Why is it so Hard to Ask for Help?

A couple weeks ago, I blogged about courting burnout. As writers, we face a lot of obstacles when it comes to getting the words on the page, massaged into something worth reading, and out the door. Actually, this is true for many people, especially those who work multiple jobs (I consider writing a second job), have kids of an age that require a lot of hands-on attention, or have a time-consuming hobby. More often than not, it seems there just aren’t enough hours in a day.

A little help makes a career – and other things! – grow

Go long enough like that, and it gets stressful. To heap logs on the stress-fire, many writers get stressed out even more if they go for more than a few days without writing. It’s not a deadline issue, the not-writing in itself adds to the stress, making the writer like the can of pop that’s been left in the freezer too long.

One way to alleviate the not-enough-hours-in-the-day problem is to ask for help. When I got help on an issue I was having in my day job, this went a long way to reduce stress. My helper didn’t even end up doing anything; I was able to fix some of the problems, and others resolved themselves, but just knowing someone else was helping made all the difference.

At home when there’s too much to do and my family can see me getting stressed, they sometimes offer to help. Sometimes, there’s nothing they can do – the writing stuff, I have to do, and other tasks (typically involving computer work) fall outside of their technical capabilities. But I did have my daughter spend some time uploading photos to a client’s website, and it took a great load off, even though it only took her an hour. And yes, I paid her, since I was being paid for the work, a win-win.

So why is it so hard to ask for help?

I didn’t need to very often as a kid – my responsibilities mainly consisted of simple chores and getting my homework done. Occasionally, I needed help with math, and I had no problem asking my dad for help. But this was only occasional.

Maybe I never learned to ask for help.

Or it may have stemmed from my first “real” job. I was a one-woman art department for a building products manufacturing company. I worked in the marketing department, but I was the only graphic designer – everyone else was more focused on business-to-business sales. I had investigated professional organizations, but they really didn’t do anything for me. I didn’t have a professional network, seeing as this was my first job in the field. So there simply wasn’t anyone I could ask for for help.

I was also the only person in my company who used a Mac – back then, you couldn’t run professional-level graphic design programs on a Windows computer. For many years, no one in our IT department knew much about Macs, so I was on my own there, too. About a year before I left the company, they hired an IT guy who welcomed the challenge of working with my Mac. He helped me get the Mac online, which led to me learning HTML and making a career change. But at my next job – my first in web development –  I started out, once again, as the only person in the company with graphic design experience.

By then, my reluctance to ask for help was fully ingrained. I wanted to move more into the developer side of the business, because there wasn’t enough design work to keep me busy full-time. Also, the more I got into programming, the more I liked it. Some of my coworkers were glad to help when I had questions. But others would say, “that’s what we have programmers for,” like I was beneath that exalted status.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t try to figure out things on our own first – or at least search for answers on the web. Figuring it out ourselves is the best way to make what we’re learning stick. But when we’re spending too much time trying to find answers and not getting anywhere, it makes more sense – both for us, and for the company and clients who are paying us – to ask for help.

At that first job in software development, I gained several technical certifications and the respect of several of my coworkers. Management never saw me as anything other than a graphic artist who could do a bit of development. But at my next job, I was hired as a developer, and treated as an equal of the other developers. At that job and in my current one, I’m part of a team, and while I might sometimes spend more time than I should trying to figure out something on my own, I have great resources on which to call for help.

It’s still hard to do, but I think I’m getting better.

What about you? Do you have a hard time asking for help? Why do you think that is? Or if not, do you have any suggestions for us recovering holdouts?

Photo by fotolia.com via Microsoft Office Clipart

Burnout: Better than Fading Away?

Monday was the second time I’ve missed a blog since I started over a year ago.

I had time to write a post the day before. I decided to play computer games instead.

My brother, in our dad’s old Camaro. Unfortunately, this is not the kind of burnout I’m talking about.

I had a topic lined up. Between a motorcycle I’d ridden only twice all summer, and this post by Kristen Lamb, I knew I needed a “play” break, and I took a nice ride Saturday to do just that. And wound up taking photos to go with a My Town Monday blog post. But honestly, it was a play break.

But when it came down to it, I Just. Didn’t. Want to.

When I am not sitting at my computer at a place where I can write a blog, I have all kinds of great ideas. If it’s something new, I note it on my Blog Ideas document on my phone, which gets backed up to Dropbox and is always available on my computer. But when I’m not at my computer in a place where I can write a blog, I also get great words for said blogs. Then I go home and when I am sitting at my computer, I Just. Don’t. Want to.

So this week I didn’t.

I’ve been having this kind of blah feeling way too often. It’s been bad all summer, and I don’t think it’s a “summertime blues” thing. It’s not just blogging, either. It’s the day job (which I like!), other things around home, and even writing fiction. No motivation to do anything!

A lot of times when I’m trying to figure out what to do in a case like this, I ask myself what would I tell a friend who told me these things.

In this case, I would ask her, could she be depressed?

But I have not been feeling sad. Just unmotivated – to do anything – and tired, both physically and mentally.

One thing I have managed to do this summer is to (mostly) keep up with exercise. I do three interval workouts on the treadmill every week, plus a couple of shorter workouts doing things like pushups, crunches, lunges, etc. The main reason I started was because I hoped it would help me be less tired.

It hasn’t helped noticeably. (I get to read on the treadmill, so that helps keep me motivated.)

Then I read this blog by Louise Behiel and saw myself all over it. I took the quiz linked from the blog, and the results did not surprise me.

I’m heading toward burnout.

It’s not my job – at least, not by itself.

It’s not the writing – I haven’t been doing that much of it.

It’s not the social media – I’ve cut way back on that, feeling this whole burnout thing coming on.

It’s the combination.

At work, I have one project where the client keeps having one problem after another with a web application my team developed (and I am currently the sole developer on). None of these problems appeared during testing, and I haven’t been able to reproduce them outside of his installation. But I’ve seen the issues, and it’s incredibly frustrating on many counts. I take a lot of pride in my day job work, and I take it personally when I can’t meet a client’s expectations, even when it’s no fault of my own. The client’s been great to work with – really, very understanding through all of this – and I hate letting people down, especially people I like. And, I know how frustrating it is to not be able to do my job because of something stupid like computer problems that are out of my control, and I hate it that my product is putting my client into that situation.

At home and with the writing, I have the age-old too much to do, not enough time to do it.

But like Louise’s post said, burnout is not a fun place to be, so I had to do something about it – three things, in fact:

1. At work, I asked for help, something I have a very hard time doing. The areas of the application where the problems occur are areas that aren’t in my main expertise, so hopefully my colleagues will be able to figure out something I wasn’t able, and I can move on to other things that will help my client.

2. At home, I’m making a concerted effort to focus on one thing at a time – and when I’m done, go ahead and play computer games.

I also got a call from my doctor yesterday with some news that surprised me: I have borderline hypo-thyroidism. After further discussion, we decided to just test again in six weeks or so to see if it’s still low, rather than jump into medication right away. It’s not low enough to necessarily have noticeable effects, but then again it could be adding to my tiredness. So #3 is, check to see if there’s a physiological cause.

What about you? Are you, or have you come close to burnout? What did/are you doing about it?