Photo by marc falardeau
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.