2 min read

Sometimes, to take control means asking for help

Or, asking for help doesn’t mean ceding control

In life the chief business is this: distinguish and separate things, and say, “Externals are not in my power: will is in my power. Where shall I seek the good and the bad? Within, in the things which are my own.” — Epictetus

One of my heuristics in life is that “Everything is my fault.

It means taking responsibility for everything, including how others think, talk, and behave towards me (shouting, blaming, “getting the wrong impression” (racist!) of me), and external circumstances such as getting stuck in traffic, getting my stuff stolen — things typically thought of as outside an individual’s control.

This has helped me immensely, internally and externally. It helps me think of and focus on what I could’ve done better or could do better (avoid situations that statistically lead to this bad situation, avoid toxic people, learn behavioral psychology, learn social skills, learn communication skills, improve your signal to the world, learn to be more useful and “so good they can’t ignore you”). People want to work with me more. Our projects run better and succeed more. It lets me have better control of my life.

Until this year, this has been a very individualistic thing for me. How should I decide on this? What can I do? How do I fix this?

2017 led to me doing new things and making new decisions: Who to hire? Who to fire? How to structure the team? And I learned that these decisions are better made by combining other people’s thinking with mine.

One of the things I learned this year is the importance of interdependence.

Dependent people need others to get what they want. Independent people can get what they want through their own effort. Interdependent people combine their own efforts with the efforts of others to achieve their greatest success. — Stephen Covey

Taking control means taking responsibility. But it doesn’t necessarily mean doing things yourself or making decisions yourself.

Sometimes, taking control means asking for help.

Asking for help is not as straightforward as it seems. Three observations:

(1) Asking for help lets you achieve more because it gives you perspective.

It lets you learn — from others, who have done this, who have more context, or a different one. And oftentimes, the outside perspective helps, period.

Ida seemed to understand, as her husband did not, that you can’t rely just on self-control, habit, work, and self-denial to build character. Your reason and your will are simply too weak to defeat your desires all the time. Individuals are strong, but they are not self-sufficient. To defeat sin you need help from outside. — David Brooks, The Road to Character

(2) There is a right and wrong way to ask for help.

The wrong way is to dump the whole thing on someone and ask “What should I do?”

“What should I do” has got to be up there on the list of the worst questions to ask. This is not asking for help, but abdicating (giving up) responsibility, and usually ends with the abdicator blaming someone else when a bad outcome results.

The right way, the way that makes people actually want to help you, the way that helps people help you is: First, thinking through the problem yourself. Second, communicating context, and third, proposing suggestions.

(3) Asking for help is actually more difficult than doing things yourself.

You have to communicate. You have to be more thorough with your thinking. Finally, you have to first have the humility to recognize that you need help, and then you need to have the courage ask for it.