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

17 Responses to \

  1. I have less difficulty asking for help than I do delegating when I need to. This even translates at home to me not getting the family to help out with household tasks when their help would be invaluable (and have the bonus of teaching my kids greater responsibility and independence). You are reminding me to work on that.

    I have learned that it is imperative for me to have someone to bounce ideas off from time to time. That kind of help has become easy for me to ask for because it so helps me clarify my own thinking process. Social media has made that even more possible because there’s always someone available to respond if you need a second opinion.

  2. Hey, Jennette, you’re writing my story. LOL I have always felt responsible to solve my own problems and to make my own way. As a result, I think, people rarely jump to offer to help (because i turn them down) and then over time, if I do ask, they seem put out. Or is that just me?

    good post. thanks for sharing.

  3. Julie, yes! I am the same way when it comes to delegating! OTOH, my husband has no trouble with this, being a small business owner, and now that he’s around more since he sold the bar, he does a lot of the delegating of chores to our daughter. 🙂

    Pat, it’s definitely not just you. Thanks for letting me know it’s not just me LOL!

  4. Wish I was closer, I’d sure give you a hand. You’re correct: There aren’t enough hours in the day. And it is usually my writing that takes a hit. I have learned to ask for help, mostly in actions 🙂 …if only those around would learn to recognize the pending meltdown! 🙂

  5. I think, as women, we’re programmed to ‘have it all’ and to ‘do it all’. As wives and mothers we’re the like the dark hole that everyone else’s emotion are dumped on. And we bring it upon ourselves by not saying ‘no’.

    I was the world’s worst at taking on too much responsibility with senior management happy to let me. It took getting sick before I stepped back and asked myself what the hell was I doing. I’m still a work in progress and never ask for help until I’m on the brink – which can leave me resentful, tired and a pain in the ass. As well as being unhappy. Now I work from home and STILL take on too much and have unacceptable goals, so I’m my own worst enemy. Stepping away from the internet for a week (I was forced to by Hugo) helped enormously to regain perspective. And I’m doing it again at the end of September for seven days – no internet and pure relaxation.

    I’m lucky, Hugo recognises the signs now and intervenes. He’s a big pussycat but when he puts his foot down with a firm hand, I listen.

    Great post, Jennette. Remember, You Are Not Alone.

  6. Remember that old perfume ad? The woman “brings home the bacon,” cooks it up in a pan, and never lets you forget you’re a man. So she had to work, come home and cook, then be sexy for her man that night. As women we’ve always been expected to do it all, I guess.

    I really do hate asking for help. I keep hoping someone (husband) will notice I need help and just offer. That’s what heroes do, right? And sometimes he does notice and help. Sometimes I have to (gulp!) ask!

  7. Sheri, if we lived closer, I’d return the favor! Unfortunately, when the other stuff piles up, it’s the writing that gets pushed off here, too.

    CC, you’re so right! One of the things that made my travel relaxing this summer was unplugging from the ‘net and social media, even if just for a few days. And thanks for the reminder that we are indeed not alone!

    LOL Michele, I remember that commercial! And you’re so right. I do the same thing – hope someone will notice and volunteer. Sometimes my daughter does, once in a while, my husband does too. So I am grateful!

  8. You are one of the reasons why I wrote my post this week. So many are feeling burnout Jen. I tend to agree with Christine, that women take on most things. It’s how we’re hard-wired. But still, I think it takes learning how much we are capable of doing, knowing our limitations. That is not an easy thing to do. But it sounds like you are on the road to recovery. So happy for you. And to answer your question, I’ve never had a hard time delegating. But, I’ve never been a bundle of energy either. So I go in spurts and play catch-up/fall-behind, unless I get help. My hubby is really good with his support. I am so grateful, believe me. Thanks for this encouraging post Jennette! Take care! 🙂

  9. I’ve always been very responsible and hated asking for help. I would spend extra time working on something trying to figure it out, so I didn’t have to ask. And because I’m a hands on kind of person, I taught myself a lot. But this past year because of medical issues, I had to ask for help. Actually, I really didn’t have to. I had family and friends who were more than willing. Who have always been more than willing. It was just hard for me to let them. And while I felt guilty at first, I came to realize that it was okay. That we all sometimes need help. And being able to help others makes us feel good too.

  10. Karen, thanks so much! Catch up, fall behind seems to be my MO too. I am really thankful that my family does step in – if I just ask!

    Rhonda, you’re describing me exactly – spend too much time working on something just so I don’t have to ask. It is a great way to learn, especially in my day job, but sometimes it’s better to just buckle under and ask, so we can get the job done. Thanks for stopping by!

  11. I’ve posted several entries on my blog concerning writer’s block, trying to get to the light at the end of the tunnel [typing that elusive FINAL PERIOD of my manuscript, as well as THE MUSES I heard in my head recently. Instead of trying to post the essence of what I’ve said, and not missing anything, I’d like to invite everyone to check out this portion of my website/blog

    Here’s the link:

    [Look in my blog for the “My 1st YA Paranormal Book Status section]

    Would love to hear feedback and if this has helped anyone cope with they’re going through regarding this matter.

  12. It’s a hard habit to break, Jennette. I was raised to do it all on my own. When folks in the neighborhood approached my dad about the bullies I dodged on a daily basis, and the hurled stones when I couldn’t get away fast enough, his response was “let them piss her off, they’ll only do it once.” He said this with pride while I was in the room. This was after four years of this bullying that at one point even had the bully follow me into my backyard to pick a fight. Needless to say, I never learned to ask for help. What I learned was to never ask for help, to find a way to do it myself no matter the cost. Now I have dear, sweet loving people in my life, who very much want to help me, and most times I don’t even realize that asking for help is an option. The hard part right now is accepting help when these loving souls see that I don’t know how to ask, so rather than offer, they step in and grab hold of some of my load to share the burden. I treasure these souls, and hope one day, to not break into tears at the thought of somebody actually wanting to help me.


    I’ve posted several entries on my blog concerning writer’s block, trying to get to the light at the end of the tunnel [typing that elusive FINAL PERIOD of my manuscript, as well as THE MUSES I heard in my head recently. Instead of trying to post the essence of what I’ve said, and not missing anything, I’d like to invite everyone to check out the “My 1st YA Paranormal Book Status] by clicking on my name.

    Would love to hear feedback and if this has helped anyone cope with they’re going through at the present time regarding this matter.

  14. Charis, thanks for sharing your story. Sad that these things happen – I was picked on as a kid too, but not to this extent. But it’s true that what doesn’t kill us indeed makes us stronger. We’ll just have to keep working at learning to ask for help!

    Robin, congrats on finishing your manuscript, and good luck with the upcoming revisions!

  15. I don’t know why, but I don’t like to ‘impose’ on people. I seldom asked to borrow a cup of sugar or an egg from a neighbor or other little things like that. Yet I didn’t mind when I was asked to help! Go figure! But the tech stuff, I’m a complete tech idiot, and am forced to seek help, but I usually spend hours trying to figure it out myself first, shed a thousand tears, and when I’m at the end of my rope, I ask for help. I’m so glad I have writer peeps who are so supportive and helpful. My WANA friends and other writer peeps have saved my sanity many times. I’d have worn out umpteen strait jackets by now if it wasn’t for all of you.

    I struggle with burnout these days. I know I’m supposed to post something if I’m not going to blog for a bit, but it’s hard to do when I’m having a meltdown, so I just drop out of cyber sight here and there, totally unplanned but totally necessary! Your job sounds very demanding. I’m just glad you got Time’s Enemy and Time’s Fugitive published because they rock and are still two of my favorite books. Seriously.

    Have a great Labor Day Weekend, Jennette!

  16. Independence is instilled in most of us from an early age. As toddlers we want to dress ourselves, feed ourselves and do whatever on our own. That urge for independence doesn’t get any weaker as we grow older. Asking for help is akin to admitting defeat in some quarters. The problem is the older we get, the more we are going to need help. We might as well learn how to ask for it now. LOL.

  17. LOL very true, Catherine! Along the same lines, I’ll bet first and only children have a harder time with this than most (I’m a first).