I breathed a giant, audible sigh of frustration. The dishwasher had, yet again, failed its single life purpose (You have ONE JOB, dishwasher). Didn’t it know I had 100 things on my to-do list? I have projects to finish for my side job, relational conflicts for my brain to work through, and a small human being I was supposed to love, cherish, teach, correct, entertain, and feed without the momentary reprieve of PDO or even a relative down the street.
Maybe the dishwasher knew that I needed the deep breath, but not the frustration. Cue my husband walking in, mid-sigh.
“Are you ok?” he asked, hesitantly. “I’m fine.” My automatic response. But I wasn’t.
There was no way I would ask for help and admit I had taken on too much for the day though. Because, after all, I am a modern woman, and there are people with bigger burdens, and that coffee mug says Beyoncé has the same amount of hours in her day as me, and it’s just a dishwasher and I’M HANDLING THIS, OKAY?
We believe our sense of self is at stake if we ask for help.
From the mouths of babes
Fast forward. That evening, I grabbed the toothbrush and toothpaste to clean my three-year-old’s teeth. She confidently yanked the Colgate out of my hand and insisted, in a sing-songy voice, her newest mantra: “I don’t need aaaaany help. I can do it all by myself.” And my brain betrayed me, “Same, girl! Miss Independent! You can do it all!” She tells herself that lie too. After a few moments of intense struggle, she looked upward.
“Can you help me?”
Why is it so much easier for a child to utter those four simple words than it is for us as grown women?
Pride and Shame
I recently asked the interwebs (actually, a couple hundred of my closest Facebook friends) what keeps them from asking for help, even when they know they need it. Here were the results: Pride and Shame. Over 100 comments, and they all said pride or shame. Whether it is mental, physical, emotional, or spiritual help we need, we do not ask. We have a fear that our sense of pride will be destroyed. Or we feel that shame will overtake us as we admit that we are not entirely capable. We believe our sense of self is at stake if we ask. These emotions hold us hostage.
Asking is invisible crowd surfing. Will you catch me? Will I trust you enough to fall on you?
Our culture tells us dependency is inadequacy. That it is unacceptable to admit basic needs like getting enough sleep, time to rest, and an occasional break from reality (I mean normal responsibilities). That we are less than others we perceive to have it all.
I could remind you that comparison is the thief of joy, that things are not what they seem, or that everyone needs someone or something. Or I could remind you that there is no shame in needing a break or recognizing that we all have limits. However, clichés and clever Pinterest-worthy quotes are rarely enough to change our minds, much less our actions.
I want to propose to you that it doesn’t have to be one or the other – working yourself into the ground in silence or depending on others for everything. What if your sense of self was not at stake when you trusted me enough to ask for my help? What if who I am is interwoven with who you are? What if asking is what makes us all beautifully human?
The second you make yourself vulnerable by asking is the second another person is reminded that they are trusted and needed.
I don’t think we would hesitate to ask for help if we stopped assuming that begging and asking were synonyms. Instead, we could begin seeing our requests as an exchange.
The Eight-Foot Bride
In her TED talk, singer and author Amanda Palmer describes this exchange so beautifully. A couple times a week in her younger years, Palmer would don a dramatic wedding gown, stand on a milk crate, and make herself a piece of living art, “The Eight-Foot Bride.” People would drop spare change or cash in the hat at her feet. When they honored her request, she leaned down, handed them a flower, and looked intensely and lovingly right into their eyes. Palmer draws the conclusion that those encounters were actually exchanges – the gift of money and the gift of being seen. I don’t know about you, but as someone who struggles so often to feel seen, that image nearly brings tears to my eyes. I have no doubt there were two givers present. See her TED talk for yourself if you want to feel that too.
Asking is always an exchange. Asking is invisible crowd surfing. Will you catch me? Will I trust you enough to fall on you? Or will we remain separated by the illusion that some of us are in the pit and some of us are as independent as we appear on our miniature “stage”?
You, and all of those who you ask, are part of this beautiful human exchange.
It is entirely possible that the relationships you have need you to be asking for help, from them or from others. The second you make yourself vulnerable by asking is the second another person is reminded that they are trusted and needed. As expected, there will be people who respond with shame. But as Amanda Palmer says, “People who reply with shame don’t see the exchange or the value of the exchange.” We all want to know we are desperately needed. We yearn to know we are not alone in needing one another. That is why we respond when a three-year-old asks for help. We give them the gift of open toothpaste, and they give us the gift of knowing we are necessary.
The gift of a request
So, today, if you’ve taken on too much and have been afraid to ask for help, I beg you to see the exchange. Give someone the gift of a request.
Tell your spouse you need help on a project, asking them to enter something that is meaningful to you. Call your BFF and bawl your eyes out so that she can say, “You deal with this, too? I thought I was alone.” Text your friend and ask her to watch your kids; what a way to remind someone that you trust them! Delegate part of your enormous project at work to the intern and give them the opportunity to feel needed. Go to a place of worship, ask questions, and let people share with you how they found peace. Make that appointment. Pay for the cleaning service. Ask somebody else to do the dishes that you thought you could handle today.
Frequently, remind yourself that nothing has changed, except for the better. You, and all of those who you ask, are part of this beautiful human exchange.