Educating the toddler within: Help is a good thing

by | Jul 2, 2011

Some time between two and four years old, children begin to develop self-sufficiency. You know it’s happening when you hear cries of, “I can do it myself,” often accompanied by tears of frustration. Next thing you know, you have a tantrum on your hands.
A tantrum is the result of a collision between the drive for autonomy and the limits of ability. It happens with adults, too, especially when they insist on doing something alone instead of getting help.

Six hours and a crick in the neck OR “Do as I say, not as I do”
Last week I spent six hours struggling with a video editing program. At the end of the day (literally), all I had to show for it was a painful crick in my neck.
I was frustrated. I was pissed off. It shouldn’t be that hard, I thought. The program was flawed. The guy who recommended it to me had led me astray. I should have known better than to invest so much time and money in video.
Yadda, yadda, yadda.
It wasn’t until the following morning that the light dawned: I could have asked for help. And I could have asked before I was in physical pain and on the brink of a meltdown.

Help was only a phone call away
You know that guy who led me astray? I can’t tell you how many times he has volunteered to help me. On the few occasions when I broke down and emailed for assistance, he immediately got on the phone or Skype to solve my problem.
And every time, the problems went away. (Yes, new problems arose. That’s called a learning curve. Just because you ask for help once doesn’t mean you never have to ask again. I should have that tattooed on my forehead.)
But last week, instead of asking for help, I got snared in an adult tantrum. By the time I asked for help, I was worn out and discouraged. And although I was relieved to make headway, I had to live with having spent six hours of my wild and precious life tearing my hair out.
And the moral of the story?
Not asking for help as soon as you get stuck is wasteful, unnecessary, and disrespectful of your teachers.

Not asking for help is wasteful
You only have one life, and you’re accountable for how you use it. There are things you rock at. Do more of those. There are things you are lousy at. Outsource them.
And there are things that you want and need to learn, but your precious time is best spent learning with someone who knows how.
Because every hour you spend tearing your hair out is an hour that you aren’t spending doing your best work. Loving your family and friends. Creating. Celebrating. Just being.
For me, the learning edge right now is video. For you, it could be learning to use some other technology. Or, just maybe, it’s learning how to be profitable at the work you love.
When you don’t ask for help, you waste time and money in the present. You waste investments you made in the past because you aren’t building on them. And you waste the time you’ll have to spend in the future picking up after yourself.
Yes, I know that in an absolute sense nothing is wasted. But we live in a relative Universe where waste is possible. And sad.

Not asking for help is unnecessary
If you’re reading this, it is safe to say that help is always available. It may not look the way you want it to. It may not come on your terms. But if you have willingness and humility, you’ll find help.
There’s free help, which you pay for with time, energy, and attention.
There’s help from friends and family, which may mean swallowing your pride or changing your story that they don’t really get you.
There’s help from peers. Here again, pride needs to take a back seat. And you’ll need to trust that there’s enough success to go around.
Finally, there’s help you pay for. It takes discernment to determine what help fits your needs. It takes humility to admit you don’t already know it all. Sometimes it takes acceptance that you do need to learn things you’d rather not deal with. (Sales, anyone?) And it takes commitment to do your part so that you get what you pay for.
Which brings me to a quick corollary: You have to ask for help.

You have to ask for help
I see it in myself, and I see it in my clients and students. We pay for help. But we don’t call on it until we are up against the wall.
We somehow expect the person we hire to anticipate our needs. To offer support without being asked. We put ourselves on a starvation diet when there’s a buffet within reach.
All because we won’t ask for what we need before we are at our wits’ end.
(And asking for help during or after a tantrum is so unappealing. Have you noticed?)

Not asking for help is disrespectful of your teachers
I really go this one last week. I have a wonderful video teacher. He’s patient. He’s funny. And while he has decades of experience as a professional videographer, he’s always learning about the technology and tools we amateurs need.
He has pleaded with me to ask for help when I need it.
And as a teacher myself, I should know better than to hold back. After all, his reputation is on the line. When I do well, he looks good (as well he should). When I don’t ask for help, it doesn’t matter how good his work is; it won’t show up in my results. Or I’ll get results with struggle and angst, which doesn’t make either of us happy.
A teacher wants his work to help his students. He wants to make a difference. And it’s disrespectful when we don’t understand and honor that.
Well, I’ve gone on a bit here. You could call this an extended apology to all the teachers I’ve not allowed to help me. You could say I’m recovering from a tantrum.