I have grown up hearing this word in multiple places. The Beatles sang about it, Gilligan yelled it while sinking in quicksand, and Clint Eastwood mumbled it in one of my favorite westerns. It may be easy enough for others to vocalize but I was in my 40’s before I came face to face with the bold truth surrounding the importance of asking for help.
Growing up, I learned that asking someone for help is a weakness and an inconvenience. My understanding was that I needed to fulfill my obligations and that it was not someone else’s responsibility. So, as an adult, I would do tasks that were over and beyond my responsibilities.
Whenever I had a deadline, I met it beforehand. I believed in hard work, and I expected it from myself at all times. Passing the responsibility on for someone else to do was irresponsible. I wish that I could say that this pattern of behavior was because I wanted to be an effectual adult but it was more because I was afraid of the consequences of refusal. My intent was good; my motivation was not. I found out, the hard way, that asking for help is not a weakness.
I have been a teacher for over 30 years, and my employers have benefited from my hard-working nature. They know that I will meet my deadlines and responsibilities.
My supervisors know that I work hard and aim never to short-change my students or educational standards. Bottom line? I take my responsibilities seriously.
Looking back over my years in the classroom, I am surprised that it took so long to realize that being “Super-teacher” had some major drawbacks and can even lead to being irresponsible.
Around my 25th year of teaching, the two dogs that I had loved, spoiled and spent so much time with both passed away unexpectedly. It devastated me.
I remember coming to school the next day in a fog, and I sat at my desk well before classes were to begin and sobbed. I thought I could shove this heartache aside for a few hours, but it was becoming clear that functioning in my classroom this day would not happen. I realized, to my horror, that I would have to ask for help. It was the responsible thing to do.
I remember shuffling to my supervisor’s office, and when she saw the emotional distress on my face, she tapped the door closed, had me sit down and said, “How can I help?” Even in the reflection of an event that happened several years ago, my eyes still well up when I recall the compassion and kindness my supervisor showed me.
My voice trembled as my words poured out of my mouth. “My dogs have died, and I’m not handling it well. I need help, and I can’t even assess what I specifically need.” I could no longer control my sobs.
The first thing that surprised me was when I looked up at my supervisor; she had tears on her cheeks. She told me how sorry she was to hear of this loss and then looked through her substitute teacher list, dialed a number and asked the individual if they would be available to come in for the day.
After receiving confirmation, she said, “I have someone coming in to cover your classes for the day. Do not concern yourself with anything here; we’ll make it work. Go home and do what you need to do to grieve. When you’re ready to come back to school, let me know.”
The compassion and kindness my supervisor showed touched me. I gathered up my things and slipped out of the building before any of the students arrived. Acting responsively means you ask for help when you need it.
During the first few days after returning to my classroom, I went through the motions of teaching, but there were still times of deep emotion. One day, I remember telling the paraprofessional in my room that I needed to step out for a minute. I went to the teacher workroom, left the light off, and I sat down and cried. I knew that I needed to pull myself together because in a few minutes I had recess duty, but I wasn’t having much success. It was not long before another teacher came in. I must have surprised her because she wasn’t expecting to find someone sobbing in the dark.
She sat next to me, took my hand and said, “How can I help?”
I looked up at her through my tears and said, “I have recess duty, and I’m not sure that I can do it.”
She smiled, patted my hand and said something I would not forget. “I know your sorrow is great, and I have wanted to help, but I didn’t know what you needed. Thank you for telling me! I’ll do your recess duty, and you do what you need right now.”
I watched her leave the room, and some of her words resounded in my mind. “I have wanted to help, but I didn’t know what you needed. Thank you for telling me.” In the weeks that followed these words were a catalyst for an overhaul of my faulty thinking about being self-sufficient and the habits they fed. People want to help if they know what you need from them.
Relationships of all types can sometimes be one-sided. You give to others, offering help and a kind word when needed. There are many blessings for the giver, but one-sided relationships are not healthy ones. All relationships need give and take.
The Biblical verse, It’s more blessed to give than to receive (Acts20:35), is true but, if you never ask for help, you are keeping others from receiving the blessings of giving to you. Seeking help provides a way for others to give to you
In many areas of our lives, we teach by example. It’s important for children, teens and even our peers to see real-life examples of how to ask for help and the benefits it produces. Asking for help takes practice and following an example aids in incorporating this into your life.
Our example also teaches the balance between asking for help and taking advantage of someone’s kindness. There are a few people I have encountered who have no difficulty asking for help, in fact, they consciously and even unconsciously prey on someone who gives to them. Setting an example of responsibility both in our work and struggles is helpful to others.
I continue to be a hard worker and do the best I can in the classroom but the self-imposed pressure of keeping it all together, all the time, no longer exists. This freedom has improved my relationship with others, in both my professional and personal life. It took this time of deep sorrow to help mold me into a better person because I now know the importance of asking for help.