What I've Learned About Asking for Help

Asking for help is like getting glasses for the first time.  It's hard at first.  I remember the first time I put on glasses as a kid.  I felt seasick and thought I was going to walk into a wall!  If you're used to doing everything, asking for help can make you feel like a fish out of water. 

Sometimes, people put it off until they are pushed to the limit.  We’ve all heard about people who have waited until they fail a class or have their driver’s license taken away before they will get their eyes tested!  Many people have to be forced into asking for help. 

But, once you've asked for help (or put on a pair of glasses), you may learn to consider it a strength rather than a weakness. 

What does this have to do with nonprofits?  For most of us, helping people is our job.  You may spend your days assisting veterans adjusting to civilian life or supporting mothers suffering from postpartum depression.  If you're always in the helping mode, it can be hard to recognize when you need help, too -- help balancing priorities, making tough decisions at work, managing a heavy workload, or carving out the time to take a few days off and recharge.

If you are overloaded and stressed out, you may be on the path to burnout.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help!  People will understand, and they won't think less of you.

Here is how I have learned to ask for help: 

1. I take a deep breath and remind myself that I’m being strong by asking, not weak.  I think about all the times I gladly helped others with their projects.

2. When I ask, I try to avoid self-deprecation.  (Don’t say: "I should be able to do all of this myself, but I can’t. I'm sorry to let everyone down.")  You're not asking for help because you've failed.  You're doing something very smart and heading off a bigger potential problem. 

3. Once I've asked, I let others offer suggestions for how they can help. I don't have to present a complete plan for how they can assist. They can see some solutions that I can't.   

If you've ever seen a musician rock out with glasses on (John Lennon, anyone?), you know that a little help can go a long way!  Don't be afraid to ask for a little help from your friends.

Sarah Weissberg is director of member relations at the N.C. Center for Nonprofits and has been part of the staff team for seven years.

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