“Just tell me you want something. Nothing would make me happier than to give it to you!”
I visited my parents for the first time in two years this week. I’m always glad to come back. Catching up on family updates, home-cooked food, and being totally spoiled all over again just feels like the proper life detox sometimes. In fact, my family has been a major source of inspiration for my first startup, FamilyTales, with my co-founder, Ramli.
My mother likes fawning after me and inundating me with offers to “try this other thing I’ve baked for you!” and whether she should “wash your clothes for you once again?”. More often than not, I declined her offers. Eventually she became frustrated and yelled the opening quote of this post.
Which is when I realized one thing about myself; I hardly ever ask for help.
** Interruption: My mom just handed me a bowl of home-made gulab jamuns. I’d like to report that I had not asked for them, but that they are also devilishly amazing. **
You see, I always saw myself as being self-sufficient and resourceful. That asking for help would somehow make a statement about my inabilities or would show me in a weak light. Other times, I feel that asking for things is not worth the trouble that the potential helper would go through. I’d rather push on by myself.
But is this really a noble way of thinking and living? Or is it a sure-fire way for missing out on your potentials?
It is said that no one climbs a mountain alone. Trekking requires not only a lot of equipment and navigation, but the presence of a crew also provides a sense of security and that urge to push on when against all odds.
This concept is as relevant to mountain climbing as it is to undertaking innovative and entrepreneurial efforts. All innovations should be guided by a final goal, a vision. This goal should be as visible—if not to the naked eye, than at least to the mind’s eye—as the peak of the mountain which one is climbing. But the vision is not enough. The people around you matter just as much. Innovations, much like mountain climbing, do not occur in isolation. They are are continuous expedition of sharing and caring, of slogging it through the tough times and of (and this is much easier said than done) asking for help.
I have noticed that when one is faced with very physically arduous challenges, one is a little more inclined to ask for assistance. I experienced this first-hand when I herniated my lower spine two years ago. My recovery has been slow and uncomfortable, both physically and mentally. Asking for my friends’ help with the groceries or moving boxes has been something I’ve had to get used to, since I used to never ask for anyone to go through physical effort just for me. But to my surprise, my requests have been received with a lot of interest, good-will and patience, and I am grateful to the people around me for that.
With enterprises of the mind, however, things become a little different. I’ve always felt more hesitant to ask for help on math or software development, for instance, opting instead to plough through my difficulties on my own so that I may learn at my own clip. Worse yet, sometimes I felt asking for help would make me look incompetent. But now I believe that that a mindset like this doesn’t nourish growth, it threatens it. In fact, I believe this issue of taking it on by oneself is in fact severely stunting a slew of professionals’ quests for excellence.
Your source of help as an innovator or an entrepreneur can come from multiple places, and often at the same time. It could be a manager at your company who has decision-making powers and who can champion your innovation efforts and insulate you from outside negativity; a seasoned entrepreneur or investor who has already gone through the pains of what you are going through in your latest venture; a friend who is currently working in the same functional area on which you could use advice; even a supportive spouse who is not afraid to give you constructive (read, brutally honest) feedback. Often times the difficulty is not in finding sources of help, but in pushing oneself to seek it.
A simple recipe to follow in order to push oneself to seek help can look like the following:
- Identify a challenge you have been facing. This could be something you clearly do not have expertise with or something you have been struggling to achieve for a period of time. Make sure to identify something measurable and tackle-able in a relatively short amount of time, i.e. “how do I add a shopping cart to my website?” is good. “How do I become a better public speaker” is not so good. The latter requires a long-term coach or mentor – the former just a little pointed direction.
- Find someone in your personal network who may have the skills or experience to help you with your challenge. In this day and age of ubiquitous social networks, you’d be surprised at how many resources that are at your fingertips go untapped. Personal references usually tend to be the best ways to connect with someone.
- Arrange a meeting or phone call with the person to ask for help. Clearly state in your note to the person that you are in need of help with a quick issue and that you feel that person’s skillset makes him/her the ideal person to reach out to. Don’t forget to show gratitude about it, too! You’d be surprised at how willing people would be to lend a hand. Emails can work too, if the thing you need help on is quick enough – if you find yourself writing more than 5 lines to describe your challenge, just pick up the phone and call (or make arrangements to discuss the issue at a later time).
I’m making it a personal goal to reach out to three different people in the next month and ask for specific help from each of them on something that I need most. I have already identified the three people: one is the former CEO of a tech startup I used to work at; the second is a Marketing Professor I had back in school; and the third is a mobile app developer who is currently working on his own startup. Each of them have widely different skillsets and expertise, and each of them can prove helpful to me on different issues.
Do you have any personal methods of seeking help? I’d love to hear them!