Finding the Courage to Ask

Amanda Palmer crowdsurfing at her Coachella performance in 2009. Photo by Lindsey Byrnes.

Amanda Palmer crowdsurfing at her Coachella performance in 2009. Photo by Lindsey Byrnes.

In starting up and running our own business we step into new territories where we have little or no prior experience. While exciting, it can also be overwhelming to take on so many responsibilities at once.

Have you ever found yourself wanting to ask for help or advice, but didn’t? Or when you did, you felt uncomfortable?
Whether it’s a niggle of resistance or a complete block, we’ve all felt it from time to time –the fear of asking.

With our minds focused on success in a competitive society, it’s easy to forget the simple act of helping each other is what gave rise to society in the first place. Cooperation was as essential to the survival of early cultures as it is today. One could say interdependence is what makes us human. And yet, asking for help can prove difficult.

When considering whether to ask for help, our ego weighs in on how incapable, annoying or foolish we’ll look and may decide the exposure is too risky. We can make great efforts to ensure we ask for as little help as possible, just to prevent ruffling the feathers of the ego.

Even when we’re prepared to unmask our vulnerability, we face another obstacle. Oddly it’s not our ego, but the opposite, our compassion. We may question whether it’s fair on the other person to request their resources. When our compassionate self speaks, by all means, we should listen and investigate.

In certain scenarios, the answer is clear that it would be unreasonable to ask. But there are many situations where we simply assume the other person would feel put out, when in fact, they’d love to help.

Helping makes us feel connected, useful and trusted. Supporting another person can be empowering.

To find out whether our invitation to help would be a burden or a boon, we usually can’t know until we ask.

Indeed, there is an art to asking skilfully. The artist, musician and crowdfunding champion Amanda Palmer centred her entire memoir around this theme in The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help.

We must ask in such a way that gives the other person space to answer truthfully. Easier said than done, Palmer’s guidelines are to ask without expectation and accept whatever the answer may be with gratitude.

While the theory is elegant, the practice is no doubt difficult. But the more we practice, the more skilful we become at asking, and the more graceful we become at accepting the answer, be it yes or no.

If the answer is yes, what happens next is connection and possibility.

Whether it’s a contribution of time, finance or wisdom, the fairness of the exchange is decided between the two parties involved. Even when the asker offers to provide something in return, the helper may insist on contributing without compensation.

If you find yourself wracked with guilt in these situations, recognise that your benefactor may value things you haven’t considered. Funding your project may fulfil a desire to take part in the community, mentoring you may encourage a dream to become a consultant, participating in your social media campaign may offer a fun creative experience, or helping you may just make them feel good inside.

The act of giving is often reward in itself.

When we read business articles evangelising buzz words like “grit” and “stick-to- it-iveness,” let’s not forget that it takes grit to expose our vulnerabilities when we ask for help, and sticking to our goals means getting the right support to achieve them.

So swallow the fear, reach out to your network, and put your request out there. Your question may be the key that unlocks an amazing opportunity for you, but you’ll never know until you ask.


Ariel Meadows CONTRIBUTOR

Ariel Meadows CONTRIBUTOR


Ariel Meadows is the director of Lotus Room and Kingii New Zealand.