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  • Writer's pictureDerek Chowen

Is It Ok To Ask For Help?

Seems like a silly question. It isn't.

A few years back I was out sailing with my buddy, Matt. We were just chatting about "stuff". Nothing in particular and no specific topics. They were all topics that clearly needed to be covered, though. Our topics always are.

It was a beautiful day on Lake Michigan. We were sailing from Charlevoix to Harbor Springs in preparation for a weekend regatta. Great breeze, perfect sun, and cold beverages. I am fortunate that my friends have the coolest toys.

We were talking about sail trim and driving. Sailing stuff at first. Matt has an incredible amount of sailing knowledge. I look to him for answers first. Over the years we have become a pretty darn good team. Mostly because he helped me. Without me asking. That asking part ties right back to our discussion.

"So how are things going? For real?", asked Matt.

"Really good. No complaints.", I responded.


Matt knew I was having some struggles but not terrible ones. Not this time. He had seen me through the worst times of my life. Divorce. My life altering lie. Big stuff.

"You can ask for help. Don't go into bunker mode. THAT is how I know things aren't going well. When you disappear, I know you are struggling."

He was right but I didn't have to like it.

I didn't have a problem asking Matt for help when it came to certain sailing things because he is an expert in the field. I was asking for knowledge really so technically I wasn't even asking for help. That's how I justified it anyway.

Asking for help on things I "should" know is painful for me. I'm a grown-up and grown-ups know things. That's the rule.

Help wasn't always so hard for people to ask for. My grandparents were farmers. When it was time to make hay or harvest, the farmers worked together and helped each other. It wasn't a big deal, it was assumed. If each farmer owned a different piece of equipment, they could work together and get more done by helping each other.

When Grandpa and Grandma's house burned down, help was on the way. It wasn't asked for. Neighbors were there immediately helping haul things out of the burning house. They weren't asked to, they just did. The little building that turned into the garage was built in a day. Not fancy but functional. Neighbors pitched in and got it done. Some people are born to help.

As I was growing up, I watched my Mom and Dad help people. It was just assumed that helping was the right and good thing to do. Mom would give you the last scrap of food in the pantry if you needed it. She would because she knew that she would be ok. If we passed a car on the side of the road that had it's hazard lights flashing, you could bet Dad was going to stop and check on them. Mom and Dad were helpers, so my sister and I became helpers. Part of it is genetic and part of it is learned.

One Christmas my daughter and I were headed to my Dad's. It was about a two hour trip. She was young and picking out songs to play in between talking up a storm. We crested a hill and saw an older woman in a beautiful, long red coat walking beside her car. The car was moving along slowly at her pace and what I assumed was her husband was driving. I had to stop. Didn't have a choice. Didn't think twice. I told Sam to lock the doors behind me and went to investigate.

"Merry Christmas! Is everything ok?", I asked as I approached.

"Merry Christmas, young man. Everything is fine. I have to get out and walk sometimes because I just can't sit for long rides anymore. Thank you for stopping to check.", she replied in her smiley, grandma voice.

Samantha unlocked the door and let me in. She was grinning from ear to ear.

"What did she say???"

I told her what was going on, that everybody was ok and that they were happy that we stopped.

"I like that", she grinned. Papa heard that story before we got our boots off. It was incredibly cute to watch that interaction. Dad was proud.

Genetic predisposition reinforced by direct observation. Sam is a helper.

So why is it so damn hard to ask for help?!?!

Maybe it is that genetic predisposition. Maybe we want to be like Mom and Dad. Probably some combination of both.

Some of us don't like to ask for help because it isn't our role. We are the helpers, not the helped. It gives us a sense of satisfaction being able to help. It completes the happiness circuit in our brains.

We don't like to ask for help because we fear being let down. That might be part of the reason we are so compelled to help. We know what it's like to feel helpless or needy and don't want others to feel that way. The empathetic helper.

We don't like to ask for help because we don't want to appear weak or inadequate. We are smart/strong enough to do it by ourselves. Go help someone that needs it.

Is it ok to ask for help on your calculus homework? Absolutely. Nobody understands that stuff.

Is it ok to ask someone for help figuring out why you have the blues and can't shake them? Absolutely not. You are a grown up and should know better by now.

One of those two statements is false...

Not only is it ok to ask for help, it is the right thing to do. Suffering in silence doesn't do anybody any good. We build each other up.

I've come to the conclusion that it is courageous and selfless to ask for help. It allows others the chance to participate in that happiness circuit. Lending a hand to someone that never reaches out is a beautiful thing. Accepting the lent hand is even more so.

If you are a helper, keep helping. Don't forget to allow others the opportunity to do the same for you. If we all participate, we all become better.

Let's do the next right thing. Stay sturdy.

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