I worked for a menial’s hire,
Only to learn, dismayed,
That any wage I had asked of life,
Life would have willingly paid.
Anonymous poet – quoted by Napolean Hill in Think and Grow Rich
My parents prided themselves at being able to support themselves and look after their own needs. However as they aged, there were times when they could have benefitted from help even as they were struggling with the tasks of everyday life. Their lives were shaped by experiences (e.g. the depression) that taught them to be self-sufficient and resourceful. It also made it difficult sometimes to ask for help. We’re in a different world today, but in many ways it remains difficult for some of us to ask for what we need.
Asking for what we need can take many forms including:
- Fair remuneration for work done
- Need for acceptable living conditions (e.g. repairs made; safe neighbourhoods; etc.)
- How we want to be treated by others
- How to fix something – everything from a lawn mower to the ubiquitous computer problems
- Help with everyday tasks when we are feeling overwhelmed
- Addressing an unrelenting workload in our place of work
- Someone who listens without judging
Perhaps we are so used to doing things ourselves that it never occurs to us to ask for help. And of course, some ‘asks’ are easier than others. There’s a world of difference between help with a computer glitch and re-negotiating a relationship. It’s the difficult ‘asks’ that stop us in our tracks, especially when we are having trouble articulating what the problem is. Being able to understand and express what we truly need is a skill that should never be underestimated. It takes time to drill down through the layers of expectations and buried wishes before clarity reveals itself. Even when we know, the thought of asking can trigger hesitation, anxiety or doubt. There are a variety of reasons we may tell ourselves such as:
- This is really my problem and I should be able to figure it out on my own.
- I know the organization’s budget is tight so there is no more money.
- Asking for help makes it look like I don’t know what I am doing.
- Others are counting on me- how can I ask for help?
- I am not expert enough about this topic to ask for payment.
- “They” should know what I need help without my having to ask.
Asking for what we need may leave us feeling vulnerable. What if the person says no or we can’t reciprocate in some way or we are embarrassed? On the other hand, if we asked, we could avoid struggling because a little help could propel us forward in the right direction or give us the answer we need. By not asking, we sell ourselves short and possibly send the wrong message. At the very least, asking tells us we are capable of expressing our needs to those who need to hear them. And that is a great beginning.
Asking for what we need is like a muscle. It gets stronger with use. I must admit I struggle with asking sometimes, but I have found the most useful approach is to start with small steps and keep practicing. And when the ‘ask’ is heartfelt, the vast majority of people welcome the opportunity to extend a helping hand. They hear what is being asked and respond with generosity. When we ask for what we need, we make it possible for others to do the same. It’s a connection that enables each of us to see and acknowledge the gifts we all have and share.
We owe it to ourselves to ask for that raise in pay; help with family responsibilities; a change in workload, a break, and so on. And we need to keep doing it- clearly, without apology, knowing we are true to ourselves. Life isn’t a random event that arbitrarily bestows gifts on whoever happens to be passing by. Life is full of riches and possibilities, but it needs to know we want them and that we are willing to seek them out. And when we do, life willingly and generously offers them to us.