Asking for Help

1 February 2016 by Lisa Meloncon

There have been a number of converging factors that have led me to this blog topic. The particular stories that are behind this post aren’t necessarily important, but what I found interesting by them is the question that appeared in each and every one of them.

Why is that we have so much difficulty asking for help?

I don’t know why that is, and since I’m not trained in psychology, all my answers would be bound up in my own reading, observing, and experiencing. Instead, I want to just talk about why it’s ok to ask for help and encourage you to do so.

So what do I mean when I say asking for help? Well, I mean that when you have a question or a concern or something that you can’t do alone that you take a breath and ask for someone to help you.

Let me just highlight some of the ways that I’ve asked for help this week, and I didn’t feel bad about it.

  • Sent someone read a really, really shitty first draft that had things like [insert example here that works as transition] and [trying to say this but I don’t know if I can say it based on the evidence I have]
  • Took a chance and had a conversation with someone I had never met and asked for help with a big data/computational project. Kind of like a cold call, but it was a warm call. But it was still sort of weird and scary, and it’s not something that I can do by myself.
  • Talked through some local issues about what I wanted to do about a particularly thorny issue
  • Spoke candidly with my dean about the ways I needed to be supported (and I realize not everyone has this sort of access, but for me and my situation, he’s an important resource and supporter. Just insert your chair or program director or trusted senior person)
  • Shared teaching materials in hopes of getting feedback on a new method I’m trying
  • Asked folks I owed things to be patient a little while longer cause I had to wrap something else up (that ran over in the schedule)

I could go on. Really, I could. Yes, all of these are regular aspects of my job, but every one of them was made easier because I was not afraid to ask for help

Asking for help doesn’t show weaknesses. In fact, it is a measure of strength. Now, I get how hard it is and that sometimes you’re not certain who to ask or when to ask. I get that some local situations aren’t really conducive to asking for help, but heck, that’s why we started #womeninTC to help with that.

Asking for help is also not as scary as you think, particularly after you do it a time or two, and it works out ok. . If you’re not asking folks for help on these sorts of small stakes things then it makes asking for help on the bigger things that much harder.

Asking for help also ensures that you can different views to be able to better position your own response and what you need/want in any given situation.

My point is to show you that it’s ok to ask for help. You have to ask people for things you need and you need to ask for help in understanding local and field wide issues. Lots of things are made easier when you ask for help and larger, field wide things are often cannot be navigated by yourself. You can’t wait until the year before you go up for tenure to start asking for help. That’s almost too late.

And here’s a news flash. The need for help doesn’t go away. In some ways, it increases because you have to figure out what to do next once you get tenure.

This leads me here. I can’t read your mind—using I here to stand in for all those faculty who’ve been around awhile that often get blamed for not telling people things. I don’t know what your concerns or questions are. So if you find out a hard lesson and then look at me and wonder why I didn’t tell you, I will kindly suggest that you look at your own behaviors first. Does that sound a little harsh? Maybe. But, I repeat, I can’t read your mind. Even if you don’t know the full question you want to ask, you have to actually have to contact someone and say, “I don’t really know what my question is but can we talk about something going on?”

And you know what, I would say, “yes.” I would also not give you suggestions based on just my own view. Believe it or not, I talk to lots of people and collect their wisdom to synthesize and try to pass on to help you.

The one thing that I know—I know—holds people back from asking for help is that they don’t want to be a bother. I also know that some folks say, in an almost rote fashion, to just send things along (to read) or call anytime. I’m sorry for both of these. Really, I am sorry for that.

Because there’s a number of us where that is simply not the case. If the words come out of my mouth, I mean them, and you are not a bother. And I can point you to a number of people (many of which you may know through #womeninTC) who would be happy to talk with you so don’t think you’re stuck with me 🙂

Here’s the time that our schedules start to feel a little stress and we just got done with annual reviews or may be doing (re)appointment paperwork or starting to compile dossiers for tenure or we get a full view that we have over-committed or admin and committee work starts to ramp up and all that is on top of thinking about the spring conference season.

So if you’re feeling overwhelmed or if something comes up and your have questions or concerns, just know that there are people you can talk to. It’s really ok to ask for help, but you have to make the first move.

And I’ll be waiting to take your call.

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