By Gwenn Voelckers
Help with hanging holiday lights. A ride to the doctor’s office. Help with moving a heavy piece of furniture. An emergency pet-sitting request. We all need a helping hand from time to time.
Giving and receiving help from my friends and family has proved to be a wonderful way for me to deepen relationships and strengthen bonds. It’s another one of the many “life lessons” I’ve learned while on my own — that asking for help brings blessings, not burdens.
If asking for help is difficult or awkward for you, know that you’re not alone. Many people — and, regrettably, many of those who may need it most — find it hard to reach out and ask for help in times of need.
And why don’t they? There are many reasons, but my experience tells me that lots of women and men who live alone avoid asking for help because they fear being seen as weak or vulnerable.
I know that after my divorce I was reluctant to ask for help. I wanted to show the world that I was perfectly fine, thank you. When I really could have used some help, I avoided asking anybody for anything, determined to muscle through on my own. It led to isolation and pointless hardships.
But the biggest shame? Not asking for assistance kept me distant from friends and family. I denied myself (and them) the chance to connect on a genuine and meaningful level. Looking back, it’s clear to me that my healing and personal growth were compromised as a result.
I encourage you to let go of any excuses not to ask for help, in favor of being true to yourself and to those who love and want to support you.
Below are some words of encouragement and a few tips to help you help yourself:
• Be honest. What keeps you from asking for help? Could it be pride? Do you think you’ll be seen as incapable or weak? Are you concerned about being a bother? Or, would asking for help force you to acknowledge that, indeed, you need it? Take a moment and reflect on what keeps you from asking for assistance.
• Redefine what it means to be strong. Everyone needs support every once in a while, and seeking help is not a weakness. In fact, the strongest people are often those who have the courage to admit they need some assistance and reach out.
I’ve always admired this quality in others. Real strength is knowing your personal limitations and having the confidence to recruit assistance when you need it.
• Have a little faith. Believe that people truly want to help. Just turn the tables and think about how you’d respond if a friend, family member or co-worker asked for a helping hand. Chances are you wouldn’t hesitate. You might even feel slighted if not asked, especially if someone you cared about was having real difficulty.
Know that others, too, want to be there for their friends and family in need.
• Take a chance. When you choose to be vulnerable and ask for help, you are opening yourself up and exposing your authentic self. While it may feel risky, when you are “real” like this, you have an amazing opportunity to cultivate deeper, more meaningful bonds with others. It can be a positive, life- and relationship-changing experience, but only if you are willing to take a chance and make your needs known.
• Make the ask. As a first step, put some thought into where you could really use some support and then ask for help with one specific item. It could be something as simple as asking a neighbor for help shoveling snow to something as important as requesting a recommendation for a financial adviser.
If finding just the right words is hard to come by, you might start out by saying, “You know, I’m not very comfortable asking for favors, but I wonder if you might be able to help me with something?”
• Express your gratitude. You know this, of course. A heartfelt thank you in person or in writing will be warmly received by the person whose help you have accepted. No need to go overboard. Remember, people want to help others, and don’t expect to be remunerated for doing a good deed.
• Offer help in return. Because giving can be as gratifying as receiving, you’ll want to make it known that you, too, are available to return the favor. We all have gifts, we all have needs, and we all can be of great assistance to one another. Look around, and you’ll find plenty of opportunities to help those who have helped you during your time of need.
Asking for help becomes easier with practice. Just as I did, you’ll soon discover the benefits that lie in the aftermath of the ask — benefits that include stronger relationships with existing friends and family members, as well as the prospect of making new connections with others.
The rewards inherent in accepting help and expressing your gratitude are many and go both ways. So, take it from me: Life can be better, just for the asking.
Gwenn Voelckers leads “Live Alone and Thrive” empowerment workshops for women in Mendon, Monroe County, and is the author of “Alone and Content: Inspiring, empowering essays to help divorced and widowed women feel whole and complete on their own.” For information about workshops, to purchase a book or invite Voelckers to speak, call 585-624-7887, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.aloneandcontent.com