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