I grew up watching women refuse help, because they could do “everything” on their own. I grew up watching men refuse help, because they were “fine” by themselves. What I learned from the scenes around me was that someone offering help deserved an eye roll, and someone accepting help was weak, flawed.
If we know that doing it all on your own is impossible, why do we make ourselves miserable trying? Is it because we want to prove to the world we are capable? To show that we don’t need anyone else, we’re fine on our own? Or is being good at everything something we strive for because we think we need it to be respected, successful? So we don’t fail?
In an article on CNN, Brené Brown, author of Daring Greatly and a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, wrote, “Perfectionism is a 20-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from being seen and taking flight.”
So how do we let go of this want, need, to be everything to everyone all the time and do it all on our own? How do we become open to help and start to see it as a positive instead of a negative? Here are six suggestions:
Shift Your Perspective
Watch a movie like the Avengers , and you'll see all these superheroes coming together to help save the world. Although in the beginning none of the superheroes is too thrilled about sharing the spotlight, when they realize that together they could create something even greater than they could on their own, that changes everything.
In life, we see ourselves as these individual entities who accomplish feats on our own, but imagine what life would look like if we collaborated more?
We can shift from seeing help as a negative if we focus less on what it’s taking away from us, individually, and more on what it’s creating globally, socially, or on a bigger level.
Know Your Worth
When I’m not comfortable, I usually get defensive, or when I’m around people who make me feel like I don’t know what I’m doing, I often try to show off. This feeling of not being good enough is the fuel that moves us to try and do it all on our own. We want to show others that we can fix the running toilet or soothe the crying child. We want to prove to ourselves that we aren’t worthless.
So how do we do learn our worth? To know what we deserve and to understand that who we are is enough, we have to learn that we are doing the best we can. We aren’t perfect, because we are human, and at the end of the day, all we have left is ourselves. That's why we should be the ones patting ourselves on the back, saying nice things to ourselves in the mirror, listening to ourselves, and respecting our wants and needs. To feel valuable, we have to treat ourselves as worthy.
New York based psychotherapist Susan Solomon says, "Most people find it difficult to ask for help. If we are paralyzed by shame and powerlessness, we feel undeserving of help, unworthy of connection and suspicious of other people's motives." The more you know and believe in who you are, the more open you’ll be to letting others help you, because you’ll no longer see accepting help as evidence of your flawed character. You'll just appreciate the extra hand.
For ways to improve your self-esteem you can start by buying a journal or finding an old notebook. Write what brings you joy, then move on to what you like about yourself. Try this every day for a month and see how you feel.
Know What you Believe
This sounds like an easy one right? Most of us think we know what we want, but then when we’re asked a question like which frame do you like better or do you want the blue or red banner, we're paralyzed by indecision.
We make choices, even the most minor ones, based on what we believe in. So if we’re having a hard time making a choice, or we do and then ask every person we know what they think, we aren’t really sure what we believe in, which means we may not know what we stand for or need. If we aren’t clear on what we need then it’s possible that when someone offers to help we feel overwhelmed, unsure, or too much pressure to make decisions.
Again, pull out your journal. Start by some writing prompts like “I am” and then “I was.” Another one to try is “Things I love.” The more you reinforce who you are, the easier it will be to trust yourself when it comes to making decisions. And so the next time someone offers to help, it won’t feel so daunting and scary, because you'll know exactly what you need.
Know Your Strengths
In their book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, Marcus Buckingham & Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D. write, “Globally, only 20 percent of employees working in the large organizations we surveyed feel that their strengths are in play every day. Most bizarre of all, the longer an employee stays with an organization and the higher he climbs the traditional career ladder, the less likely he is to strongly agree that he is playing to his strengths.” What this means is that companies are operating at only 20 percent capacity.
In other words, we must pay attention to what our strengths are because, as Buckingham and Clifton write in their book, “…you will excel only by maximizing your strengths, never by fixing your weaknesses.” So the focus, ding, ding, ding, is on what we’re good at.
To find where you have the greatest potential for a strength, Buckingham and Clifton have created the StrengthsFinder Test. You’ll have to purchase the book to receive your access code, but the test asks you about two-hundred questions and by the end gives you your five themes of talent. These talents you can then cultivate into strengths. And once you know what you're good at, well, you may be okay with letting someone else takeover where you're not.
Know when to Ask for Help
One of the ways to let others help us is to ask for help when we need it. There are times where I could be working on a piece or trying to solve an issue and no matter how many times I look at it, or think about the different options, I’m still coming up short. Instead of beating myself up for not being able to follow through, I could easily ask someone to help me. Sometimes I don’t, because I don’t want to seem weak, but also because I'm afraid of having my request turned down.
“To be successful, you have to take risks, and one of the risks is the willingness to risk rejection,” writes author and motivational speaker Jack Canfield in his book The Success Principles. “Just by being willing to ask, you can get a raise, a donation, a room with an ocean view, a discount, a free same, a date, a better assignment …”
Canfield says to make a list of the things you want that you don’t ask for at home, school, or work. Then by each one put how you stop yourself from asking. Or the fear that’s holding you back. Then write down the benefit you would get if you did ask.
When I start to hear advice on what I could be doing differently or better, I sometimes stop listening because all I hear is criticism. But, if I pause and tune in to what my friend is saying, it’s much easier to understand where they’re coming from, what their intention is. When I listen to them, my friend becomes human — not someone who's reinforcing my insecurities.
There have been times where I’ve cut someone off before they were done, only to realize after the fact that if I had listened to them, I would have benefited. Listening to the other person means we’re open to other perspectives.
"When we are feeling open and vulnerable we have the ability to take in the gifts of wisdom, compassion and support from those surrounding us," says Solomon.
Most of what we need to let others help us out is a clearer understanding of who we are and what we're capable of. When we have a strong sense of who we are and what we're good at, it's easier to listen to others advice or guidance. Only when we're secure in our own identities can we really see help as opportunity instead of a signal that we are inferior.
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