🎶 Help Me by Sonny Boy Williamson II
“When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else."Toni Morrison*
A few months ago, I left my job abruptly and decided to focus full-time on my digital marketing consultancy. I needed to quickly pick up clients, and in that desperation I took a chance by asking a friend for a favor: could he introduce me to anyone who might need marketing support? That friend was Andy Sparks, CEO at Holloway. “We don’t have the budget for a full-time role,” he said, “but boy, could I use some help.”
I felt all my usual anxieties when I reached out to Andy for help—actually, maybe some of this sounds familiar to you:
- “I’ll look dumb if I can’t figure it out on my own.”
- “I don’t want to come across as weak or a burden.”
- “If I want to be in control of the process/task/result, I have to do it on my own.”
- “I’m a strong, independent thinker, and I don’t need anyone’s help.”
These thoughts cycle through my head whenever I think about asking for help, and, ironically, they leave me feeling dumb, weak, and out of control. But then Andy completely changed the script on me—now that I’d asked, I would be helping him.
Growing up low-income and the child of immigrants, I came to rely on myself to figure things out—not asking for help was a point of pride and identity. It’s taken me a long time to learn why it’s so important to ask for help, and even longer to learn how to do it (see our Editorial Director Courtney Nash’s Good Work from a few weeks ago on how to ask for help when you need it). Now, when I know I need help—when I can admit to myself that I do—it’s cathartic. And what I’m still learning is how important it can be for other people. Asking for help can be a gift: it makes those around you feel more comfortable with their own limitations, it lets them know that you’re someone they can trust, and, like it did with Andy, it can open up possibilities for collaboration of all kinds—you never know when someone was just waiting for you to ask.
- “She understood that her work—and all of our work—must be applied in pursuit of a world that is more just, more fair and more humane.” In the wake of Toni Morrison’s death this past Monday, I’ve been thinking a lot about her work, and her words quoted at the top of this Good Work. She was famous for the help she offered students, other writers, all of her readers; we all need her reminder that helping others is our duty, and if that’s true, then allowing people to help us is a duty too. Many beautiful tributes were written by those who knew her and knew firsthand the help she gave. Here are a few reads: Tayari Jones in Time (quoted in this paragraph), Hilton Als in The New Yorker, and Roxane Gay in The New York Times.
Why and how to ask for help
- Heidi Grant has made her career in the specific ways to ask for help. You can listen to her TED Talk and/or read her book Reinforcements: How to Get People to Help You.
- An article from Harvard Business Review, “The Best Leaders Aren’t Afraid to Ask for Help,” reminds us that being a good leader means showing vulnerability and connection, letting your ”humanness” shine through.
- For an entrepreneurial perspective, we love Praveen Tipirneni’s “Why to Get Comfortable Asking For Help,” at The Startup. In the U.S., we erroneously idealize individualism, which makes asking for help extra hard. The best way to fix that, Tipirneni writes, is to “go somewhere you’ll need to ask for help.”
- In a Times piece, “The Right Way to Ask, ‘Can I Pick Your Brain?',” learn from Adam Grant, Cal Newport, and Dorie Clark on why the common phrase is ineffective, and how you can get better results by changing it up.
- Next week, we’re publishing an excerpt from our Guide to Raising Venture Capital on asking for help as part of building your network. If you don’t have a copy yet and want to see what else the Guide offers, check it out (ever the marketer!).
Accepting and giving help
- How far would you go to help a complete stranger? Vox’s Dylan Matthews shares his story of donating a kidney to a stranger; this piece won’t leave me.
- I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Adam Grant, whose first book, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success was a national phenomenon for good reason. If you’re not familiar with his work, start with the Times profile on him, where you can let this sink in: “For Grant, helping is not the enemy of productivity, a time-sapping diversion from the actual work at hand; it is the mother lode, the motivator that spurs increased productivity and creativity.”
That’s Good Work for this week. Looking forward to what’s next.
Sonia and the Holloway Team