Why the Best Way to Give is to Ask


I am ashamed of asking for help.

Every time I do, I experience a base, physical reaction that tightens my throat, speeds up my heart, and calcifies the air in my lungs. I’ve spent my life making myself as independent and self-sufficient as possible to avoid this exact feeling. But now, as I throw myself whole-heartedly into building a community through creativity, I’ve realized that I can’t get away with that anymore. I’ve taken what is hardest for me, asking for help, and decided to build an entire business out of it. Fabulous.

I used to think that the best way to get help (without asking) was to give help. What goes around comes around, right? If you give enough to the world, the world will give back to you. I would let all my friends know that my phone was always on and my door was always open and I would radiate self-satisfaction whenever they came to me. But, in all honesty, they didn’t come that often because, thankfully, most of the time life isn’t hard enough that you need to call your life lines. So I would give more and more, hoping that people would come to depend on me and that in time I would be able to depend on them. In doing so, I made and broke several beautiful friendships.

Recently, after much trial and error, I’ve started to think that this may not be the best approach.  To give, I’ve realized, is often a selfish act. We give to make ourselves feel needed, validated, and important.

When I’ve focused relationships on giving as much as I can to the other person without taking anything in return, it has often ended up in a stalemate. Both of us sit there with our arms wide open, eagerly waiting to dole out affection, but neither of us have the courage to walk into the waiting arms and accept said affection.

I’ve started to reason with myself that if helping makes everyone else feel as good as it makes me feel, then perhaps the best way to give is to actually ask.

And so I have begun the terrifying journey of learning how to ask for help. Not just when I’m laid on my back with pneumonia for five days because I decided to build a house in my spare time, but for the little things. For a kind ear or a warm hug after a long day. For shoulder to cry on after a hard event. For someone to laugh with when the world is too full of joy for me to experience it on my own.

As I’ve done this, a wonderful thing has started to occur: the more I ask people for help, the more they in turn let me help them. The more I get to give. This may not surprise the rest of you, but I was astounded.  What a wonderful cycle! Making yourself vulnerable, turning up meekly at another’s door, doesn’t scare them away. It draws them closer. It fosters trust and connection and community. The very things I was trying and failing to establish by giving everything I had can be gotten by facing my shame and asking for help.

I am far from living this lesson as thoroughly as I would like, but each time I walk into those waiting, open arms I can feel my community strengthen. Because treading the first path of connection is the hardest part. Once it’s established, once someone takes the first risk, the bridge is built and the relationship can actually start.

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