The Act of Receiving Help

There is a subtle opportunity when you are being offered help. 

Individually, this opportunity is often one that we resist due to our egos feeling stubborn or embarrassed. Or maybe from feeling undeserving. We may find ourselves thinking that we should be able to do it ourselves. That we need to try a few more times first. We may believe that we need to do it ourselves if we are to learn how to survive in this world.

As a strong-willed, but shy, little girl, I was presented with plenty of life challenges navigating friendships and social interactions at school. They were perfect opportunities to admit that I was never meant to do this alone. In hindsight though, I can see that too often I refused to ask for help. I was always determined to do things on my own. Why? Probably to avoid all the emotions I’ve already mentioned.

I remember a time during college after I had returned home for the holidays. Sitting with my mom, reflecting on my grade-school years, I mentioned how much I had been teased when I was young. She was surprised. Because as attentive as she had been she had never known. She never knew because I never told her. She expressed how sad she was that she didn’t help me when I needed it. But her little girl had thought she could handle it on her own and that her parents would be disappointed to hear that she wasn’t liked — because perhaps that meant that there was something wrong with her. Unfortunately, at the time that little girl didn’t know, as I do now, that the other kids’ responses really had nothing to do with her.

In particular, I remember being made fun of for my name. “Ash-WEE-NEE” they would say, with emphasis on the last two syllables. (Even now, when people unintentionally mispronounce my name, I consciously have to intervene on my thoughts to override the emotional memory of shame. I remind myself that they just don’t know how to say my name yet, or that they can’t. Interesting right?)

I also remember the attention I received for my love of wearing printed, patriotic-themed T-shirts. For several years, this was a popular style for kids printed T-shirts. I felt such a pride and sense of community with my country when I wore those shirts. But several boys in my class would yell, “Patriotic Woman!!” Being seven or eight years old, I was embarrassed and felt the sting each time they drew attention to my preferences. The sting was felt not because of embarrassment from the attention, but due to the sadness of being truly unseen.

Only in recent years did I realize more fully this lifelong pattern of resisting and rejecting help. In fact, as I had alluded to above, often I would try to preemptively demonstrate my ability and strength in order to create an image of someone who didn’t need help to be offered. This way, I didn’t have deal with the possibility that people didn’t see me, or care enough to reach out. Or in the event that people did care, I wouldn’t have to go through the discomfort of feeling that connection, that oneness that you feel when you actively accept the help that you are receiving.

When we’re young, receiving help is filled with practical meaning. Sometimes, it may be very transactional in nature. “I wanted ____, so I asked for help.” Other times, there is a bit more of a narrative that’s layered on: “I couldn’t do it, so they helped me.” The explanations often end there — a desire fulfilled, a lack of ability, and so on.

As we grow and evolve, we realize the act of receiving help is more nuanced, and goes deeper than what we can see with our own eyes. As someone is in the process of giving you help, of delivering help directly to you, you start to receive it. What is your response then? This is where the opportunity lies. 

There is a distinct moment in the act of receiving help where you have the opportunity to respond with acceptance. Acceptance of your own human limitations. Acceptance of another person’s love. Acceptance of the of the fact that you are not a lone individual in this world, but rather connected to a larger whole. In fact, acceptance that you really aren’t that different from the one who is offering the help — there is a oneness that exists. And in that oneness, you are bigger and more capable than you imagined — not smaller or less than. In this way, you are empowered to make a difference as well.

But many times this can all feel scary.

So we avoid, we resist, and we reject help.

But what if there could be a joy in receiving help?

If people are wholeheartedly helping you without any expectations in return, including for recognition or accolades; if they are able to help you because they see your own power, not the absence of it — then your own growth, ability, joy, and impact are enhanced when you receive that help with full acceptance.

Are you willing to receive help in this way? Are you willing to give help in this way?

As a leader, imagine the healing that would occur, within yourself and in the world, if we all approached helping in this way. Imagine how much stronger we would be. Imagine the ideas that would emerge. How much impact could be made! 

It is difficult, as kids, adolescents, or young adults, to understand these lessons, because we are so often taught that receiving help is weak. As leaders, so many adults believe they have to figure it out on their own too — that they alone must make decision, that solutions will ultimately come from them alone. We create endless narratives in which we play the parts of “heroes” and “victims”, and thereby further perpetuate these narratives. But this doesn’t have to be where it ends.

In fact, when helping goes beyond a transactional interaction (and maybe when it is just that too), I think a commitment to personal evolution allows us to eventually embrace being helped from a new consciousness. To let go of victimhood and the hero character. To see the expansiveness of what’s possible when we embrace each person’s unique abilities as well as our collective oneness. 

Catching Up Won’t Get You There

Catching up isn’t what you think it is.

When it comes to time and our calendars, there is this idea of “catching up” that comes up frequently among people who never quite feel complete in their day – and I’m a long-time member of this group. Over time, I’ve started to truly understand the reality of what is. One truth is, we’ll never completely catch up, at least not by the default standards we set for ourselves.

On the surface this sounds like a bad thing. What does that mean, that we’ll never catch up? Are we doomed to suboptimal productivity, to letting others down, never being able to accomplish what we want or reaching our highest potential?

Of course not. But continually trying to catch up doesn’t help.

Strategy matters, but it’s limited.

In life, we develop strategies for how we spend our time. We develop strategies to succeed in other areas of our lives too. The thing is, we make some incorrect assumptions when we engrain these strategies: we think that these processes are going to work no matter what, and that they’ll work in any situation indefinitely. This just isn’t true.

Even if we get what we want, or some of what we want, as Marshall Goldsmith said, “What got you here won’t [always] get you there.” Interestingly, we aren’t conscious of the fact that we are blindly and universally implementing these time management strategies.

And, the successes that we see – even if they relate not to tangible results, but rather familiar and predictable outcomes – often keep us stuck in doing what we do. Why would we try anything new that wasn’t certain?

What leads us to want to catch up.

In the process then, for a multitude of reasons some of us will learn to commit ourselves to more than we have time for. Or, we lack skill in prioritizing the things that need to get done first. These two scenarios lead to a perception of unfinished tasks that set us up for wanting to “catch up.”

“Should” doesn’t have a place here.

Catching up means to “do work or tasks that one should have done earlier.” What an interesting definition that avoids the facts of what actually happened – that desired tasks weren’t completed, and that was all.

Even if it was theoretically possible to do the tasks sooner, who determined that it was actually realistic, or that we possessed the capability to do so? There was obviously still some learning with regard to timing, planning, committing, and executing. Therefore, in some way we didn’t have the capability. Let’s accept this without judgment, learn about what we can do better, and look forward.

Having a moral judgment that we should have done tasks earlier creates a fixed, unquestioned belief that those tasks must be finished, even now. We feel urgency to get things done. Things feel incomplete. The feelings of shame, guilt, embarrassment or humiliation may come up and lead us to play “catch up.”

An important distinction

The thing is, we may actually have good reasons for why we want to complete those tasks. I’m not diminishing our ability to decide this. The distinction then really revolves around whether we’re rescheduling those tasks into the present due to feeling a sense of urgency or incompleteness, or whether we are feeling grounded in integrity and wholeness. The energetic outcome is completely different depending on the starting mindset.

In trying to “catch up”, the deeper emotional need is for calm and completeness. Recognizing this, we see that we can create calm and completeness whether or not we complete the original tasks on the “catch up list.” How do you think you would do that?

The present moment has the answers, once again.

One solution is to be grounded in the present moment as we consider our tasks. By ensuring that we look at the optional “catch up list” in this way, we’ll be more likely to decide what is still important to us and listen to our bodies when we sense we’re depleted. Not only this, but we will be more likely to identify when “catching up” is not an intentional pursuit, but rather a distraction from what we really need. In my experience, when I’ve wanted to catch up, there has almost always been a feeling of overwhelm, guilt, or incompleteness. For true healing, these emotions (and those unique to you) need to be acknowledged, accepted, and heard.   

Ultimately, the idea of “catching up” is inherently grounded in the past. This past focus causes us to miss attending to what we really need right now. Not only that but continuing to play “catch up” keeps us from fully opening up to the future possibilities that are available to us.

If you’re someone who regularly tries to “catch up,” what would need to change to no longer approach life from this mindset? What more could you create by exercising constraint and focus in your moment-to-moment commitments?


(updated 9/28/20)

Meditation – Day 1: Reaction

My mind seeks out understanding and wants to react.

I started practicing silent meditation regularly a few months ago. By regularly I mean three or four days a week, for 5-10 minutes each day, usually as I sat in the dark  in my son’s room waiting for him to fall asleep. Every now and then, I’d spend a few minutes meditating before I started work in the mornings too.

I remember what it was like the first time I had tried to sit quietly. I had set my meditation app for two minutes. After what seemed like an eternity, one minute later, my eyes popped open, looking down at the phone, surprised that only sixty seconds had passed. I wondered how I would ever be able to practice for longer. My mind couldn’t keep quiet, and I couldn’t sit still. 

Over the months, I found that I was able to sit silently for a longer period. It was even something that I looked forward to.

A respite from the constant chatter in my head.

I questioned whether this feeling of escape would ultimately become a barrier, but decided to just continue to observe that reaction.

I started noticing how I felt more calm too. I was able to finally allow myself to enjoy and seek out simple, restorative activities, like going for a walk in the middle of the day to clear my mind. (In fact, at first I experienced these actives as guilty pleasures due to years of not being able to take (truth: not allowing myself to take) a break midday during my clinical practice.)

The creative process had a new beginning now — in quiet, mindful observation. If I struggled to create, I would slow myself down and stop trying so damn hard. It worked. 

Being present has been a goal since the beginning, when I worked with my first coach. At that time, the motivation was to get the most out of my time with my son, and to enjoy my work more. Now, I see that presence — noticing without judgment or attachment,  current life circumstances, thoughts, and feelings — is the path to the peace that I desire, as well as the source of inspiration and ideas that keep life exciting and evolving.

So I am committing now to a daily practice of meditation, with a goal of eventually meditating an hour daily, knowing that it will enhance my ability to be present.

I had focused so much of my life on literally being educated and gaining knowledge, that I failed to trust my own inner wisdom and intuition. While I was up in my head, I had no idea what was going on in my body, even though so much valuable information was contained in it. This practice is opening me up to things I’ve never seen and known.

Here, I want to document what I learn so that others may learn from me, someone who is very much a beginner.

Today was Day 1 one of this commitment. 10 minutes. I noticed the sounds — cars driving by in each direction, birds calling and responding to each other, the lawnmowers running. Even in that description, I notice my mind wanting to understand, to make sense of it all. It created a brief story for everything I sensed.

I also noticed it wanting to react. Thoughts would arise about what I still had to do today. I caught myself starting to plan. Back to the breath… Then I noticed an itch on my forearm. I noticed that I wanted to scratch it, but stopped myself.

What would happen if I didn’t react?

I decided to refocus on the breath and…

It went away.