Asking for Help = a Sign of Weakness?

Why is it so hard for some competent, capable people to ask for help, even when they need it badly?

I used to have a serious problem with asking for help. It was a weakness: a threat to my independence. A threat that comes with troubles I didn’t ask for. I had high standards for myself and my quality of work. I didn’t trust anyone but myself to meet those standards. Delegating wasn’t even at the back of my mind.

A few years ago, I came across an interesting scene that gave me a second thought:

A young man was walking casually towards a building entrance. As he was entering through a giant glass swing door, he noticed a woman walking closely behind him. He stopped passed the entrance with one hand still on the door, holding it open behind him. A common sight, I thought…until the woman stopped and said “no, thank you. I can open that myself.” The man looked slightly confused, but let the door go and went on his way. The woman then opened the giant glass door herself with some effort and entered.

Ridiculous, don’t you think? It was just a door. The man was simply acting as a considerate human being for not letting a door hit someone’s face. Instead, the woman chose go out of her way to do the unnecessary, troublesome task herself just to prove that she was independent and capable.

I see three types of people:

The helpless — the people who are willingly incapable.

The helpless will ask for help on anything that could be easily learned or done by any able-bodied human. Their default mentality is to deny the responsibility of ever trying. They would say, “I can’t do that,” “but I don’t know how to do that,” and “can’t you just do it for me?” They are forever dependent on others because of their chosen mentality. These people are the weakest.

The guarded self-reliant — the capable, independent people who trust no one.

These people hold everything to high standards and do not trust anyone to be able to meet those standards but themselves. Their self-esteem is dependent on proving to the world how strong they are. They’d think, “I must do everything myself or I will come off as weak.” They are too proud to ask for help, and would reject any help offer — accepting it would feel like a slap in the face: “are you saying I’m not capable enough?” they’d ask. Sure, these people are strong, but they are constantly putting much more time, effort, and energy — all of which are limited resources — than they need into unnecessary things. Is it worth it?

The executive — the capable, confident people who knows when to delegate.

These are the people who know their own capabilities and others’. They are as confident with the things they do well as with the things others do well. They know that they are not, and cannot be, an expert in everything, and that it’s impossible to do everything alone from scratch with the limited time they have. They do not see help as a weakness, but as something necessary to get things done more efficiently. Their motto is “I know I can do it myself, but it’d save a lot of time and energy if I can get help!” They know when to delegate, give the right tasks to the right people, and inspire them to meet their standards. They know how to choose mentors to boost their learning curve. They can sit on the executive chair, strategizing resources, as other people help them get closer to their goals.

What I’ve learned: do what you’re competent at, and get help with things you shouldn’t have time for. Create, do the critical thinking, work out the plans and strategies yourself. Do what you can do efficiently with the time you have. Delegate the rest to someone else. Ask for advice, accept favors, and recruit people. They will free you of tasks that would take the unnecessary time (like opening heavy doors) and allow you to be the executive you should be.

Bonus: There’s psychology research done on this topic: if someone does a favor for us, they will like us more, and will want to do even more favors for us (namely, the Ben Franklin effect). Isn’t that nice?

Here’s something to think about,

–Taime Koe


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