The Truth About Asking for Help

I’ve never been one to shy away from asking for help.  After putting in what I feel is a reasonable amount of time and energy trying to figure something out, my go-to step is to ask for help.

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For many people, asking for help is seen as a sign of weakness.  This is a natural result of being steeped in a culture that values self-reliance to a fault. 

Yet, too much of a good thing is not a good thing.  Not asking for help when you need it creates unnecessary pressure and bottlenecks productivity.

The real reason people resist asking for help is the fear of being judged.  The ego is clearly at work when this happens.  That pesky little voice inside that tells you being right and having all the answers is the only way to matter. 

Your worth is not dependent upon your intellect.  You matter because you matter. 

Cy Wakeman states in her book, No Ego, “The main thing leaders need to do to defuse the ego is to start by asking good questions.”

When we ask question or ask for help we are admitting we don’t have all the answers.  The ego may not like this, but it’s a good exercise in humility and keeping it real.  When you’re real you give others permission to be real, too.  Not to mention, you will also be more respected.

Case in point, I was at yoga class recently and we were doing some crazy balance pose.  I have weak ankles so I got a little help from the wall.  After class the person behind me told me she appreciated seeing me use the wall and she could benefit from doing the same.

Had I shied away from getting help where I needed it, I would have stayed hidden behind my ego and missed out on a meaningful conversation and an opportunity to inspire someone else. 

As I mentioned earlier, I have never shied away from asking for help after employing my own due diligence.  I attribute this to the early messaging of humility that my parents modeled. 

Growing up on the farm I saw my parents help and be helped by friends and neighbors to get the work done.  The amount of work to be done always exceeded the amount of time available to do it.  If you wanted to make progress, there was no time to waste trying to be too self-reliant. 

The corporate environment is no different.  There are always opportunities to flex your vulnerability by asking for help and reaping the benefit of human connection.

If this is uncomfortable for you, start with awareness.  Reflect on the discomfort that you feel.  Next challenge yourself to ask for help with at least one or two things over the course of the week.  The more you do it, the easier it will become.

You don’t have to have all the answers.  If you did, what would be left to learn?

What's the Secret Ingredient Behind your Best Work?

There’s something missing in our culture today. Something I witnessed growing up on a small Iowa family farm. Coming from a lineage of farmers, there is a distinct daily practice I remember my grandfathers using, a practice that had drifted to the wayside by the time my father was farming: noon-time rest.

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R e s t

After dinner, the meal we call lunch now, my grandfathers rested from their morning labor and recharged for what was yet to come between then and sundown. One grandfather would lay on the dining room floor, much to my delight, while I doctored him up with my nurse’s kit. My other grandfather rested comfortably in his well-worn red chair, hidden behind the pages of the daily news.

It was a time before the internet and cellphones, and I was too young enough to appreciate the practice for the value it afforded: renewal. My grandfathers knew this value; they understood that they needed rest before tackling the next half of their day.

By contrast to my grandfathers’ materials-based work that produced tangible results, my work, like the work of many of you, is knowledge-based, where the results are frequently intangible. Neither theirs nor ours is more valuable than the other, but both are exhausting in their own unique way. They are both work, sustained and challenging efforts toward a goal.

The difference between the work is time. In a bygone era, a day’s work was marked by the rising and setting of the sun. My grandfathers recognized the way to sustain their work. Their noon-time rest stems from an ancient tradition called the Sabbath, which literally means ‘To rest.’ Today, technology affords us the ability to work around the clock; the pace is constant and never-ending. There is no random rest.

Frantic and Frenzied

Adding to the pace and accessibility to our work is the fluidity—we multi-task and stretch ourselves to cover several things at one time. We’re pulled in many directions.

Our breadth of work and reliance on technology creates a constant source of interruptions. Our devices remind us with alerts that emanate at all hours, pulling us back to that project / client, etc. We react to each one, unable to ignore the impulse to check and respond.

Fractured and Fragmented

Layer these technology interruptions on top of typical interruptions that come in a day from people to random events of life, and we suddenly have broken concentration as the norm. These disruptions to our concentration require more energy to overcome—finding our place, recalling a thought, or finishing work are stuttered bursts of energy that tax a person faster than they think.

The result is a fractured sense of work, accomplishment, and completion. Piecemeal completion of work never gives us a chance to feel fulfilled by an outcome or see progress as a linear motion upward. It is fragmented into just an overall sense of work-to-do and lack of time to do it all.

Regain Composure Through Rest

Without rest and recovery, we face a human energy crisis. People are more exhausted and distracted than ever. Modern studies show that, compared to roughly 20 years ago, people are twice as likely to report they are always exhausted due to work.

Rest is one step in a cycle of intensive effort and reluctant recovery. Rest yields insight and creative breakthroughs, something we need more to keep our competitive edge in a world of constant change. Rest is when the brain incubates and evaluates the ideas it generates by way of deep work, a type of work that author Cal Newport defines as the ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task, that in turn, allows you to quickly master complicated information and produce better results in less time.

The rewards of rest are great in the workplace. Studies show that workers who have the chance to get away mentally, experience downtime, and devote their energies to other things they value are more productive, have better attitudes, get along better with their colleagues, and are better able to deal with challenges at work.

Rest is not a luxury; it is a necessity. A necessity that some of the world’s greatest leaders recognized for the part it played in producing their best work: Abraham Lincoln, Jane Goodall, Martin Luther King, Jr, and Dwight Eisenhower understood rest as not merely taking a break, but about renewing, replenishing and restoring.

Still relevant today, rest is vital for people in leadership positions. They have people who depend upon them for clear-eyed vision. A type of vision that can only come from engaging in deep work.

Getting Smart About Career Confidence

I work with high-achieving women, but still, every female client I serve struggles with career confidence to some degree.  Despite their hard-earned success, these women carry with them an underlying sense of self-doubt.

Why Aren’t More Women In Leadership Roles?

They are not alone.  A 2016 survey revealed 63% of women enter the workforce with confidence they can rise to senior management; however, by mid-career that percentage drops to 57%. 

What erodes a woman’s confidence?  What prevents women from achieving leadership?

Early messaging is a significant factor.  Research associates the lack of self-confidence women share to childhood where more emphasis was placed on compliance than on self-efficacy, to replace risk with a relentless pursuit of perfection. Let’s break this down:

Overcoming Risk > Self-efficacy > Confidence (Look what I can do!) 

Compliance / Being Agreeable > Perfectionism > Approval Seeking (Did I do it right / Okay?)

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As they mature and enter leadership roles, women’s growing self-awareness prompts questions like, “How do I position myself in a way that allows me to look and feel more confident?”  And they are turning to new strategies to strengthen their belief in themselves.

One of those strategies is readily accessible:  keeping a confidence log.  Such a log forms the basis for changed behavior.

Why And How It Works?  

Logs bring to the surface real, underlying issues and allow you to practically and systematically find solutions. Actions change behaviors, and the log will lead the way.

To begin, identify and log what is compromising your confidence.  Is it a person who intimidates you?  A particular situation that incites self-doubt?  If weekly meetings sap your confidence, ask yourself, Why?  Take time to think about the reason.  Sense your body’s response.  Where does doubt show up in your body?   

Once the log helps you identify the reason and the trigger, you can begin to initiate change. Sit with each instance you logged and establish a plan. 

For example, if the weekly meeting drives away your confidence because you don’t feel like your report matters or compares to others, now you can address the deeper issues.

For one, stop comparing. You need to approach this as your own contribution. Make it as shiny as any other piece you’re proud to put out there. Spend time beforehand prepping and practicing, even if it’s a two-minute answer.

Focus Equally On Confidence Builders

It’s also important to chart situations that create or initiate confidence.  What makes you come alive?  What causes your confidence to surge?  These are channels for growth toward more confidence and better performance. 

Reflect on how you can position yourself to do more of the work that boosts you. Do you need to use your voice and express that you’re the go-to person for those projects, or lay claim in meetings?

Ready To Log?

Get started by downloading the Confidence Log!  Want to dive deeper into the exercise?  Schedule a free 30-minute career consult.