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The Fear of Asking for Help

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

How often have you been afraid to offer help? This may seem like a hard thing to do, but with a service orientation, as with most military folks, this isn’t too difficult. What’s more difficult is the opposite action – to seek out and ask for help. We get so caught up in showing strength and competence that at times we forget the importance of letting our guard down and seeking the help we need, be it a task or project, but even as far as emotional or mental support. This week’s post from Captain Danielle Deshaies addresses these very issues. CPT Deshaies is a native of Washington D.C and grew up in Raleigh, NC. She received a two-year green to gold scholarship and earned her commission as a 2nd Lieutenant from North Carolina A & T State University. She has been stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA, Fort Leonard Wood, MO, Camp Humphreys, Korea and is currently assigned to Fort Stewart, GA as the Brigade Chemical Officer for 1/3 Armor Brigade Combat Team. In her free time she enjoys rugby, reading and going for hikes. She enjoys learning new things and hopes to one day be able to travel the world.

Picture this – you’ve just gotten to a new unit and are nervous yet excited to begin your journey as an Officer. You worked really hard to get to this point and are looking forward to the road ahead. It’s your second week there and you’re still acclimating to the new environment. One day while sitting at your desk reviewing the unit Standard Operating Procedures (as any good new 2LT would), your boss, the Battalion S3, walks over and tasks you with planning the next Battalion Ball. He lets you know that he wants to see a draft order and CONOP (concept of operation) in two weeks and walks away hurriedly to his next meeting before you can ask any questions. As you sit there and review what just happened, you begin to feel a bit overwhelmed because you don’t know where to begin. You’re hesitant to ask for help because you don’t want to look incompetent… and since you’re new to the unit you feel like you have something to prove. You figure you’ll take it one step at a time and be good to go.

Fast forward to the evening before your products are due. You come to realize you won’t be finished in time and need to ask for an extension. You walk into the S3’s office feeling defeated and explain to him that you need more time. He agrees to give you a two week extension but not before discussing the importance of not being afraid or waiting until the last minute to ask for help. He also shares how it was surprising to him that he didn’t hear you asking any of your counterparts about planning a ball, and that you didn’t talk to him sooner because he was sure you would have additional questions. You leave his office feeling relieved that you were given an extension, but disappointed that you let your pride get in the way. Over the next two weeks, you focus on mission accomplishment and don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for help. This time you not only turn the products in early, but you also gained some kudos as the S3 noted how impressed he was by the work. At the end of the day you feel proud for getting the work done, but wished you had not been so hesitant to ask for help from the beginning.

How many of us can relate to the scenario above? I know I can. Many people are uncomfortable with the unknown and the uncomfortable. When asking for help, you cross into unfamiliar territory that forces you to grow and develop. There were several times early in my Army career where I was hesitant to ask for help because I felt like I had something to prove and didn’t want to look incompetent. However, as I have progressed, I’ve come to realize that asking for help isn’t a sign of ineptitude or inability; but rather an opportunity for self-development as well as the development of those around you. It can also create an environment that encourages learning and cooperation.

In a Psychology Today article, clinical social worker and psychotherapist Lisa Ferentz offers a few pointers on why we struggle with asking for help. In it she posits that if asking for help is hard for you, take some time to consider the following:

  1. While you were growing up what kind of messages did you get about asking for help?

  2. Did your family place more value on “doing it yourself” or “letting others in?”

  3. When you did attempt to reach out in childhood, how did the people in your life respond?

When faced with a complex problem or task it usually seems daunting to tackle it by yourself. However, when you include others by asking for help, you make the impossible seem possible. It’s amazing what we can accomplish as humans when we work together as a team and put pride aside. As the saying goes, “There’s no I in team”. Additionally, asking others for help shows them that you trust their ideas cherish their advice and feel competent in their abilities. Furthermore, you are able to gain fresh ideas and new perspectives outside of yourself. In a Forbes article about her book Brave, author Margie Warrell highlights how asking for help reveals strength, not weakness, because of all the fears we overcome – the fear of imposing, the fear of revealing our struggle, the fear of over-stepping a relationship, and the fear of appearing to be needy, among others.

On the other hand, there are times when asking for help isn’t because you don’t know or need outside perspectives, but because you are overworked or stretched to thin. We’ve all heard of the “yes” man and maybe even been guilty of being that person at some point in time. We get so caught up with all the tasks we have, we don’t take a minute to see where we can get help until it’s either too late and something falls through the cracks or we reach our breaking point. When we look back after the “damage” has been done, we realize we should have asked for help a lot sooner than we did. The work will always be there, regardless if you are or not, so don’t let yourself get consumed or overwhelmed; don’t be afraid to ask for help when you feel like its becoming to much. The bottom line: people won’t know you need help if you don’t ask.

Just because you ask for help doesn’t mean you’re incompetent or unsure of yourself. Sometimes asking for help takes more courage and strength than doing nothing at all. The next time you find yourself second guessing whether or not you should ask for help, think about what is standing in your way. You might be surprised to find, that the answer to your hesitation is right in the mirror in front of you.

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