By Gwenn Voelckers
Happy October, dear readers! I love this time of year with all its fabulous autumn colors, cooler weather and cozy fall fashions.
October is all about a change: a change of season, a change in priorities and a change in perspective.
I don’t know about you, but I always need some help when confronted with all the chores and changes this time of year presents.
I need help with raking leaves, stowing hoses, putting away lawn furniture, cleaning gutters and downspouts, etc. I may even need some “emergency” pet-sitting, if I choose to take off and enjoy a leaf-peeping weekend in Vermont.
We all need a helping hand from time to time.
Giving and receiving help from my friends and family has proven to be a wonderful way for me to deepen relationships and strengthen bonds. It’s another one of the many “life lessons” I’ve learned while on my own — that asking for help brings blessings, not burdens.
If asking for help is difficult or awkward for you, know that you are not alone. Many people — and, regrettably, many of those who may need it most — find it hard to reach out and ask for help in times of need.
There are many reasons, but my experience tells me that lots of women and men who live alone avoid asking for help because they fear being seen as weak or vulnerable.
I know that after my divorce I was reluctant to ask for help. I wanted to show the world that I was perfectly fine, thank you. When I really could have used some help, I avoided asking anybody for anything, determined to muscle through on my own. It led to isolation and pointless hardships.
Not asking for assistance kept me distant from friends and family. I denied myself (and them) the chance to connect on a genuine and meaningful level. Looking back, it’s clear to me that my healing and personal growth were compromised as a result.
I encourage you to let go of any excuses not to ask for help. Instead, be true to yourself and to those who love and want to support you.
Below are some words of encouragement and a few tips to help you help yourself:
• Be honest. What keeps you from asking for help? Could it be pride? Do you think you’ll be seen as incapable or weak? Are you concerned about being a bother? Or, would asking for help force you to acknowledge that, indeed, you need it?
Take a moment and reflect on what keeps you from asking for assistance.
• Redefine what it means to be strong. Everyone needs support every once in a while, and seeking help is not a weakness. In fact, the strongest people are often those who have the courage to admit they need help and reach out.
I’ve always admired this quality in others. Real strength is knowing your personal limitations and having the confidence to recruit assistance when you need it.
• Have a little faith. Believe that people truly want to help. Just turn the tables, and think about how you’d respond if a friend, family member or co-worker asked for a helping hand. Chances are you wouldn’t hesitate. You might even feel slighted if not asked, especially if someone you cared about was having real difficulty.
Know that others, too, want to be there for their friends and family (and you!) when in need.
• Take a chance. When you choose to be vulnerable and ask for help, you are opening yourself up and exposing your authentic self. While it may feel risky, when you are “real” like this, you have an amazing opportunity to cultivate deeper bonds with others. It can be a positive, life- and relationship-changing experience, but only if you are willing to take a chance and make your needs known.
• Make the ask. As a first step, put some thought into where you could really use some support and then ask for help with one specific item. It could be something as simple as asking a neighbor for help raking leaves to something as important as requesting a recommendation for a financial adviser.
If finding just the right words is hard to come by, you might start out by saying, “You know, I’m not very comfortable asking for favors, but I wonder if you might be able to help me with something?”
• Express your gratitude. You know this, of course. A heartfelt thank you in person or in writing will be warmly received by the person whose help you have accepted. No need to go overboard. Remember, people often want to help others and don’t expect to be compensated for doing a good deed.
• Offer help in return. Because giving can be as gratifying as receiving, you’ll want to make it known that you, too, are available to return the favor. We all have gifts, we all have needs, and we all can be of great assistance to one another.
Look around, and you’ll find plenty of opportunities to help those who have helped you during your time of need.
Asking for help becomes easier with practice. Just as I did, you’ll soon discover the benefits that lie in the aftermath of the ask — benefits that include stronger relationships with existing friends and family members, as well as the prospect of making new connections with others.
The rewards inherent in accepting help and expressing your gratitude are many and go both ways. So, take it from me: Life can be better, just for the asking.
Gwenn Voelckers is the founder and facilitator of Alone and Content, empowerment workshops for women, and author of “Alone and Content,” a collection of inspiring essays for those who live alone. For information about her workshops, to purchase her book, or invite her to speak, visit www.aloneandcontent.com