The best time you ever asked for help
April 24, 2017 2:13 PM   Subscribe

Tell me about a time when you decided to ask someone for help/input/advice instead of flying solo and how much easier/better your life was as a result. (Please.)

Here's the deal: I am occasionally terrible at knowing when it's time to stop fruitlessly searching online for a solution to something and just ask someone who might already know.

But rather than ask for advice on how to address this tendency (although if you have some, I'm all ears), I thought it would be more fun to instead ask the HiveMind to share their best stories about a time when asking for help, advice, or input paid off in a particularly awesome way that never would have happened if they had continued to try to lone wolf it.

I am hoping that reading awesome success stories will help remind and inspire me to think outside the (search) box in the future. Thanks!
posted by helloimjennsco to Human Relations (16 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Travelling is great for this. Some of my best travel memories come about from me being completely lost & confused in another country & just asking some random friendly looking person for directions or help.

Thanks to this I spent a lovely hour with a lovely French family on a train. I couldn't figure out where to go in the station & showed them my ticket & they were taking the same train. We talked mainly in smiles & arm waves and their their 8year old son tried out all his English on me.

I asked for directions to a hotel I had a booking at in Denmark, when a group of very attractive Danes assured me I did not want to stay there. Swept in got the booking cancelled & took me to a nicer hotel not too far away or any more expensive. They then met in hotel bar for drinks & a great time was had by all. My Danish SIL the next day when she met me let me know my original booking was well known locally as a hotel that booked by the hour shall we say.

My family were visiting me in the USA and we all went to Chicago for the first time. The whole trip was a sea of Midwesterners kindly going out of their way to help us figure out what buses we wanted, what stops to get of at. Taking us to various sites or walking us to restaurants we were looking for. My elderly British Aunt wouldn't hear a bad word about Americans from that trip forth as they'd been nothing but kind to her the whole time.
posted by wwax at 2:37 PM on April 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

My husband and I have been heating with wood since January. He has his systems, I have mine. He was a demonstrably better fire starter from the beginning. He tried to coach me as I was building fires, which always resulted in me feeling criticized and rejecting all suggestions. One calm evening, the mood struck me and I asked him to watch me build a fire and give me his input. He hesitantly agreed, with a much different tone than previously, because I had asked, I think. And I was able to take his suggestions because I had asked for them. I am a better fire starter, AND I have been able to share tips back to him now and fire building feels much less like a competition and mire like a shared thing that we are learning. Plus I am better at organizing the woodpile so that the right sized pieces of kindling and small bits are available to make things easy.
posted by SLC Mom at 2:45 PM on April 24, 2017 [6 favorites]

Recently I forgot a set of keys an hour away from the locked freezer I needed to get into. My first thought was to manufacture a reason to be gone for two hours so I could get the keys and no one would ever know I make occasional mistakes. Instead I took a deep breath and asked if anyone could help me get the freezer open.

Long story short it is super easy to get the hings off a chest freezer, just be careful with the last screw because hinges can spring back faster then expected.

And I would have never thought of that! And even if I had I wouldn't have had the tools, or known to brace the hing as I finished. Asking for help turned what would have been an annoying few hours into an experience where I learned something new and felt good about myself and the people around me.
posted by lepus at 3:11 PM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is kind of a strange one, but my current position is such that an administrative assistant was hired to balance some of the work load. Every other job I've had before this one required 99% of the work to be done directly by me, whether it's planning, execution, administration, etc. And coming from a family in which you just did your thing and didn't always ask for much, it was the strangest thing to ask someone to help facilitate my work flow. I started with the impression that I was often bothering them, to the point that I felt anxious about it.

However, this is what I learned (and this may be a good lesson for any situation) is that some people really like to help — and my co-worker happens to thrive on it. Once I realized that, it recast how I felt about "bothering" people who were better than I was at something. I also realized that our world was made to work cooperatively with each other, and it's okay to admit help is needed. Lone-ranger bootstrap efforts didn't make the world, sharing resources and abilities did. It makes sense that there are people who enjoy both sides of that equation. (Additionally, I happen to love helping other people with any sort of specialized knowledge that I have, so it's now retroactively weird that I would assume that others would not.)
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:12 PM on April 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

I left my dog outside while I ran a quick errand that turned into hours. Instead of driving home to get him indoors I called a neighbor and asked if he would mind taking him into his home till I got back. Now we watch out for each other's pets as a matter of course. Our dogs get walked, fed, watered and extra attention. Works out well for everyone.
posted by BoscosMom at 4:52 PM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Long ago, when I worked an office job, there was a new guy who was hired by the evil VP in the floor above to do accounts overseeing, and he had a gruff impersonal manner, so he wasn't very loved. One day he happened to pass by on our floor while I was fiddling with Excel, and I asked him to help me figure something out. He showed me some things in a few minutes that made everything work, and I said thanks. We didn't quite become best friends, but it broke the ice, and everyone felt less stiff after that.
posted by ovvl at 6:27 PM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

My most recent Ask is literally the embodiment of this. Go you, fellow endless Googler! I'm getting better at just stopping and asking. I can always Google later :P
posted by yueliang at 6:30 PM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

A couple of months ago, I spent hours and hours researching health care options in my new state, and getting more and more frustrated and confused. I finally gave up, pulled out the local newspaper and found an ad for an insurance broker. We met with her a few days later, she explained it all, helped us choose without putting pressure on us, filled out the paperwork with us, faxed it in, and bob's your uncle, on March 1st we had new health insurance. After I sent the checks, of course.

And she is available to us all the time if we have questions or problems, and she is free.

I am a nurse and pretty sophisticated, I thought, about health insurance. But things change so quickly, and the rules are so esoteric and complicated, that it really paid off to ask for help.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:15 PM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

I had been searching for a job in an new city for a year. I had scanned all of the help wanted sections online and in the papers/periodicals, sent in tons of applications/letters, had consulted career guidance professionals who just kind of shrugged, and was getting pretty desperate. I went to a continuing legal education program, and on my break, got into a conversation with the woman seated next to me. I told her about my job hunt, and she said, "I work for a law firm that hires lawyers on a contract basis for short-term projects." (The firm, for some reason, did not advertise for these positions, so I would never have known the job existed unless someone who worked there told me.) I asked her if she would email me the next time the firm was hiring, and she agreed. Within two weeks I got an email from her, and within a month or so I got a job interview and an offer, and I've continued working off and on for different projects for the firm for more than 10 years now. It turned out to be more lucrative and lower-stress than full-time work ever was for me.

Sometimes I look at my bank account and wonder how much better off financially I'd have been if I'd run into that woman (and asked for her help) one year earlier.
posted by creepygirl at 9:52 PM on April 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

In my experience, lots of people love to be asked for help, and not only do you get better outcomes for your problem, but it can build relationships.

- when I moved into my apartment, my smoke alarm kept going off, annoying me and terrifying my dog. I didn't have a stepladder, so I knocked on a neighbor's door and asked if they had one. The husband wound up bringing theirs over, and discovered the battery was dead. He came back with a new battery (!). I brought them cookies the next week and we wound up becoming friends.

- I was going to be spending 4-6 months in a strange town where I didn't know anyone, and was having trouble finding affordable housing. I was finishing grad school, so I sent an email to all the alums in the area - one of them connected me with an opportunity in a beautiful house being left empty for the summer. It was furnished and way below market - I never would have found it on Craigslist.

- I had terrible tooth pain in a city where I hadn't been living long enough to get a dentist. I could have looked up dentists on Yelp, but asked a friend for a rec and she insisted I go to her dentist - who was amazing. So amazing that he helped me get over a decade of dental phobia and start going to the dentist regularly again.
posted by lunasol at 10:20 PM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

one time i got a shrink instead of offing myself. that was pretty cool. probably waited too long that time.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:34 PM on April 24, 2017 [10 favorites]

What is it that's stopping you asking? Low self esteem and not wanting to ask for fear it'll confirm people's beliefs that you're Not Very Good At Things? An arrogance that makes it grating for you to admit when you don't know something? Social anxiety? Pride in your google skills? A desire to be self-sufficient in all things?

Knowing when to ask is just as much an admirable skill as not asking; seeing it as a skill rather than failing may help. An example I have is when I was leading a project at work that due to unexpected external circumstances totally outside of my or the organisation's control suddenly became huge and very challenging. I worked very hard to manage and contain it and everyone was super impressed with how well I was handling it. I really got off on people complimenting me on how On It I seemed. A senior manager who I really respected would ocassionally call me directly to get some data that I collected as part of my role. I was very keen with her to put on the face of being cool, calm, collected and totally in control of this big project. When she'd ask how I was doing I'd run past any very practical questions related to higher up stuff with her to keep her in the loop and then say "yep, all good! Busy but under control!".

Management (including her) were doing what they could to ease my workload but it took time to train people up and delegate so it was a slog for a few months with an end in sight. One time I'd just come out of a very stressful meeting when Senior Manager called and when she asked how I was doing I couldn't control myself and burst into tears- "it's fine, but it's awful for me". Her first response was "to be honest, I can't believe this is the first time I've heard you sound upset or stressed over your work". When she said that it finally hit me that I was trying so hard not to ask for input or advice from others who could kind of see that I needed input and advice that I was actually looking quite weird for trying to put on such a show of NOT needing more help.

She couldn't do any more practically (and I knew that) but she was 100% supportive and gave me a huge confidence boost telling me that my reaction was totally normal and how impressed she was with the quality of my work and genuinely offered that I should get in touch with her just to run something past another person and get some cheer-leading. We became much friendlier after that, it was great to have it explicitly stated that someone I admired had my back and respected me; we now have coffee and she's become something of a mentor. It's unusual for "it's good you asked for help" to be explicitly articulated to you as an adult, but it is a social undercurrent that people do respect others who reach out when they need to.
posted by hotcoroner at 4:51 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: hotcoroner: Probably more of a self-sufficiency thing, I think? Honestly, just asking someone often doesn't even occur to me until I've exhausted other options. I think I feel like if I AM going to ask someone a question or for help on something, I want to make sure that I did my due diligence to try to find out or do it on my own first? So maybe a little bit of a desire to save face in there as well.

It is certainly something I'm trying to be more mindful of in general. I figured by leaving this Ask open ended, I could see what asking for help looks like in a practical way in a variety of circumstances, and that that might help me not just apply the "okay, now is the time to quit Googling and ask for help" response to one specific setting (i.e. work, school, etc.), but to start to consider asking a viable and useful problem solving option for any number of situations.
posted by helloimjennsco at 6:59 AM on April 25, 2017

Loving the answers here - thanks for a beautiful question!

I have a physical disability that means I have problems with stairs, or standing up from some chairs unaided. As a teenager I found this complicated and at first awful to ask for help in getting around. It was assumed by me and my family that my disability meant that I wouldn't be able to travel much independently and that my work would be mainly office-based.

Since then I learned how to ask for help from friends, strangers and family (and to a lesser extent my employer etc). I get help to stand up, in/out of cars, up and down/steps, etc.

This is the basis for so much in my life and what I do with it. I've lived and worked in developing countries for 8+ years now, travel around the world, and do a job that often involves visits to pretty inaccessible places. Plus, asking for help getting about speeds up the formation of friendships.
posted by squishles at 7:47 AM on April 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

I also have a mild mobility disability that I thought was well-handled by using orthotics in my shoes. However, over the past two years or so I was experiencing more and more problems with my mobility--pain in my feet and ankles, limping, stuff like that--and all of the solutions and stopgaps I have relied on for years were not helping.

I finally decided that, since I am fortunate enough to have good health care and insurance, that my New Years resolution for 2017 was to get help to fix this as much as possible. I got referrals to a podiatrist and physical therapy in January. The PT in particular was revelatory--I had never been, and it has literally changed my life in a few short months.

Last week I did a walking tour of a college across its expansive campus *and* hiked up a mountain, on the same day, with no pain whatsoever. Unthinkable last year at this time. I wish like heck I had known to seek this assistance earlier, but failing that, I am so grateful to have it now.

More generally: The older I get, the more I appreciate expertise and not having to solve every problem on my own. I understand my own expertise, and I value benefiting from the expertise of others. Asking for help is terrific.
posted by Sublimity at 9:48 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

When I was in middle school, we did one of those team building ropes courses. Other than the trust falls (which are fun if done correctly!), the best part was this activity:

We were all blindfolded and led to this network of ropes going from tree to tree. We were told to grab hold of the rope, follow it around, and get to the end of the maze. They said that if we got confused or needed anything, definitely ask for help. I fumbled my way around and around, bumping into the other blindfolded kids all holding on to the ropes, switching between trees, trying different routes. Every once in a while, I would hear a kid ask for help. Not me! I was smart and capable and determined to solve the puzzle.

After more time spent going around and around, and feeling like I had memorized it but still couldn't get out, I started to notice it was eerily quiet. I wasn't bumping into other kids as often. No worries, around and around. Finally, distressed at my failure and paranoid that the counselors had abandoned me blindfolded in the woods, I raised my hand and asked for help. They whispered "Sure! But keep quiet," and removed my blindfold. There WAS no end to the maze, it was just a big spider web. Almost all of the other kids were sitting quietly on the sidelines, drinking capri suns and giggling. They had figured it out before me: asking for help is the smart thing to do when you're confused or worried or feel like you aren't making progress. I got my capri sun and watched smugly as the last kid kept going around and around.

Maybe it was you??
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 3:28 AM on April 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

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