I need someone, not just anyone….And now my life has changed in oh so many ways …
My independence seems to vanish in the haze.

—John Lennon and Paul McCartney

Trained not to ask for help for fear of some form of punishment such as ridicule or harsh criticism, you may lack a strong muscle in asking for support or assistance. How frightening asking can be for those of you who’ve been punished too many times for uttering “Help!” Or alternatively, you request help. And in the door walks someone full of condescension and shaming tactics that make you feel even more inadequate to the task than you did before they entered your energy sphere.

Several years ago, I remember asking for tech support for my first website after my web designer, John, had died much too young from cancer. John possessed all the qualities I loved in a good fit helpful person including kindness, patience, and a belief in my ability to learn.  Feeling quite raw after visiting John in the hospital days before he died, I did not appreciate the arrogant man who walked into my home weeks later.  I knew I needed to upgrade. I realized a gap existed between my current site and one that could have greater SEO.  With great courage and a grieving heart, I chose to meet with this new tech guy. He had absolutely no self-awareness from the moment he swaggered with voice booming into my home to the door closing behind him at the end of our unpleasant time together.

You know “helpful people” will not be a good fit when you feel worse after you interact with them. These individuals assume you have no capacity to learn. Rather than seeing you as capable of understanding, of learning, of being bright, multi-talented, or even gifted, they assume you are less than them. After encounters with these individuals, you likely will experience a shame storm inside of you. You may even be in tears at the end of the conversation. Mostly, you’ll wish you had never asked for assistance in the first place.

I later learned from a mutual friend, who had joined us that evening, that this new tech guy remained baffled as to why I did not hire him. The tech guy thought he had “closed the sale.”

When you treat people like they don’t know anything, like they don’t “get it” or worse “won’t get it,” you lose your ability to make the positive difference you actually may want to make. When you present yourself as the “all-knowing” expert rather than honoring the “expertise” of lived experiences of the person standing across from you, you disrespect that human being. When you blindly step over the context in which someone is living or the hard work a previous person has done, you limit your chances of making a meaningful connection. You likely will continue to wonder why certain people don’t ask for your support, guidance, or “expertise.”

You treat people as you view them. If you see people as broken, you will assume they need fixing. If you see people as prospects, you’ll only pitch your scripts, your driven agenda. If you see people as whole humans with rich histories of lived experiences, you’re likely to ask them interesting questions, to want to know who they are, what they’ve overcome or endured, what they may be living through right now.

If you know the person standing across from you is a multi-faceted human being with many talents, gifts, great wisdom, you’re likely to hold the light to their capacities, to listen for their joy, their “AHA’s,” to encourage them to trust themselves. You may mirror back what you’re learning about them, what you’re observing when their whole face lights up when they talk about certain ideas, the wisdom you see in them. You can do this because others have generously done this for you and you likely have practiced doing this for yourself in that amazing, life-enriching journey of greater self-awareness.

                   I truly believe that people hesitate to ask for help because as a society we have not made it safe for people to be vulnerable, to actually ask for assistance.

We elevate givers and punish “takers.” Yet, all of us are both/and-we are interdependent. We actually need one another for our survival as a species. Graciously receiving support or guidance balances the generous giving. Both/and creates wholeness, flow, and healthy interactions. Asking for and receiving the support we deserve can be quite stretchy, itchy/scratchy uncomfortable and well worth the ask especially in those good fit situations.

What are your experiences with asking for help or offering help? What are your experiences with receiving useful, meaningful, empowering guidance? What stops you from asking for help when you actually really need some?


Laura Staley
Laura Staley
The founder of Cherish Your World, Laura Staley passionately helps people thrive by guiding them to a holistic transformation of space, heart, mind, body, and soul. Laura knows that there’s a relationship between the conditions of our homes or workplaces and the quality of our lives. Trained and certified with the Western School of Feng Shui and seasoned by almost two decades of working with a variety of clients, Laura uses her intuition and expertise to empower her clients to produce remarkable results in their lives. Her trifecta of serving people includes speaking, writing, and compassionate listening. As a columnist, Laura writes personal essays focused on self-discovery, feng shui, emotional health, and transformations from the inside out. Laura is the published author of three books: Live Inspired, Let Go Courageously and Live with Love: Transform Your Life with Feng Shui, and the Cherish Your World Gift Book of 100 Tips to Enhance Your Home and Life. Prior to creating her company, Laura worked as a fulltime parent and an assistant professor at Ohio Wesleyan University. She earned a Ph.D. in political science from The Ohio State University. Her joys in life include laughing with loved ones, dancing, reading, meditating, running, being in nature, and listening to music she loves. She resides in Black Mountain, NC with lovable dog, Layla. Laura is a contributing author to the inspiring book Crappy to Happy: Sacred Stories of Transformational Joy

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  1. That is a hard questions . I am involved with six animal shelters and in my business life we do adoption events every other weekend and as a rule we are very involved in the community. I am not one to ask for help, as a child I was given the tools to make my way in life and often when I need something a door just opens, Great post my friend and a question that we always ask ourselves. What do we give.

    • Thank you so much for what you give in love and service to so many others in your community-in your work with the six animal shelters, Larry. Seems like you found your way to great self-reliance from your growing up days. That is something to treasure. I also am heartened to know that when you need something “a door just opens.” How wonderful. I appreciate what you’ve shared here and all the ways you generously offer your help to others.

  2. “We elevate givers and punish takers..” I paused on this to think about the power this message sends unconsciously to those we love when they have to ‘think about how to approach’ before asking for help. That feeling of uncertainty can make courage hard. How do you ask for help from someone who may be dismissive, unkind, or simply mean and unwilling? How many times have I been unapproachable, and why is this so? Hmm, these are the questions which should be asked as we look into a mirror when we need help and must ask others to give kindly.
    Thank you for this thought provoking post Laura.

    • Thank you for taking that moment to pause on this aspect of helping others, Donna-Luisa. Sometimes we don’t have the patience or the skill set for “teaching/guiding” another even if we have expertise on the subject. Some folks may have incredible skills/talents, but struggle to communicate what they uniquely do with other people in ways that “land” for those who want to know. I think sometimes this creates the dismissive, unkind, unwilling, or even mean reaction to the person who is asking for help. Sometimes, the mean reaction comes from another place of “how dare you bother me!” or other challenges that person might have going on in their lives. Offering help with kindness can be like a breath of fresh air. Yes, looking in the mirror remains on-goingly important with all these questions! I appreciate you and your introspection.

  3. Thank you Laura for your insights and for sharing them. I take your point that asking for help is a strength not a weakness, and I agree.
    I do have an aversion to asking for help, straightaway, I am a man after all 🙂 For example arriving at Copenhagen Airport and needing to get on their railway system, and knowing my destination station, I was keen to understand their rail network map, so that I could learn and find my way around. Whilst I was doing this my partner was asking someone. Before I had finished, she knew what platform and what train. Both are right, but which way do we learn most.
    Similarly, when my daughter was doing her homework she asked me for the answer. I was keen for her to work it through first, so gave her clues, which frustrated her. Yet on doing so, little by little she took ownership and learned. For sure, there were times when she asked for help and I gave proper answers.
    So, for me, not a black and white, rather one of, “It depends”.

    • Colin, I quite agree that help is rarely black or white. I do believe offering help is nuanced in that sometimes the learning process or learning curve for each of us usually involves some type of struggle-or staying in the messy of figuring the puzzle out for ourselves (like you were doing with the railway system). In other situations, we are not interested in learning-we’d rather turn the “problem” over to someone who has the passion and gifts (for example-I’m not interested in learning how to change the oil on my vehicle-I’m thrilled to seek out a reputable shop with skilled folk to do this task). The importance of knowing what we actually need, having the courage to ask for the support, and choosing patient, kind individuals who can guide or sometimes “shout out the answer” point to this nuanced place. Your examples are excellent in illustrating the both/and rather that the either/or. Do we want to learn something new? Are we just needing a step ladder for support to do the climb? Are we excited to collaborate with wise others whose passions and skills compliment (but do not replicate) our own? Again, I thank you for this additional valuable layer to a rich discussion!

    • Thank you Laura, for a most informative and thought through reply. Reminds me that I too go to the garage to get things done, that quite frankly I can’t be bothered to do, and I know they do it well, quickly and have the parts all in one place, like going for a new bulb. I also trust them 100% to do the job well and not take me for a ride. I do ask for help, ha, I guess I do. That makes me smile.

    • Wonderful for you to notice that you occasionally ask for help – defying the “guy” training of not stopping to ask for directions or help. Trusting others to do things when you ask for that support can strengthen bonds with others. Definitely. So happy that your realization made you smiling. Smiling is good for your heart! (so is laughing!) Thanks, again, for your reflections and contributions to the lively discussion! I appreciate you.

  4. Laura, I always find that your work is both sensitive and thought provoking all in one – multifaceted as you are and is reflected in of your discussion in your article. I feel this is no coincidence. Your experience with your tech friend is an example I can relate to – if I do not feel good about someone I am buying from – I do not usually buy no matter what it is. Your question you posed about experiences with help is one that I find I have done my best to ask caring and genuinely inquisitive questions about those I interact with at the time. I have not been perfect and I have had situations where I have been dumbfounded back by “what just happened here?” In saying that…your word multifaceted made me realize I do give people and myself a break sometimes we have days that are good, bad, our guts tell us to turn away, people misinterpret or get triggered, our mind says I need to get this completed…but all-in-all it feels really right to treat others and self really with care when we are needing or asking for help. It just does. A wonderful article to sit with today thank you for the deep thoughts and brimming heart Laura – same for you today, I hope.

    • Oh, I appreciate your reflections here, Maureen, as I felt certain I haven’t been alone in both the “good fit” and “not so good fit” situations of seeking help. As individuals who have a passion to support others, to guide, offer help, I notice how important these past learnings/experiences have been for me (and you, too-as you indicate). And here’s where I land too: “it feels really right to treat others and self really with care when we are needing or asking for help. It just does.” Like exposing our underbelly in a way, asking can be quite a humbling moment (especially in the situations where I’ve thought I had to have it ALL together and KNOW it ALL.) I notice no one has spoken to the feeling of “failing” in the moment of asking. This just occurred to me as a why some people still struggle to ask for help-they see it as failing or being a failure-and of course, it does not. Your thoughts shared here stirred some more for me…obviously! 🙂 I appreciate you so much, Maureen.

  5. Laura, you did ask a few very important questions at the end of your message, and which did made me stop and think.

    What are your experiences with asking for help or offering help?

    I admit that in my business life, I do hesitate to ask for help for a number of reasons, depending in the cultural and, occasionally, religious environment I find myself in. Upon proper evaluation, I do take Les Browns advice, “Ask for help. Not because you are weak. But because you want to remain strong.” I do acknowledge this while asking and also affirming that I will be stronger with the help I receive from them, and share a smile. I seldom get refused… this is not relating to money or loans ?.

    I learned a very valuable lesson in self-sacrifice, when, while assisting during the earthquake mission, I offered to help one closest to me.. but he said no – go help the other person beside him who happened to be his grand-mother.
    What are your experiences with receiving useful, meaningful, empowering guidance?

    I was very young when I first got involved with humanitarian activities, very eager, full of energy, wanting to “change the world” full of enthusiasm and oh yes, I knew better. One night after a rather hectic day, sitting by the fire, tired, hungry, an elderly gentleman quietly sat beside me and said, “ Brother, we all love what you are doing for us, but remember all of YOU and what you are is only entrusted to you and your mortal body. Use it wisely and do not allow EGO to set in (Edging God out).

    What stops you from asking for help when you actually really need some?

    When asking for help and assistance for others, nothing will stop me, I am not ashamed to ask on behalf of those who have no voice or opportunity to ask.

    Thank you, Laura, once again for your very thoughtful message.

    • Thank you so much for all these valuable insights and meaningful experiences you describe in both receiving and offering help-asking for help/assistance for others (I can do this one with great passion, too!). I can see how your involvement in humanitarian activities really contributed to the person you are-how adept/skilled you are in the flow of both receiving and bravely/naturally asking-especially on the behalf of others who have no voice or opportunity to ask. I appreciate you so thoughtfully answering all those questions with heart and reflection. Your words are a valuable addition to this discussion.

  6. Laura, we are all smarter together than any one of us can be by our own selves. You so cogently and accurately put that in front of us with this wonderful description. This is such a great tribute to why soft skills matter, why having more than just a mastery of the knowledge base that we are peddling is so important. I often tell people, as my title is “Director of Operations” that I have a wide knowledge base – that is I know a little bit about a lot of things. However, that knowledge base is not very deep. The resource that I try to be is to connect people’s needs with the proper resources. I do my part by listening and trying to understand what it is that they need, and then I try to get the right people with the right abilities at the table with them, so that one way or another… the needs meet up with the proper resources. Isn’t that life and problem solving and sales and just about everything in a nutshell?

    Where the process falls apart is that if I don’t know of the need, I can’t offer the help. That’s where communication comes in, and people need to feel comfortable to put themselves “out there” to realize that they don’t need to have all the answers, or all the solutions. To not view needing something as “neediness” to not see it as a weakness or a disability.

    It’s why I love the extra perspective that I have gained by being exposed to Clifton’s StrengthsFinder – it has allowed me to embrace the fact that I’m good at some stuff, and not so good at other stuff. It’s why we need to partner with people who are better at the stuff that we’re not so good at. And together, we end up getting to where we all need to go. The whole process starts with being brave enough to ask for help. Great piece, here, Laura, as usual, and thank you for sharing it!

  7. Laura, the older I get, the more willing I am to ask for help. I’ve left the baggage of “I must do it alone for fear of looking inadequate (especially as a man) along the side of the road some time ago. Your point about not wanting to appear vulnerable is well taken. Now, however, it’s almost fun – a form of sleuthing – to see who I can tap on the shoulder if I’m in a quandary. Why, just the other day, I reached out to three incredibly smart woman I know to help me with a gender-based issue that came up in coaching. I had some instincts there, but I felt the issue represented a larger phenomenon. All three women agreed, and I and my client were the recipients of some incredible wisdom.

    • I’m heartened by your comments, the baggage you left behind some time ago, Jeff! What an empowering and fun shift you created in being a sleuth-a curious explorer out to find some treasures of golden nugget wisdoms from other people to make a positive, meaningful difference for your client. After reading so many wonderful comments from all different types of people, I believe it’s time for me to leave that limiting belief baggage on the side of the road, too. Thank you so much for this delightful contribution to the conversation!

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