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Posts Tagged ‘asking for help’

Is “Help!” a four-letter word for you?

In aging, behavior, domestic life, Health, life, seniors, women on March 15, 2012 at 12:07 am
English: "A Helping Hand". 1881 pain...

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve just experienced the most dependent month of my adult life.

Having had full hip replacement, returning home bruised, swollen and sore, I needed daily — even multiple times a day — help to do the simplest of things: eat, dress, pull socks, stocking and shoes on and off, get in and out of bed, bathe.

I left my parents’ home at 19 and lived much of my life after that alone. I’d been sick as hell alone in my apartment or traveling far away where I knew no one and didn’t speak the language, in places like Venice or Istanbul. My family has never been close emotionally or physically — it was made very clear to me what, pretty much whatever happened to me, physically, financially, emotionally, it was up to me to figure out, and cope with it.

I hated being weak, needy and vulnerable. Surprise!

I finally drove this week — and showered (alone!) and tied my sneakers (unaided!) — for the first time in a month. I went by train into Manhattan, our nearest city, and saw a movie with a friend and did some clothes shopping. It was all deliciously new and deeply pleasant.

But I didn’t, as everyone expected, sigh with relief at finally regaining my cherished independence.

I loved having Jose home, to chat with and bring me breakfast in bed. Friends drove an hour to visit, bringing home-cooked meals and fresh cheer. Two close friends were kind enough to chauffeur me to physical therapy a few times, otherwise a $20 cab ride each way.

I’d never been so fussed over or cared for, and it was lovely. Our front door is covered in get-well cards. We ate dinners for three weeks cooked and delivered by members of our church.

As I’ve been walking our apartment property in spring sunshine, I’ve run into a neighbor, a single woman my age who is fighting cancer for the third time. She’s reluctant to ask for help, but she needs it from time to time.

We all do.

We are, even in our vigorous 20s or 30s, as likely to be felled by a vicious flu or a broken arm or a sprained ankle.

We need help, whether writing a better resume or finding the perfect wedding dress or learning how to refinish furniture or bathe a baby. But, for some reason, we’re supposed to shoo away a helping hand.

No, I’m, fine, really, we insist. Even when we’re really not at all fine and would kill for a helping hand or two.

Maybe we’re afraid no one will step up and be reliable and do the hard work, even for a while. As someone who took decades here in New York to make lasting friendships, this offered a huge and powerful lesson for me. We’re loved!

Do you find it difficult to ask others for help?

When you ask, do you receive it?

Six Reasons I Might Not Help You

In behavior, blogging, books, business, work on January 5, 2012 at 3:09 am
English: There are no symbols that represent s...

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I really enjoy helping people — to connect with one another, get jobs, get better jobs, meet a sweetie. I tend to do this automatically and have for many years.

But I recently turned someone down who came to me for help.

I’m done having my generous goodwill taken for granted.

If someone has turned you down for help or mentoring or advice, (and you don’t understand why) maybe it’s one of these:

The person who referred me to you hasn’t treated me well.

Just because you know someone who knows me doesn’t mean I automatically want to help you (i.e. helping them out.) The quality and longevity of my relationship with the person who referred you to me is what counts — because you’re a total stranger to me.  Your referring friend knows, (even if you don’t), this is as much of a favor to them.

Why, if at all, do I owe them (and you) my help?

You asked to “pick my brain.”

It’s taken me more than three decades of unrelenting hard work, surviving three recessions — (while some of you were still in diapers!) — to accumulate these skills, experience and contacts. Asking someone this question is rude and disrespectful. I charge up to $200/hour for my skills. You get what you pay for.

Here’s a recent Forbes blog post on the same issue. It surely hit a nerve, with 3,000 Facebook shares.

You didn’t even acknowledge that asking for my unpaid time is a favor.

Because it is. Your unpaid use of my time costs me income.

You asked me for information that is quickly and easily accessible elsewhere.

I don’t help people I perceive as lazy, no matter how charming they are.

You offered nothing in exchange or access to potential clients.

Epic fail!

I was approached about a decade ago, (not at all unusual), by a writer in another city I didn’t know who needed advice about writing and selling his first book.  In that first email, he also offered to put me in touch with some of his valued editorial contacts that might lead to paid work for me down the line.  We’ve since become good friends. He got it.

In contrast, a few years ago, another total stranger  — another young man, but this time with no ties in common — asked for my help getting started as a photographer. I made introductions to a few very powerful and connected professional contacts, the sort he could only dream of.

Now that he’s thriving, (and good for him!), a thank-you note or flowers would be nice. I had no expectation of that, but anyone who chooses to share some of their skills or contacts is giving you a gift.  Don’t just grab and run!

You didn’t follow though.

The person whose behavior prompted this post took the time to write me a long email asking for help. I took the time to write back and told her my fees.

I never heard from this person again.

Do you really want help?  If you want something badly enough to ask for it in the first place, why waste my time by walking away after I respond (not necessarily exactly as you had hoped)?

If you mentor, do you care what happens after you help someone out?

Has someone you helped come back to thank you or return your generosity?

C-C-C-C-Confidence!

In behavior, books, business, journalism, life, Media, Money, women, work on May 18, 2011 at 2:41 pm
Skyhammer & Airlift Mini-Con  Power Core Combi...

That's what I'm talking about!!Image by Rodimuspower via Flickr

Can we get anything done without it?

Yet, and yet and yet, I have entire days I think I just can’t: make that call, send that email, ask that favor, knock on that door or send that resume.

People have told me for decades how confident I appear, and the operative word might be appear, for there are too many days I feel like some medieval warrior girding her loins before even picking up the phone or sending out an email.

As someone with no steady income, salary or pension down the line, I’m in lioness mode: I eat only what I catch and kill. That means having to hustle for clients every day, whether reaching out to former or current ones or finding and cultivating new ones.

Either way, it means a lot of people contact and no guarantee of the outcome.

Which, if I fail, means — I’m broke!

No pressure.

I can blame my reticence on a few things:

– I’ve been canned from a few jobs, which has permanently dented my sense of likability, no matter how businesslike a layoff can be

– I was badly bullied in high school for three years by a small gang of boys

– I spent ages 5 to 30 in Canada, a country that has no tolerance for self-promotion or boasting then moved to the U.S., a place with a population 10 times larger, competing with some mighty sharp elbows. Time to man up!

– I faced a tough crowd in my own family, people who often found much to criticize and little to praise

But without a cheery demeanor and the conviction you have something worthwhile to offer, it’s tough to get out there and ask for what you want, whether a job referral, grant recommendation or help with a new project.

I had recently reached out to two people, one an old friend who didn’t call back for weeks and one a new contact whose initial voicemail sounded fairly frosty. So it was with a heavy heart I called both of them back.

Both were delighted to hear from me. Both had lost my phone number and wanted to hear my ideas.

If I hadn’t had the confidence to reach out again, I would have lost out on some cool opportunities.

Do you ever feel lily-livered?

How do you get past it?

When Is Help Worth Paying For? The Creatives' Dilemma

In business on December 28, 2009 at 9:10 pm
A chimpanzee brain at the Science Museum London

Pick it, but for a price...Image via Wikipedia

Correct me, please, if I am wrong, but I suspect that engineers or dentists or plumbers or dry-cleaners, when meeting someone socially, don’t get: “Oh, can I ask your advice?” Do you actually show a DDS your molars or point to a stubborn spot on your sleeve? I doubt it. It would be weird and rude and intrusive.

Writers do get this question. All the time. Maybe because, y’know, it’s just writing.

People email me, and perhaps also to many others, out of the blue to “pick my brain” as though that were an activity I might enjoy and find satisfying. Yes, it’s flattering that people think you have something useful to offer them. Sure, one works hard to acquire some level of visibility and credibility. But I’m not emailing random Big Name Person to ask them for their help, free. I know it took them years of hard work and experience, perhaps costly travel and education and internships and apprenticeships, to acquire the very knowledge I wish I had. Why should they just hand it over to me gratis?

I also studied interior design for a few years, planning to leave journalism for that field. One of our classes was  focused on the legal issues designers face. Like being sued. We were warned, in all seriousness, not to hand out advice on anything too substantive lest the suggested curtains catch on fire or someone slips on that sisal or their kid got caught their thumb caught in the Knole sofa and they’d come after us for it. I also liked the basic message — we were experts and would bill for that time and expertise. Clients will ask for anything they think can get away with.

I’ve spent many years mentoring, helping, advising dozens of strangers, free. Not so much any more. I plan to retire and in order to do so need to retain control of my time, which, in addition to my skills, is all I have to offer in the intellectual marketplace.

Here’s the challenge. I’ve already committed to serve on two volunteer boards, for several years, that take up a fair bit of unpaid time and attention. I enjoy giving back.

If you’re someone who really likes to help others succeed, as I genuinely do, and you like to be liked, as many of us do, yet you must carve out a decent freelance income from your well-developed, otherwise uncompensated skills, when and where do you draw that line?

Do you think, or find, that women have a harder time saying “no” to such requests? Do you feel any hesitation asking such questions?

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