Remember when we used to look stuff up in Encyclopedias?
(“Huh"?”, say the under 40s...) It was one of only ways to figure things out. We went down our own versions of rabbit holes by looking through the “F” chapter while recording our mixtapes on our fancy double cassette players…(oooooh the fun..). Or we tinkered with things for hours to find that one little thing that could be fixed. If all else failed, we asked. And most of the time, we learned the answer.
Somewhere along the way, as we build our “careers” and as the internet made the world bigger and smaller at the same time, we found it harder to ask. I’ve always find it easy to ask questions - curiosity being a natural tendency as a creative person - but asking for help? Now, that’s a whole different story. Often in corporate, asking for help is a double-edged sword. You’re expected to, but when you do, if you don’t phrase it JUST right…then it could go many different, not-so-positive ways.
In the last month, I’ve had to re-learn to ask for help. I’ve had to acknowledge that there is only so much internet searching and tinkering I can do to figure stuff out. I am realizing that asking makes me and my product stronger. It nurtures the purpose of what I’m trying to build. (Sounds sooooo easy, right?!)
A few weeks ago, I asked someone for help after what I thought was a pretty open initial conversation about how we could mutually help each other. When I made the “formal” ask, it appeared I offended her and she declined. She offered an alternative, I agreed after profusely apologizing for my misunderstanding, then she never followed through.
It stung for a few minutes, then I realized - no, wait. I’ve done nothing wrong. People who offer to help upfront should also offer patience and understanding to those newer to the game. If you have boundaries on how you help people, then it’s on you to communicate it, not for others to mystically translate it.
In Amanda Palmer’s stunning book/TedTalk “The Art of Asking” she nails it: “Everybody struggles with asking. it isn’t so much the act of asking paralyzes us - it’s what lies beneath: the fear of being vulnerable, the fear of rejection, the fear of looking needy or weak. The fear of being a burdensome member of the community instead of a productive one.”
“We have to truly believe in the validity of what we’re asking for - which can be incredibly hard work and requires a tight rope walk about the doom valley of arrogance and entitlement.”
Hopefully, just hopefully, people will feel good about helping back. You put your faith in that. And if it doesn’t give you the outcome you are looking for, hopefully you “embrace the no”, as Amanda describes it. And you try again.