When you have an affliction like mine, there’s nothing more confronting than being given six months to write a book. It wasn’t the pressing deadline that bothered me as much as the awkward position it put me in of having to ask for help.
I’m no good at it. The writing I could handle but the prospect of reaching out to ask for (and accept) a helping hand with the other parts of my life made my quiver. What if people said no? Worse, the very inference that I wasn’t capable enough to pull it off on my own.
Mostly I make do. I’ve learnt to adapt over the years to my self imposed (yet subconscious) aversion to assistance expecting nothing, preferring to settle for struggle over ministrations. I am far more comfortable with doing it solo than the only other option of laying myself on the line and requesting help. I’d rather be pulled in all directions (as is my default state) than put out a hand because with that comes the ever present risk (too daunting to even contemplate) that it may not be met, then what might that say about me?
“It isn’t so much the act of asking that paralyses us”, writes musician Amanda Palmer in her book The Art of Asking. “It’s what lies beneath: the fear of being vulnerable, the fear of rejection, the fear of looking needy or weak.”
Palmer has perfected the art of asking from being a ‘bride statue’ on the streets with a bucket at her feet, to crowd funding her music and calling on strangers for everything from food to a bed for the night. There is just as much payoff for the giver as the givee, she’s found, rewarded by the “random closeness” that such an exchange brings. As she says in her TED Talk, tears welling in her kohled eyes, “When we really see each other we want to help each other”.
But it’s the ‘seeing’ each other that scares most of us off. The fear that we’ll expose our vulnerability, so often regarded as a deficiency instead of appreciating what social scientist Brene Brown calls the “courage and daring” behind it.
Some asks I find easy – depending on the recipient. “Would you be so kind as to call me back?” “Could I get your advice?” “Could I borrow your handbag? Feel free to say no”.
But should the stakes get much higher I baulk. I would never ask someone to babysit, for example. Not without paying. Or to give me a lift. Or lend me money. I’m famous at work for paying back 20 cents because I feel so indebted. I take a deep breath when I ‘invite’ people to ‘like’ my Facebook page.
Which is why I’m so grateful when the unasked offer anyway. I hold in high esteem – my own personal measure of another’s worth – those who just give off their own bat. The friend who turned up at my door, despite my protestations, with Staminade when I was home sick. The friends who insisted on taking my boys when I was on deadline. The one who came over to unpack boxes when I moved house with a new baby. The school mum who lent me her car when mine overheated.
These gestures move me to tears because I get what I need bypassing the utter discomfort of having to request it. Still I feel obliged to even up the ledger. I tally up the help determined to return the favour.
But in that I miss out. On the unique connection that comes with asking and receiving for the sake of it. “Those who ask have faith in our capacity for love”, says Palmer viewing themselves “in collaboration with the world”.
The good news is like any art, asking can be perfected with practice. And so I work on becoming a master asker.
This article was first published in Sunday Life Magazine and DailyLife.com.au on 19th July, 2015