Imagine that you are a wolf and get into a fight. You know that you are on your own. You wouldn’t show your soft underbelly unless you were giving up and accepted defeat. You would allow the other wolf to decide your destiny – go for the throat or live and let live? Survival of the fittest.
We live in a society where we more or less consciously are told that unless you take care of yourself, no one will – at least in the Western world. You’re on your own. This can be exhilarating. You have the power over your own future. But it also implies that unless you do it yourself, you didn’t deserve it. You cheated somehow. We have all seen the lone wolf (!) entrepreneur who single-handedly launches a successful company or two, fuelled by caffeine and applauded as a genius by us mortals. We’re almost conditioned not to ask for help.
When you have a problem, asking for help sounds like an obvious solution. Yet we so often choose to struggle with our problems alone, sometimes even going so far as to isolate ourselves or pretend that everything is all right when that is far from the truth.
It is not just about swallowing pride
It takes guts to ask for help, but it is not just about swallowing your pride and sharing that you are a perfectly imperfect human being. It’s not just about solving a problem, either.
Asking for help is about opening up and sharing. It deepens the relationships you have with other people. You build trust and form a stronger bond with the other person. As you show yourself vulnerable, you give them the chance to do the same. Chances are that they have faced a similar problem or dilemma and can relate deeply to what you say.
As you get comfortable with your own vulnerability you grow as a person. This is something I understood as I started to learn how to ask for help.
Fresh out of university with a masters degree, I didn’t go on to work for the big consultancies or accountancy firms like my classmates did. I moved from Sweden to London, England, did an internship and then started my own business.
As a young woman in a new country and with English as my second language, I felt that I had a lot to prove. Even though I had experience of advising businesses, nothing could have prepared me for how different it would be to run your own. As a one-man band I had to juggle everything and quickly felt how completely dependent my business was on me. It was painful.
I wish I had reached out to the other self-employed people around me at the time and asked them for help. I didn’t. Instead I foolishly set out to figure things out on my own. This went on until I realized two things. One, I wasn’t the only one who struggled. Two, it didn’t have to be like this.
When I started to look for solutions for building a better business as a self-employed, I had learnt a lesson. I reached out to people. I asked for help. I figured I had nothing to lose, so I even reached out to total strangers. So far I have interviewed more than 15 small business experts on how to improve your business – something that never would have happened if I hadn’t started asking for help.
My journey into sharing more vulnerable sides of myself and asking others for help have taught me a few things.
1. Be clear with what you need help with.
Make it easy for others by being clear on what you need help with. What is not working? Often you will get a much more positive response if you ask for something concrete. For example, “Could we meet up for an hour and discuss how I could improve my marketing?” is easier to say yes to than “I don’t know how to make my business successful. Can you help?”.
2. Choose carefully who you ask for help.
If you’re not used to asking for help, the best way to start is by choosing the right person to trust. Avoid asking anyone who might take advantage of your vulnerability, as it will put you off trying again. You don’t want them to share with others what you told them in confidence.
3. When you’ve got a problem, ask for help early on.
When you’re in a tight spot, the sooner you open up about it and get help, the easier it will be. It’s a bit like a volcano – don’t wait until your catastrophe is spewing lava all over the place. When you talk to others about your problem earlier on, you have the chance to get help from others to turn the situation around before it gets bad.
4. Find your tribe.
Find a supportive environment where you can find others who have been in the same situation and can relate to what you are doing or going through. If you need a lot of help, going to several people for help instead of one will help you get more perspectives and won’t make you a burden to someone.
5. Give a heart-felt thank you.
Share with others what it meant to you that they gave you their support. Just a simple note saying “Thank you so much for helping me with X. I was really feeling stressed about this earlier but now I have a much clearer strategy for what I’m going to do next” will do. If they went out of their way to help you, maybe you want to send them a present.
6. Reciprocate naturally.
I’m not a big fan of quid pro quo. Instead I like to think of giving and supporting as something that naturally happens between people that care about each other, be it on a personal plan or business. Being supportive is just as important as getting support. How you can make other people’s journey easier?
It is when I have opened up and shared my troubles that I have found the most loyal friends. It is when I have shared a business dilemma that I have found new supporters on my side, fighting for my cause. Despite that, I’d be the first to confess that it’s still difficult for me to ask for help. It won’t suddenly become easy overnight. But just because something is difficult doesn’t mean that you should avoid it. While I still have a long way to go, I now know that I can be vulnerable without losing other people’s respect – instead I gain friends.
Photo by marc falardeau
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32 thoughts on “How Asking for Help Makes You Grow”
This is excellent advice and great for those pursuing their entrepreneurial dreams. When starting a business feedback from others who are not personally related is essential. Having the strength to ask for help is a demonstration of confidence itself provided it is communicated the right way.
I do believe that it takes a certain skill to know how to approach people, and in general people like to give feedback because it makes them feel important.
I think society can be too regimental on it’s approach for asking others for help because at the end of the day we are all here for each other. Successful business owners know the importance of building successful relationships, and for sure you need to have an open mind to learn from others in order to achieve this.
Agreed, feedback is essential as you say – otherwise it’s easy to get stuck in your thoughts, something I know I did. It’s easy to forget that most people are happy to help and even feels better for helping you. What skills do you believe make you more successful in approaching people?
I found these comments regarding growth inspiring and truthful. There’s something about personal fulfillment, endurance and stamina that is gained only by taking steps toward growth, and often being able to ask for help and guidance makes all the difference.
I read a book recently that pushed the edge of my envelope regarding making choices about life support for a loved one called Staying Awake by Tom Lukenbill. I think help can come ahead of the crisis, then its not as scary or shocking.
Cari, thank you for commenting. There are so many ways to grow as a human being and I believe being able to ask for help is an important one.
Haven’t heard of the book yet but I’ll check it out!
Asking for help is important to growth.
So is failing.
In a society that recognizes students for earning As and not Fs, more Fs need to be had — because the only way you will succeed is by staring failure in her face.
I’m not sure I’d give a student an F just to make him or her grow as a person ;) but I agree on failing helping you grow. My failures have taught me to work harder, to test my assumptions and knowledge and to find new solutions.
I agree that it is certainly not easy for anyone to ask for help. But by doing so, it does make us grow by giving us the opportunity and the experience to do so. The first time for anything may be difficult, but we get better with practice and this includes asking for help. I certainly enjoyed the life lessons you shared and here are some of the thoughts that crossed my mind.
1. Be clear with what you need help with
Being clear about the help you need helps people to help you. It also shows that you are taking responsibility for your problem and not just shoving it to the lap of the first person that comes your way. This certainly saves a lot of time and effort for the person who is inclined to help you.
3. When you’ve got a problem, ask for help early on
It is easier to manage problems when they are small compared to when they are big and full blown. It also makes it easier for people who want to help you to help. No one wants to have to deal with a problem of epic proportions.
Thank you for sharing this lovely article!
Irving the Vizier
Thank you for the comment! I really agree on it being difficult in the beginning and becoming easier. Somehow I think it’s like any other habit, if you’re out of practice it gets difficult. I know myself that it has become more easy when I started asking for help regularly and realized that it only resulted in good things.
Good point on taking responsibility for your problem – don’t ask someone for help unless you have given it a go yourself first. Then you know what you’ve tried and what didn’t work, and can use that as a start off point when you get someone else to help you. “This is what I’ve tried, it didn’t work, do you have any suggestions for how to fix it?” rather than just “I don’t know what to do”.
Isabelle — very well said, and great insights on vulnerability, which is something I’ve been working on personally a lot lately. Your post reminded me of an interview I just read with a woman who worked directly for both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. She talked about the myth that it’s individuals working totally by themselves who most frequently generate the greatest innovations. As she saw with Jobs and Gates, the vast majority of the time it’s teams with diverse sets of skills, ideas and experiences that innovate most effectively. All the more reason to make asking for help a daily habit!
Thank you for sharing your thoughts. The entrepreneurial successes of Jobs and Gates are definitely team efforts even though they as front figures seemed to run the show and get the results. When you work as a team you have a chance to get more brains to look at the same challenge. Plus, it’s easier to “kill your darlings”.
Isabelle thank you so very much for this. This is great advice. I’ve been in the financial industry for a very long time and as we all know this is a very stressful environment. I’ve learned that asking for help was one of the smartest things I could have done in so many areas. Not only does it help you in your work life but it helps in everyday life.
The financial industry is not just stressful but a highly competitive environment, too – it takes guts to ask for help in that situation so I admire that. How did you start?
thank you for this. how do i connect with you as i am not on twitter?
Click my name in this comment and it will take you to the contact page of Solopreneur’s Toolbox so you can send me a message. Easy like that!
Otherwise you’ll find me at LinkedIn and Facebook too :)
Isabelle – wonderful post and there is nothing wrong in asking for help as you found out. That makes me smile. I am a small business owner and I rely on people to get things done for me but when I shine in front of my customers, I make sure I tell them it’s because of them and teamwork that makes it all beautiful!
Being open to new ideas and to live simply so we can simply live.
Thank you for your comment! Love what you said about sharing the success with the team – it’s important to show others what it means to you to get their help (whether you pay them for it or not). Sounds like you’ve got a good team going!
Like the “live simply so we can simply live” – so true.
Very informative post. Seeking help is alright as long as you are talking to the right person. You are right that we have to choose the right one to talk to. Someone that can open our minds, remove our worries and guarantee us that everything will be alright.
Yeah I really think finding the right one to confide in is crucial, otherwise you’ll just worry about it. Sometimes we don’t need someone to tell us that everything will be alright, but instead someone who tells us to kick it up a notch and get real about what we’re doing – I think that is just as valuable if not even more.
Dear Isabelle Fredborg hi ……
first thing i like to do….. thank you very much for sharing this artical …which helps other to ask help from others .
i read yours artical and find out good and helpful information…..
Thank you for commenting, I’m glad you liked it!
Asking for help is something that I never liked much either. But once I made the connection that it saves me time and energy to do so I was able to change my attitude about getting help.
Plus I have helped out so many people in my life I needed to also be able to receive help too.
Think you’re spot on being able to receive help is just as important as being able to give it. Sometimes it’s easier to just one of them but we need a balance.
Thank you for commenting,
This is a great article! :)
It points out the fundamentals of that problematic mindset that favors solitude over community. I must point out that some of the points made are actually more than obvious, but yet we somehow tend to pass over them not being able to clearly see them.
The thing you say about asking for help early on makes so much sense, and makes one wonder as for why we are not already implementing it.
However the thing that intrigues me the most is actually the community building process. Or tribe as you’ve wrote. Nowadays it’s so easy to find people that you can correspond with, and make an atmosphere of support. By that not just every problem, but also a shared interest and passion may be acknowledged and help the problem solving process. The help offered there is both ways, and we are more than happy that technology made that easy for us.
Look at this for example- We are here, people around the world, building a community where we can offer or receive a sincere advice about things. I’m also not a native English speaker, but nowadays even language doesn’t seem to be a barrier when it comes to asking and receiving help.
Great article, and many thanks for writing this :)
Yes, you’re right in that some of the points of this post are obvious, but unfortunately things being obvious is not enough – we have to see it clearly and take action. Often we do know what to do (exercise and eat healthy and you will lose weight) but don’t do it (stay overweight).
Personally, having a “tribe” of people around me that I can trust and that are in the same situation has been crucial for me. It’s just such a support system and an opportunity to learn and grow. I’m grateful every day for the people I have around me.
Thank you for commenting!
I really appreciate your perspective in this article, especially the comment about equating the ask for help with trust. I completely agree. I think it is a way we demonstrate our trust and respect for each other by our disclosures – they tell another that we believe that they will hold our concern with reverence and that the perceived weaknesses are not our true identity. I think that is what we are all here for…to support one another and be a witness to our experience. Imagine a world where it was not only the norm to ask for guidance and help but encouraged for its inherent wisdom.
Thanks for the great read!
Thank you for the comment and for expanding on the article – I think the only way to make that world reality is to start little by little. Seen the movie Pay it Forward? That’s a beautiful example of how what we do for others has a greater impact than we can imagine. Yes, I know it’s fiction! But I believe that despite being fiction it is close to the truth.
i agree too – it’s when I’ve opened up with troubles I’ve found the bestest of friends!!!!
we need to be pure in our intentions, and give help too :)
Glad you had the same experience with friends when you opened up. Thank you for commenting.
You are so right in this article. Unfortunately, asking for help is a big step that someone has to do in order to evolve not only in business but in life too. I have recently read a book with the title “the man who wanted to be happy” where a Guru from Bali teaches a French guy how to find happiness. In this book it is clearly mentioned that asking for help is something very useful. It is a habit we all need to have in order to realize our projects and dreams.
Some of us don’t even ask for help because we are afraid of being rejected. But, if we don’t ask for something we cannot assume the answer. We don’t do lots of progress in our life if we don’t learn to ask for support, for help and advice.
Your article is a great reminder for me too because even if I read that book I am not following always the lesson. I am currently working to build my one online business and obtain business independence. I am new to this world and there are many things that confuse me, many difficulties as well. i confess that I don’t ask for help very often. SOmetimes this happen just because I cannot precise my problem, make it clear and then ask for help…
Thank you for sharing.
Thank you for the book tip, I’ll check it out. You’re so right with what you said that we can’t assume the answer we’ll get. Reminds me of that Wayne Gretzky quote, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”.
I can relate to your situation with building an online business, let me know if there’s anything I can do. Sometimes it’s easier to ask for help when someone’s offering ;)
Wow. Asking for help is such an under-discussed aspect of success. I really appreciate the guidelines about how to ask for help…especially the one about *who* to ask for help from. This can be such a powerful (or debilitating) experience depending on who you ask for assistance from.
Sometimes, when we face insecurities, the temptation is to just jump on the band wagon of anyone volunteering to help. I know that I have wasted time and money with the wrong (for me) coach in the past. I was looking for someone to rescue me from my own life and unhappiness, and so I just reached out to the one who was the best marketer, essentially.
This person wasn’t nefarious in their intentions, but they weren’t able to really help me. I was not able to help myself, so it was a unsatisfactory experience all around.
Steve, thank you for expanding on my point and sharing your personal experience. It’s so easy to first be blocked, not asking anyone for help, and then start by desperately asking anyone. Ultimately, it’s about taking responsibility for your life and your problem even when you are getting help. Otherwise it’s easy to get stuck with people who want to help but are doing it “their way” rather than focusing on what we actually need.