Without fail, my five-year-old niece offers up this predictable response to any offer of help. She utters this phrase with complete confidence, despite being too short for certain tasks. Any words of caution are met with another, equally certain statement: “I won’t get hurt.”
Some days, I wish I shared her complete confidence and certainty. Most days, I’m all too familiar with the things I can’t do and how many things can hurt me. However, even though I know better, my niece and I continue to share one similarity: we both avoid asking for help.
I came face-to-face with my own asking demons when I picked up Amanda Palmer’s recent book, The Art of Asking. Based on her 2013 TED talk, Palmer explores what it means to be an artist. The shock for me came when I started identifying with her experience.
For all intents and purposes, we live in separate worlds. She’s a street performer, turned musician, turned one of those famous people who makes other people mad. I run a solopreneur consulting business, and if 500 people know my name, I’d be surprised. But her message connected some of the dots I’m seeing in my own business and in clients’ businesses.
We’ve got great ideas. We’ve got great talent. We’re horrible at asking for help.
In spite of great ideas and talent, projects get set aside and amazing things don’t happen because we aren’t willing to ask. Now, Palmer makes asking seem like this obvious, even easy, thing that anyone can do. I disagree, primarily because that assumption glosses over the context of the ask, and even the makeup of the person asking.
What she does get spot on is the need to challenge ourselves. Why don’t we feel comfortable asking?
For me, asking seems like raising a white flag. I’m admitting I can’t do something on my own. The act of asking undermines the value of what I’m trying to do because I need help. Asking is failing. As I write this paragraph, the absurdity of the logic is clear. But the voice in my head sounds perfectly logical.
I know that I’ve missed potential opportunities as an entrepreneur because I didn’t ask. The Art of Asking has reminded me of those missed possibilities. But this time, instead of beating myself up for not asking, I’ve set a new goal to counteract my hesitation to ask in the future.
The process is simple. My discomfort with asking is no longer a stop sign, but an indication I need to unpack why I want to avoid asking. There are no more free passes, and my mental conversations don’t count. If I can’t adequately (and logically) defend not asking, it’s time to step off the edge into the unknown and risk the ask.
I want my business to grow. I want to do incredible work for my clients. I want to be better tomorrow than and I am today. And for all of those things to happen, I may need to ask others for their help. That’s a tough thing to admit when we’re used to doing things by ourselves, but I’m getting the sense it could be hugely empowering, too — if we let it.
So as I consider jumping into the unknown of learning to ask, you need to be asking yourself a similar question. Could you be doing more if you just accepted that sometimes you’ll need help? Could your business grow into something better if you got more comfortable asking for help?
Learning to ask could become the best business skill you develop this year.