Ask for help

As a child, when we decided to have a night in and rent a video from our local Dublin spot—RIP, Xtra-vision—I used to wonder why my family would spend time searching through the shelves for the film we wanted. At some point I decided to stop searching and began asking the employee behind the counter if they had what we were looking for. It was great. They could immediately tell me whether the video was in stock; if it wasn’t, they’d usually give me a good recommendation for something else. And no matter what, we were always finished a lot more quickly than if we’d kept looking ourselves.

This story could be used to illustrate my impatience—fair enough. It could also be said that I resist savouring the process, or that I miss other wonderful things along the way by skipping steps. But what I choose to take from the memory is that from an early age, I didn’t mind asking for help.

Asking for help doesn’t apply only to trivial things like finding a movie to watch. Some of the best things that happened to me in the last year came about because I asked for help. I asked a friend to help me make a game as a Christmas present for my sister which she really loved. I asked a new friend about songwriting and we ended up writing one together 3 days later. I asked a lot of friends whether I could sleep on their couches to save me money while travelling and I know for certain my trip was more enjoyable as a result. Even the seed for this very post came from me asking Diana Kimball for help after she put out this call on twitter.

Experiment: I’ll talk with anyone who will commit to writing a reflection afterward & posting to @Medium. Interested?

I had been wanting to write more but I didn’t feel confident that what I had to say was worth reading. I decided that asking Diana for her opinion and advice would at the very least give me food for thought and I could take it from there—plus it meant I got to chat with her, which is always great. And now here I am, writing with confidence because she said some insightful things that helped me curb my self doubt.

Let’s take it back even further: my work in web design today can be traced back to the day I asked my friend Doc Parsons for advice on how to get into the field. We met for lunch in Dublin one sunny afternoon April of 2011 and he told me all sorts of useful things. He even introduced me to my now-employer because he knew I was trying to get a job. None of this would have happened had I not asked.

There are certainly caveats to this. It should be noted that I’m an out-going type. On the spectrum I am an extrovert for certain, and so naturally I talk to people and feel comfortable doing so. But asking for help, it seems to me, is still considered somewhat taboo. Come to think of it, overcoming the taboo of asking for help was one of the big themes at least year’s XOXO. So many of the talks touched on the point that being independent does not need to mean being alone, or doing everything by yourself. That we should ask for help when we need it.

So for those of you who are struggling with a project idea, stuck on a particular programming or design challenge, or even if you’re having a difficult time with personal or emotional problems:

Ask for help.

I promise you, people love helping each other out. It’s one of our good qualities.