Ten years ago I “failed" a ropes course exercise by failing to ask for help. That was the ticket out and I missed it. I mean, I just figured you couldn’t ask for help. That wasn’t part of the deal. It would be cheating. Mmm hmm.
Well, I got the memo. Debriefing with my peers after the ropes course, we all came to realize asking for help was not only an option in life -- it was essential for living a really good life.
Children are well aware of the need to ask for help. Without hesitation, they notice what they need and make noise with their voices or bodies, somehow, to get what they need. Innately they deserve to have their needs met. And though we often forget it, guess what? Adults do too.
As with any great learning moment, that ropes course lesson really hit home. Over the years that followed, asking for help became a practice I chose to live by. Whether asking for guidance, time or something else, it grew to feel way smarter to ask for help in life than to let the offerings of those around me pass on by. My own quality of life was noticeably enhanced. Not only were my needs being met more regularly, but some of my dearest relationships all grew stronger in the process.
Chances are, if you’re reading this article you don’t mind being asked for help. Most people like being asked for help. We enjoy giving; it feels good. It builds up both the giver and receiver, since ultimately, both asking for help and receiving help are expressions of love.
With a decade of practice asking for help when I needed it, the practice became a significant part of my life, one that didn’t even take much courage most of the time anymore...
Until one day four months ago, an unanticipated situation landed on my lap. Life offered me an opportunity to ask for something that was really, very strange: asking for money. It felt like the most awkward of things to ask for. Almost grimy, needy in a not-so-good way, desperate, low. Yet as I asked within myself, what I needed was money. Clearly, the voice of self worth said, “Ask for money.”
Underneath that voice of self worth, there were battles going on in my head. Voices of self-criticism held a party shouting among themselves, “Asking for money means you’re a desperate low-life!” and “Go to work! That’s how you get money!” and “Try saving more so you don’t get into this situation again!”
Yet by this point in my life, I had reached a place of skillfulness with self-worth. Meaning, the kind of self-worth that says you do not deny what is true for you, even when the voices of self-doubt are throwing a fiesta.
Empowering the voice of self-doubt inside of me was not what wanted to happen.
I looked for the still point. What was my truth? I needed money. Not work. I had plenty of work: writing, coaching, leading workshops, guiding my daughter’s unschooling educational path, creating a line of greeting cards. All the things I was doing for work — on top of my Mama role of keeping our family’s relationships, home, hearts and bodies healthy — brought in some income but not enough. Yes, I was on a path of finding more stable income. But right now? Right then? What I needed was money.
My inner voice for love, my inner voice for self-worth, said, “Ask.” And then, “Stop making such drama out of this situation. You give a lot. Ask for money. There is nothing wrong with asking. People can always say no.”
That calmed me down. I thought, OK, that’s true, there is nothing wrong with asking. People can always say no. God this is awkward…
Then the kicker hit. I thought, This is my spiritual edge. I am nervous about doing something very basic, something that is simply seen in the eyes of the culture as wrong or bad. That tipped me over. Now I had to do it, if only for the experience of seeing what happened when you do something really ballsy. And in asking, there is WOW. Courage + Self-Worth + the Willingness to Receive = big WOW. It began to feel exciting.
So I asked. I thought of five people in my life who were either retired comfortably, or earning lucrative income through their current jobs, or who just seemed willing to hear my request.
One of them was my namesake, the woman who my mother named me after, from the church they attended when I was born. She’s a very loving Christian woman and I have nurtured our relationship over the decades with many, many handwritten cards. I hadn’t heard back from her. A week had passed and I become nervous that she was offended by my request, and I really, really didn’t want anything to come between us. So I followed up with a message expressing that I meant it when I said it was perfectly for her to say “no” and that our relationship mattered to me immensely.
Her response blew me away. Do you believe in unconditional love? I do.
She replied, “Please, please be assured NOTHING, nor anything you say or don't say, can ever change the close relationship between us. God has cemented that forever.” Two days later, she sent me a very generous check.
Two other people sent me checks, echoing similar sentiments: “You give so much…” and “It is an honor to help you when you need it...” and “Do not ever feel ashamed for asking for what you need. I commend you…” and “Thank you for asking.”
Of the five people I asked, two said no. One had the ability to help financially but shared that she was experiencing some dynamics in her life that led her gut to say no to my request. We had a beautiful conversation about it, and our already-rich friendship is even richer now! The other said that she spends her excess money on taking care of feral cats in Hawai’i where she lives. We too were enriched by the conversation. Thinking back, I actually am glad some people said no; it stretched me spiritually, and left me feeling less afraid of these situations altogether.
When all was said and done, all those creaky, sneaky voices of self-doubt were completely deflated. The love I received for asking for something very awkward, which took a lot of courage and self-worth to do, was otherworldly.
Perhaps most pronounced was a feeling I might not be able to easily describe. But I’ll try.
During this situation I knew there were people who judged me for asking for money. Even if they knew I had already tried to secure additional paid work, even if they knew I was a generous person and far from lazy, there were people who simply felt disdain about the idea of an intelligent, capable woman asking for money as a gift.
The cool part? I chose not to care! I chose to make it none of my business! Those voices of criticism joined the party, now being held at the cemetery, with my own inner voice for self-doubt.
Oh, the freedom in actually living the quote I’ve often heard: “What other people think of you is none of your business.” Indescribably liberating!
Money — however much I needed it and however helpful it is in this human life — was the least valuable thing that resulted from that situation. Important relationships became cemented even more deeply; my sense of courage and personal dignity grew; and the stress I felt before asking was alleviated. Plus, the financial choke I had felt was gone, thereby freeing up mental strain so I could be a better mother, friend, wife, daughter and everything else.
It was temporary, it was needed, it provided huge relief. And now it is behind me!
What can you ask for help with today? What do you need? How about some regenerative time away by yourself — someone to take care of your children for a night or three? How about a clean house, a place where you know every square meter of your floors have been wiped clean of life’s dust and dog hair? Your home holds you; wouldn’t it be a beautiful act of self-worth to give it a massive dose of cleaning love? You could pay someone to do it, or you could ask 2 friends to come drink wine with you while you rock out to Prince and clean away… then take turns doing the same thing at their homes!
From a place of self-worth, not self criticism and scarcity… What do you need? I’ll be blunt: Don’t rob others of the chance to show you love. And don't rob yourself of a chance to stretch your receiving muscles.
Give someone a chance to express to you the most powerful thing in the universe: Love. Make it easy for them to know what you need. Time? Space? House cleaning? A massage? Money? Attention? A feeling of being heard, seen, valued? Ask for help. If they say no to whatever you're asking for, remember Don Miguel Ruiz and The Four Agreements: Take nothing personally.
You have to be willing to hear a “no" and that's tougher for most of us than we care to admit. But oh, how incredibly delicious is the freedom on the other side.
Nothing is personal.
Go, baby, go. Weave the wisdom you held close as a child, more fully into your life as an adult. You've only got fear to lose — and far more gems to gain.
Jessica Rios, Founder of Leaning into Light, is a lifelong letter writer, a mother, freelance consultant and eternal fan of Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street. This deeply personal blog and our recorded talks and workshops are devoted to one of her great passions: illuminating the beauty of the human spirit.