously imagined:

  • Clients who are able to vent safely and confidentially about someone or something that has been bothering them are able to see the situation in a new light. They may have blamed themselves for that situation, not realizing how the self-blame was eating them up inside.
  • I’ve been able to point out my clients’ special talents that they’d taken for granted or hadn’t realized they had. With that self-awareness, they are able to use their “secret weapon” in new situations and feel more confident.
  • I often summarize relevant information from research studies for my clients. They feel energized when they can use that information to try out a tactic or approach they hadn’t thought of before. Moreover, they enjoy seeing how the information works and making it their own.

So what are you waiting for? Ask for help and find out what you may be missing.

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Older versions of this article appeared in October 2016 and March 2020.