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With a little help from my friends
Q: Do you find it easier to rely on yourself or others?
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“Can you come home? I need help.” I bawled into the phone. My toe was bleeding profusely, the nail hanging askew and freaking me out. I was in severe pain from having stubbed my toe against the leg of a couch I was trying to move. And I was struck by the realization that I could not fix this by myself. I was barely able to hobble over to the desk to pick up my phone and dial my husband. I didn't know how to stop the bleeding and the sight of blood was making me light headed.
I was crying from the pain and the blood. But I was also crying because I was not comfortable in this situation. A situation that makes me reliant on someone else. Over the years I have recognized that I am someone who struggles to ask for help. Growing up as the only child of two busy doctors, I had become self reliant at an early age given their working hours. It was a skill that had served me well over the years, making me fearless about entering new situations. Moving countries multiple times before the age of 18, coming to the US for college from Oman, taking on the role of a product manager in a startup, advocating for my special needs son in elementary school - I had always figured out how to survive and thrive in new situations.
But my self reliance has become my Achilles heel. In the midst of trying to do everything myself, I have a tendency to reach burnout before I know it. My independence sometimes makes me appear aloof to others as I am reluctant to ask others for help. I notice myself getting annoyed when I ask people to do stuff and they don't do it “my way”. In my quest for perfection, I end up pissing people off who start to shun the tasks expecting judgment and criticism from me.
So that morning when I was crying…it was also because this incident seemed to be a wake up call from the universe reminding me how much I am dependent on my loved ones. The night before I had gone to bed angry after a fight with my husband. “I don't need to deal with this anymore” was my thought in the morning as I contemplated if and how I should apologize for my behavior. But instead my bleeding toe reminded me to say sorry and thank you. I did need each of the members of my family - to bandage my foot each day, to get me my computer and books from my bedroom upstairs, and to climb into bed and give me tight hugs at night.
“What am I going to write this week?” Sometimes I come up with an idea or write a post and Mitali writes a response to that, and at other times she inspires me. This week I was traveling again, this time for work, and I hadn’t written anything besides a little poem about finding magic in New York. So I was sincerely hoping that she had found something interesting to talk about. I read her post mid-week and liked it instantly. She normally doesn’t wax poetic about her feelings and pain. She’s much more stoic - always calm, always steady. It’s what makes her a great leader and an incredible friend. She mentioned how she had hurt her toe and was finding it hard to walk earlier in the week but it was only upon speaking to my brother a day later that I found out she was bedridden.
Unlike Mitali, I’m great at asking for help. It’s one of my gifts - being resourceful, finding that one person that can help no matter what situation. Like asking a friend with great design taste what color to paint my wall. Or finding friends great at writing to edit our first Disco Dialogues post. On most days I think of it as a strength - it helps me get things done or learn more efficiently and allows me to share my vulnerability with people. However, if you ask for help too often there is a price you pay (other than your friends or partner running out of patience!).
I had become so used to asking for help. Growing up, my mother realized that she couldn’t assist me with school as she hadn’t attended an English-speaking school. But she was so resourceful in finding people - cousins, after school tuition teachers etc. - to help me out. She felt no shame in asking for support from others. Looking back, this is where I must have picked up my ability to find the right people to ask for guidance.
But after years and years of relying on others to lend me a helping hand, I realized that I had lost the ability to depend on myself. I started to believe I needed help with everything - making the big decisions about my career and love life, throwing parties for more than 10 people, organizing my daughter’s room… and so on.
Asking for help has become my crutch. It has prevented me from challenging myself to brainstorm solutions or go deeper within myself to figure out the right answer. Instead of taking risks and trying out new approaches that I dream up, I lean on others for their experience and foolproof answers so I can avoid making mistakes. This is doing a disservice to myself.
But as they say, the first step is awareness. I have started to make small shifts in trusting myself to figure things out. I now ask myself the question before I turn to my friends. I still very much enjoy the process of hashing things out with those I respect but it’s nice to be able to get my own clarity before I reach out to others.
We leave you with this song. Hopefully it reminds you to ask for help - either from your friends or from yourself.
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