Asking for help

This week’s post will be uncharacteristically short because I know little about the subject, other than that it’s important. I want to make the case for asking for help—early and often. I was at a retreat last week, spending time meeting or catching up with my fellow Garrett Planning Network members. What a fantastic group of people: knowledgeable, kind, generous, dedicated to helping people and making this a better world. I noticed that my peers are very like me in their desire to figure their way out of things. We wait until we’ve gotten really frustrated before we ask for help. We want to be self-sufficient, we don’t want to burden others or waste their time, we think that we should be able to figure it out ourselves or that asking for help is a sign of weakness. I bet you can add another couple of dozen reasons, if you’ve ever been reluctant to ask for help.

When it really hit me that asking sooner rather than later is essential was in talking with another planner who has recently started his business. It can be overwhelming to get a new start-up off of the ground. It’s hard to ignore financial concerns when you’ve got a family to provide for. Start-up stress is fertile ground for self-doubt which funnels into a downward spiral and a crisis of confidence. Not the best state of mind for presenting yourself to potential clients! I encouraged my colleague to pick up the phone and call me or another Garrett member for encouragement at the first sign of start-up stress. The anxiety he’s been feeling isn’t unique to him, or to those of us in financial planning practices. It’s the norm, not the exception. By reaching out to a peer sooner rather than later, we’ll be reminded that much of our angst is just from being a human trying to do a new thing. We can save ourselves a lot of anxiety and short-circuit the downward spiral by asking for help earlier.

Try this at home

We can improve our lives by asking for help earlier on a variety of fronts, both professional and personal. The beauty of asking early is that it saves us from hours or days of mental churning and we’re more likely to ask for help in a calm, open way before we get frustrated and throw up our hands. Here are my tips for asking for help:

  • Ask for help, even when you’re not sure what kind of help you need or what the other person can offer. Ron and I have been taking care of my dad in North Carolina, with no family nearby, for almost five years. It has often been overwhelming, the pressure of knowing that we’re the only ones who can be here for Dad. It isn’t much of a day off when you only get it because your partner is taking over! I can see now that I’ve been slow to ask my siblings to pitch in because I haven’t been sure what they can do from a distance to help. Because I wasn’t asking for help, they didn’t know that we needed it and were headed directly in to burn out territory. Only many years down the road does it occur to me that I can ask for help without knowing what the answer is. My siblings may very well have their own ideas on how they can pitch in to take care of Dad and relieve the pressure on Ron and me. If I don’t ask, I’ll never know. Isn’t it better to have more people considering the problem and solutions than just Ron and me going over and over the same ground?

  • While you may not know exactly what the help needs to look like, make sure to clearly communicate your need. Two years ago we decided that, to relieve some of the pressure of constant caregiving and re-energize ourselves for the task, we would take the entire month of September off to make a camping trip out west. I gave my siblings a year’s notice and asked if they would come to North Carolina to spend time with Dad so he wouldn’t be lonely and worried during our absence. My vision was that I would be completely relieved of caregiving tasks—that someone would be here while we were gone and, even if no one was, someone else would remotely manage all of the details of Dad’s life (making sure that his necessary supplies were stocked, replacing lost or missing items, arranging rides to church on Sunday, being available to take phone calls from Dad’s assisted living, in case he falls or needs something). Instead my siblings came to be with Dad during two of the weeks we were gone and I did all of the managing remotely. It wasn’t the best break. So we decided to try again this year by again taking September off. Despite many months of notice, it looks like only one of my siblings will come this year…and again no one is offering to take over all of the care management. Looking back, I don’t think I clearly enough told my family, “Ron and I are getting burned out by the physical and emotional demands of taking care of Dad. In order to be able to continue to provide care for 11 months of the year, we’re going to need to be completely free of responsibility for Dad during one month. We need your help—please organize yourselves to cover this month.” The message still might not have been received and the outcome might have been the same, but I would feel better if I knew I had been clear and direct enough. What seemed obvious to me—that we are burned out and need help, may not be at all obvious to them.

  • Ask lots of people, you never know who will be willing or offer the most creative solution. In my current quest to make sure Dad isn’t lonely or bored while we’re out of town, I’ve decided to ask everyone and every organization I can think of. So, in addition to asking my Facebook friends, I’ll be contacting Senior Services and the hospice and palliative care organizations in two counties. Maybe, if I ask enough people, I’ll get connected to the right person or people who would love to engage with my awesome Dad. If you have other suggestions on people or organizations I should reach out to, please let me know .

  • If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no. I was nervous about asking my siblings to step up because I was afraid they would say no. This is always the risk. Sometimes we may feel that we would rather not ask than have to hear the answer. But it’s hard for me to imagine a time when that really is the best strategy. Life is full of risks. Let’s face them head-on, with our eyes wide open. Better to have an answer, even if it’s no, so we can learn and move on.

  • Be open to offers that are not what you expected. I have no idea what resources my social media network and local caregiving organizations may suggest to meet Dad’s needs. I hope that there’ll be people in my community who would love to brighten Dad’s day by taking him out for lunch or to the farmer’s market. But I really don’t know who might respond or what they might offer. I’m going to try to remain open to different solutions than those I’ve come up with myself. Check with me in a month or so to see how well I’ve managed that!

  • Remember that asking for help gives others an opportunity to be of service. Little in life makes us feel better than knowing that we have been of service to a friend, loved one, or complete stranger. My parents were the ultimate servants. They devoted their lives to raising their four kids, to teaching, and to serving their church community in a variety of ways. As they got older, it was hard for them to ask for or accept help themselves. The transition from servant to being served is not an easy one. When I would ask them to consider help, I would remind them of what a gift it had been in their own lives to be of service to others—the satisfaction they had gotten, the meaning it had given their lives. And I asked them to give that gift to others—to let someone else feel good because she had been of service to them. It didn’t make it much easier, but it helped them be willing to accept help. They still found ways to be of service, but they also learned to accept help and even ask for it. I’m trying to apply this lesson in my own life, which is of course much harder than trying to teach someone else to use it!

I believe that churning less and reaching out to ask for help earlier can improve my own life and strengthen my connections with my loved ones and community. Do you? Share your thoughts on the subject and your experience asking for help with me.

Investment advisor representative of and investment advisory services offered through Garrett Investment Advisors, LLC, a fee-only SEC registered investment advisor. Tel: (910) FEE-ONLY. Fair Winds Financial Advice may offer investment advisory services in the State of North Carolina and in other jurisdictions where exempted.