July 20, 2010

Maybe It's Me: Asking for Help, or, The Importance of Interdependence

Why is it so hard to ask for help?

We seem to have no problem exasperatedly demanding someone help us when we’re frustrated by something we can’t do or figure out ourselves, or are being bested by. But to preemptively go to someone, admit that we can’t do or take on something by ourselves, and simply ask for their assistance is nearly impossible for most people to naturally do.

Is it because we feel like we’re a hindrance to the person or people we’re asking?

Is it because we find it self-deprecating?

Is it because we live in a world that so values independence and self-sustainability that as a result we now severely undervalue the importance of interdependence and solidarity?

Whatever it is, our society on a whole is sorely lacking the ability to graciously ask for and accept help, and, maybe it’s me, but it’s something I think we need to work on (along with the ability to apologize) to be able to grow as a person and as a people.

Most of the time, I don’t ask for help.

In some instances, I know I should and I simply don’t. I think I’m convinced that it will make me a stronger person if I can forge ahead and try and complete something on my own, despite the struggle.

In other instances, through past experience, I know better than to attempt something without the guidance or assistance of another person.

And yet, there are instances when, not only do I not ask for help, the thought doesn’t even cross my mind. I’m not sure why this is; why there are moments when I don’t even entertain the idea of someone helping me. I realize how much more efficiently things can be done with more than one set of hands, eyes, or knowledge. Why don’t I apply it more often?

Why don’t any of us?

Not so long ago, I came to the (altogether slow) realization that my dream of being a writer wasn’t some great hero’s quest of solitude I originally thought it was supposed to be. I sunk my entire life into the self-publishing of my first book, exhausting myself of all my resources and funds to do so. There were a plethora of excellent opportunities for me to take advantage of, but I had no money in which to do it with.

It looked like I had two options left: I either found the funds to carry on, which would lead me one step closer to being picked up by a major publishing house; or, I had to simple give it up, accepting the fact that I had carried the book as far as it would go.

Laying in bed, sadly speculating whether or not my little-indie-book-that-could which had won eleven awards and was being sold in a half dozen locations had reached the end of her life, I suddenly wondered: why was I doing this on my own? Why had I tried to take on what was proving to be one of my life’s biggest challenges all by my lonesome? I can repeatedly ask for help when I need something simple, like taking an item down from a tall shelf, but asking for help just once where my life’s greatest dream was involved seemed off-limits.

I began researching funding options for writers, and I ended up coming across a site that encourages self-driven grassroots fundraising campaigns for creative ideas or ambitious endeavors. After screening your project and deciding whether or not it fits their criteria, they allow you to raise funds through pledges from friends and fans. The catch is that you have to choose a specific amount of money you want to raise in a specific time frame, and if you don't succeed you don't get ANY of the funds.

If my book was going to be resuscitated to continue breaking the independently published stereotype, this was going to be how it would get done. I thought long and hard about it, fully aware of how the economy had not been kind to any of us. And when our economy isn't thriving, luxury items - including "the arts" - tend to be what suffer the fastest and hardest. Would my friends and family have a little extra cash to put into fundraising my book's marketing endeavors?

There was only way to find out: I needed to ask for help.

Yes, I felt like I was nothing more than hindrance to those I asked.

Yes, I felt it was, in part, self-deprecating.

And yes, because of the culture I grew up in, like so many other people in my generation, I tremendously value my independence and self-sustainability, even more so as a young woman. Maybe I sometimes overvalue it.

But, swallowing my pride and putting my stubborn nature aside, I graciously and humbly asked for help from my friends and family to assist me in raising the funds I needed to continue to chase down my dream of being a writer. This was something I’d wanted my entire life, and being so close – feeling like I was on the brink of something enormous - I had to put my ego in check and do that which should come natural to us, yet tends to be one of man’s greatest struggles (and as a result has caused massive catastrophes throughout history).

After all, we weren’t created to do it, or go it, alone.

I was awestruck – I still am - at the help I received. At the over-abundance of support, encouragement, and love that was poured out towards me and my book’s fundraising endeavors. It was an amazing reminder of the overwhelming selflessness and beauty we truly are capable of as individuals, and as a group of people. We have the ability to raise up or shut down our fellow man, and that’s an awful lot of power we don’t realize we have. When we do lift someone up, we end up doing so much more for that person than what they may have simply asked for.

The help I originally asked for was that my financial needs were going to be met. What I didn’t realize was that I also had unrecognized emotional needs that were more than taken care of through the process. I had begun doubting myself as a writer and had questioned whether or not the book was even good enough to begin with. I began beating myself up for not winning every award I applied for, for not being picked up by a publishing house, for spending so much time marketing and promoting the book I had completely stopped writing.

But, while the funds were being met, so was the giant hole in my faith. I was completely reassured that writing was what I was created to do, that the book really was something extraordinary as it changing other people’s lives, and that for a one-man operation I had done vastly incredible things in the one year the book had been published. I reconnected with people who wanted to talk about the book and it’s fundraising, made new friends, learned a tremendous amount about the power of a single voice, and realized that I was never alone in this endeavor.

No man really ever is.

Especially those that can remember to simply ask for help. For any and everything: from reaffirming their beliefs to simply getting something down off a too-tall shelf.

Have you asked for help recently? For whatever?

It might be the hardest thing you’ve done to yourself in a long time.

But, I promise, it’ll be the best thing you’ve done for yourself in an even longer time.