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Learning to Ask For Help (And Accepting It)

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Why is asking for help (and then accepting it!) so, so hard? It just is, right?! Well today, I’m going to dive into what I think are the 4 obstacles preventing us from asking for help and accepting it. Then, of course, 4 tips for how we can stop doing that so that we can start to live a better, balanced, life. Let’s get to it.

learning to ask for help and accepting it:
With Rupa Wong

There was a group that I belonged to with a lot of busy, working, professional women. Moms specifically. In this group, someone was complaining. They were talking about how overwhelmed they were with kid drop offs, work, meals, all that. She had something coming up where she wasn’t going to be able to do all these things and she was lamenting the fact that none of her friends or family members had offered to help.

My first thought was, “Did you ask for help?”. Sure enough, other people chimed in to ask if she had asked for help and she had not- she had wanted people to offer help. And here’s the thing- even though my knee-jerk reaction was to respond, “Well… you didn’t ask!” I know when I am faced with the exact same situation in the past, I’ve had a really difficult time asking for help.

It’s so much easier when it is simply offered. I wanted to break-down the reasons I think that is. I think tied into that is the fact that sometimes even when people offer help, we push against it and don’t want to accept it.

This happened to me this week as I was recovering from my hysterectomy. My good friend offered to bring me lunch and I don’t know why (well, I do know why now that I’ve broken it down), but initially I wanted to say no and say, “I’ve got this!”. And that was not the case. I definitely didn’t have this. I couldn’t really get out of bed, I wasn’t supposed to do heavy lifting, house cleaning, and cooking. My husband did so much in terms of handling the children, but thinking about the fact that I would be at home without any help without meals lined up was a lot. So, why did I initially feel like I couldn’t even accept help when offered? 

 

Obstacle 1: Admitting You Aren’t Superwoman

This is where it gets really interesting. Did you know, there is a syndrome called “superwoman syndrome” and it’s a subtype of “imposter syndrome”? Or as Dr. Pauline Clance, the psychologist that actually coined this phrase says, “Impostor Phenomenon.”

What it means is, you think you are only perceived as competent when you are able to juggle numerous roles and responsibilities simultaneously. And that failing even a little bit in one role, whether parent or lawyer, constitutes an overall failure even in the context of major success.

So this is one type of Imposter Phenomenon that I have had to battle with a lot and I think many of us do. We feel like we need to do it all. And that’s a common theme, right? Letting go of the need to do it all. Not just the need to do it all, but the fact that just because you cannot do it all, it doesn’t mean you aren’t competent overall.

So when you ask and accept help, you’re admitting to yourself that it’s okay that you can’t do it all. It’s okay that I didn’t prepare in advance and cover all my meals for my post-op recovery period. It doesn’t mean that I juggle things any less well or am less of a mother or person or whatever.

That’s what it comes down to and that can be the biggest obstacle when it comes to accepting help because we feel like we’re falling short. We think we should be able to do this and when we don’t, what does that say about us?

A lot of my persona is tied to being the one that can do it all and you gotta let. That. Go. You’re just going to burn yourself out when you have people that are there and willing to support you! They want to bring you lunch when you’re recovering from surgery! So, let them. They most certainly are not thinking that about you- you are the only one thinking that about yourself. I truly believe that battling that subtype of imposter phenomenon is the biggest obstacle in many of us asking for help.

Obstacle 2: Guilt

We fear that we are burdening others when we ask for help. We don’t want to impose. We know people are busy and have kids of their own. Maybe they’re involved in this charity or room mom for this class and we feel bad. Especially about burdening a family member, friend, or colleague. Because we all know- it is hard and life is busy! 

 

But, I guarantee you the people who offer, and the list of people you would even think about asking for help, they want to be there for you. They want to support you at this time. Please don’t use the perception that you are burdening them without even asking. 

 

Now, I am hoping that if they truly are burdened, they will simply say “no” in a kind way and offer some other manner of assistance. Maybe they admit they can’t do it, but they get you in touch with their assistant to help you out. Whatever it is. Hopefully you have that kind of community, it’s just this guilt barrier that’s preventing you from asking. I suspect you do. I know I have that community but it was always the guilt of asking another fellow working mom to do something for me because I felt it would be overwhelming. That’s not the case- so don’t make the decision for your friends and family. 


Allow them to make their own decisions! If you are someone who feels like you struggle to say “no” sometimes then you should really check out my guide that coaches you through weighing the decision in front of you and deciding if you are able to say “yes” or “no”. Find it here.

Obstacle 3: Pushing Through Solo

This one gets a little bit reflective. There’s this notion, that’s tied up in the imposter phenomenon too, but this feeling that we have to push-through this difficult time solo. I don’t know where this feeling started. Sometimes it can be because we look at others and think that if they can do it by themselves, we can too. Right? 

I think that’s where the Imposter Phenomenon comes into play a little bit- if we can’t do it all what is our worth? But you don’t need to suffer. You don’t need to endure it solo. Even if somebody cannot offer physical help, sometimes all you need is someone to talk to about these things. 

This feeling that as women this is our lot to bear has a lot to it and my husband will call me on it… a lot. He’ll remind me I don’t need to do this alone because he’s there. I don’t know why, but I felt for so long that I needed to prove to myself that I could do it and I could endure a difficult period of time by myself. But there is no reason to do so.

Obstacle 4: A Sense of Debt

If you ask for help and someone offers, you may feel like you have to pay it back. You’ve got to get rid of that tit-for-tat relationship. That’s not the kind of relationship I hope you have with your friends and family. It’s not a payment or barter system. You’re there for people when they need you and similarly they are there for you when you need them.

 

I think this comes from women putting a lot on themselves and feeling like it’s their duty. Not so much that the other person asked to be paid back, but you just feel like you should. But, I promise you, your good friends and family are not expecting for that debt to be paid back. My friend that took me to the hospital the day of surgery, my friends that have brought me meals- I know they don’t expect a meal in return. But that is the nature of friendship. That I want to be there for them when the roles are reversed. To quantify it as a debt that needs to be paid or feeling like it’s a debt that needs to be paid back- that’s self-inflicted. Again, that’s a thought process we need to get rid of. 

 

These are all obstacles that I face when asking for and accepting help. Every single one. Especially just the asking. Period. It’s so much easier when someone offers. It’s something about asking that feels hard for me. I’m not used to asking for help and it takes a lot of self-reflection to overcome these obstacles. So, that’s where we get into my 4 tips for being able to enact this type of advice.

Tip 1: Recognize You Don’t Have to Go Alone

It doesn’t make you superwoman to do so and it doesn’t mean that you are a better mother if you go through these difficult periods by yourself. It just doesn’t.

Tip 2: Lean on Others

It doesn’t make you less than to lean on others. That goes hand in hand with tip 1. Playing off that superwoman syndrome of the imposter phenomenon- that subtype. You don’t have to go it alone and it doesn’t mean you are deficient or lacking in any way by doing so.

Tip 3: Pay it Forward

Now, I want to challenge you. I said you don’t need to think about these favors or help in a way that’s a debt, but I think you can think about it like you are paying it forward. It’s wonderful and I think it’s really how our village is built. I will say over and over again that the life that I lead is not because I am the best planner in the world. I like to think I’m pretty good at systems and productivity, but it is also because I have a fantastically supportive village around me. Some who I pay, some who I don’t- they’re friends and family. That’s why I am very into paying it forward and paying into that village when someone needs me. 

Tip 4: Practice! 

This one has taken me the longest personally. Practice! Just like anything. I told you- it is hard for me to ask for help. I’m used to doing things by myself. But, it’s something you can practice. Just like I tell my children. My three kids have such different personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. One kid is so smart in astrophysics, like a brainiac smart. But certain things like executive function organization are really hard for him. Whereas that comes like a snap of the fingers for my daughter. But it’s a skillset. It can be practiced, and it can be learned. So can asking for help.

 

A lot of my identity comes from juggling it all- it’s kind of how I’m known on social media and it’s kind of how I thought of myself before the advent of social media. And I think just practicing asking for help so it doesn’t feel so challenging to get the words out helps. I mean, I’m telling you I was terrible at asking for help. The words would get stuck in my mouth. They really would. Because all of my identity was tied up in feeling like I should be able to do it all by myself. But, when you practice, you get better at things. Just like I tell my kids. So, you have to push yourself to get better in this way too. You might have alienated some friends and family by saying no to their offers of help so you’re going to have to rebuild those relationships. I’m sure you can do it. Just practice!





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Aloha!

I'm Rupa Wong.

Hi! I'm Dr. Rupa Wong. Physician. Private Practice Owner. Mama to 3 kids. Managing Partner. Educator. Textbook Author. Conference Co-Founder. Mentor. I am more than just one thing, even as a doctor and I bet you are too. I would love to help you envision the life you want, and then get after it. What are you waiting for?

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