One of the most difficult things I have had to learn how to do is ask for help.
I want to think I can handle it all myself. I’m a big boy, I’m a grown-up, I’m a man… you name the excuse, I can give it.
For most of the 1990’s, I managed a comic book store. As a character concept, the superhero I identified with most was Superman. Invincible, invulnerable, able to leap tall buildings, stronger than a locomotive.
On several occasions, I’ve earned the ire of teammates and the occasional manager as I tried to go it alone, only to end up taking longer than necessary to get the job done. If I had asked for a little help and guidance, it would have been done sooner. It has taken a number of years, but I’ve finally gotten the hang of it, I think. My instinct is still to say without hesitation “No problem! I’ve got it, thanks!”, but I’ve learned to recognize that feeling and stop the words from escaping before stopping a moment to consider whether or not I really do have a handle on it. And I have learned to ask for help when I don’t really have a handle on it, before it gets too late.
There are three reasons to share this with you. First, I want to thank the many people I have asked for help during my unemployment and have been so generous with their help. Its still not easy to ask, but I am getting better at it, and I want to thank you for, not only the assistance provided, but also the opportunity to practice being able to ask for help when I need it.
Second, I want to remind myself and everyone – people can’t help you if they don’t know what you need. Learn to ask for help, and learn to be specific in what you ask for. “I need help finding a job” is not specific enough. “I need help getting in touch with <person’s name>” or “I need to know any company that you know of that uses SharePoint”, or “who do you know that works at <company name>?”. Or even “I’m feeling depressed by this whole job thing and need someone to help get me back on my feet”. And you will be surprised how willing people are to help.
Finally I want to ask you: are you trying to be Superman? Because he’s a character in a comic book. In the real world, we all need a little help.
No, I get by with a little help from my friends,
Mmm, gonna to try with a little help from my friends
– The Beatles, With a Little Help from My Friends (1967)
Jim Adcock is Vice President of Launch Pad Job Club, an organization in Austin, Texas, whose mission is help people who have lost their jobs to get the skills they need to land their next job, and to help them cope with the interim between jobs. Check out other career-related entries.