Hi. I’m Yoo-Sun. And asking for help is one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve learned to do.
To me, asking for help at work is like admitting I’m not good at something and my stubborn nature says that’s the equivalent of failing at my job.
I recently had a week of difficult to-do’s with work. I had one week to write a report on millennial spending habits, figure out patterns in goal setting behavior, organize and plan the details of our next meetup event, clean up messy operational items and write this post. I struggled to complete the tasks by myself and failed.
After missing the first deadline, and the second, and the third, a talk with my business partner helped me realize that my refusal to ask for help, when I clearly needed it, was costing our startup the one thing we couldn’t afford to lose…time. For the sake of our goals, I had to let go of my pride and ask for help. So I did, and our results drastically changed for the better.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably been pushed to the edge (or beyond) before surrendering and asking for help at your job. Maybe you’re a nurse working long, stressful shifts managing staff and patients all day, or a consultant who’s always on the go juggling travel, jet lag and deadlines, or a first-time entrepreneur trying to make sense of the in’s and out’s of the startup world…
It’s not easy or natural for those of us who are proud and protective of our work to recognize when we’re overwhelmed. But now that I’ve seen the other side, I can tell you that asking for help when you need it will only make you better at what you do.
Below, I’ve highlighted a few of the challenges I’ve experienced. Check out how I reversed frustrating situations into positive outcomes, just by asking for a little help.
Challenge 1: I need to learn a new skill to finish a project and I don’t know where to start.
The Struggle Is Real: long hours, slow progress, missed deadlines, information overload
A lot of my most challenging tasks require me to learn new skills and techniques fast. Of course, I’ve tried to do this myself and used the internet, books, online ed, YouTube, podcasts, articles and forums to piece together what I needed, but I’ve wasted so much time sifting through the millions of options that I’ve lost hours of sleep and missed too many deadlines trying to figure it out myself.
My Suggested Action: Ease into the practice of asking by starting with small asks from those you trust. Here are some ideas I’ve tried: Ask a family member to help you with a chore. Ask a coworker to double-check your grammar on an email. Ask a friend for their opinion on your outfit.
My Results: Practicing with small asks has helped build my tolerance when needing to ask for bigger things. Because I’m getting over the discomfort of asking, I’m getting the help I need when I need it, meeting my deadlines and producing work I actually like. When I finally asked for help from my expert friends or their expert friends, not only did I get the necessary information faster, I also received a customized learning experience in a sliver of the time it took me to read all the articles I could find on the subject. This allowed for faster absorption of the information I needed and easier navigation of the task at hand.
Challenge 2: I have too much on my plate but I don’t want anyone to think I can’t handle it.
The Struggle Is Real: unrealistic expectations, lack of communication, misunderstandings
I can’t tell you how much asking for help can affect your working relationships. Keeping my struggles to myself did nothing but create frustration and mistrust in my abilities. I was essentially over-promising and under-delivering, disappointing myself and the team with every missed deadline.
My Suggested Action: Make SMART goals. Take a look at your goals for the week. Are they: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound? If not, save yourself the disappointment of failing to meet them at the end of the week and rework each one to make it SMART. You can use a S.M.A.R.T. Goals template as your guide. Download the template directly by clicking here.
My Results: Planning my goals in a SMART way has helped me better define them and manage the time needed to complete them. Clear communication of timelines has made us a stronger and faster team. Accepting the fact that I needed help and having this discussion with my team created the best working relationships we’ve had to date. We’re now more empathetic about each other’s strengths (confidences) and weaknesses (embarrassments) and honest about our timelines and goals. By asking for help, we’re giving ourselves a better chance to learn how to better manage ourselves, the business and each other.
Challenge 3: I’m struggling to solve a problem but I insist on figuring it out by myself.
The Struggle Is Real: poor results, single-minded approach, slow learning curve
My ego was the hardest thing to get over, and for the longest time I refused to believe that I’m someone who couldn’t do it all. This experience made me realize I was ultimately losing because I was missing opportunities.
My Suggested Action: Barter for help. The next time you need help and want to save face, offer up your expertise in exchange for the help you’re asking for. If you end up loving this kind of give and take, you could either start a barter group with a handful of your friends or join sites like Simbi to barter with people looking to exchange talents, skills, and services.
My Results: Letting go of my ego and asking for help instead of trying to force answers out of me has made me better at doing my job alone. Never asking for help closes you out of opportunities of insight and improvement. When you ask for help, you’re essentially asking another person to share their take on how they would approach your situation based on their expertise and experiences. I’ve gained so many different perspectives since asking for help from others that I’ve actually become better at problem solving and getting unstuck when I’m working alone. It almost doesn’t make sense but asking for help has made me better at figuring it out by myself.
It may not be easy to ask for help, but it’s important to consider how long you can sustain working alone and continue to grow. These are just a few benefits I experienced, but I guarantee even thinking about asking for help this way will greatly improve your work life. Double check your mood, energy and your intentions to make sure your challenges about asking for help aren’t preventing you from achieving your goals. You may discover a helping hand could change your life for the better.