For those of us who pride ourselves on independence, asking for help feels awkward. We squirm because it makes us uncomfortable. We push the idea aside because it seems unnecessary.
Unfortunately, life also throws crazy curveballs when it spots us getting too comfortable. Inevitably that moment of overwhelm hits, and we know that our multitude of projects, or just life in general, are way too big to take on alone.
The realization that we will have to ask another human being for help makes us grit our teeth and smile unconvincingly while fighting back a vaguely queasy feeling.
We endure some combination of frustration, tears, and sleep deprivation. Yet we still hold out stubbornly until the last moment, because we hate asking for help. We can't stand to admit weakness and appear less capable or successful than we think we are. It is only when we topple over from exhaustion that we finally cave.
Or, equally common, a friend will take notice of the panic-stricken expression we are unable to hide. They will stifle a sigh at our ridiculousness and start walking behind us, picking up things we drop helter-skelter as we dash around like maniacs. They roll their eyes and smile a little at the way we never learn. Then they ask,
"Why didn't you call me earlier?"
That is a fair question. Why do we go to all of this trouble? We know tackling everything alone is hard. We know help makes a job easier. So, why don't we just ask?
Asking for help means surrendering your independence temporarily, and admitting you need someone else to lean on. This is not a bad thing - it is actually a necessary thing - but it feels frustrating in the moment.
Aversion to asking for help has a lot to do with our definition of strength. Strength can mean anything from lifting weights above your head to being very empathetic towards others. Whatever being strong means to you, it feels like something we have to go through alone, or else it doesn't count.
Independent women, strong women, feminists, pride ourselves on being capable enough to handle situations on our own. This is a great mindset, and very empowering, but there is a fine line we sometimes cross. Needing to prove our independence, no matter the situation, can make us into an island.
We become Super Woman marooned on an island all by herself. We are strong and capable and powerful, but we are still alone. And that can be, well, lonely.
Our definition of "strong man" isn’t better than "strong woman." With the pressures that still exist for men to be protectors and providers of a family, it can't be much easier than what females have to deal with.
The only additional things Superman would have if he were marooned on that island are a really excellent curlicue and some tights. Not useful.
So maybe this isn’t even a gender issue or a feminist issue. We equate strength with solitude and that makes all of us weaker.
What if we started to recognize the strength of resilience instead of the strength of solitude? Rewind to that moment of overwhelmed panic mentioned at the beginning. Your overwhelmed self is battling with the little voice that says, What will people think of me if they see that I can't do this?
Asking for help might shatter the illusion that you are perfect or completely capable, but ultimately, that isn't an authentic image anyway. Relying on other people means you can't do absolutely everything, that you are imperfect.
But imperfection is not the same as weakness.
If you have just failed and been knocked down, it takes the most strength to stand back up. The option to quit is right in front of you. You could just keep lying there, sprawled out on the ground.
Resilience is seeing that possibility of quitting, but making the choice to do something else. It's losing the big game but showing up in the gym right away on Monday morning. It's belly laughing with your friends after a breakup. It's channeling that same stubbornness that wouldn't let you ask for help, into something that doesn't let you stop until you have achieved your goals.
Resilience is more admirable, and more attainable, than setting out to scale every mountain by yourself.
Victories do not have to be solitary for people to applaud.