Asking for help has never been my strong suit. I am great at asking for help for others – I cannot even remember how many business introductions I have made, how many job recommendations I have given or how many people I connected socially. I am great at tapping into my network – to support others.
But if it comes to myself, I am always hesitant to ask for help. Recently, one of my mentors recommended to ask a certain person for help. “Do you really think I should get in touch with him for this? He may think I only get in touch if I need something?”, was my response. Her answer simply was: “So what? If he wants to help, he will. If not, he won’t answer.” As simple as that. I know I would probably not think twice if this was not related to myself but if it was to help somebody else. I would have probably already sent an email.
I guess my biggest issue with asking for help is to seem weak or, that I am not able to do it on my own. I know that asking for help is nothing bad. It is not a weakness. I cannot do everything myself and I do rely on the support of my network. Nevertheless, I want people to know that I am strong – I do not want to show any weaknesses.
When I worked on my PhD-thesis, I visited many companies to interview them about their China operations. At the same time, I was looking for a job. I was 24 years old. It would have been perfectly OK, if not only logical, to tell my counterparts that I am looking for a position after my PhD. But you know how many offices I left without asking about a job? I thought that if they were interested in hiring me, they would mention it. However, how were they supposed to know that I was looking? Maybe I wanted to pursue a career in research? When I finished my thesis (by that time I already had found a job), I got instant replies saying they would be happy if I chose to work for their company. But it was too late, I had missed out on quite a few opportunities. Just because I was too proud to ask for help.
When people meet me, their impression very often is that I am super organised, hard working, smart and strong – and that I do not need help. “We know you will be successful, you will find the right path on your own.” This is the problem if you do not ask for support. You will be left alone, because you seem strong. Nobody would even doubt that you can do it on your own. But this makes it much more difficult. Hence, I learned it the hard way that showing everyone only my strong side does not necessarily help me.
I do not mean to say that us women should come across as weak. Not at all. But it does not harm at all to ask for help. Asking for help is not a weakness. Moreover, do not be shy to be bold. I recently encountered quite a few positive developments because I pushed them. Because I put myself instead of somebody else forward. And if you now may think I am telling you to become selfish, I actually do. At least a bit. We can still help each other out but in the end, we need to look after ourselves too.
Therefore, adopt my mantra this week: if you encounter an issue, actively ask for help. And if you come across an opportunity, you would like to seize, put yourself forward. There is no shame in that!