helping hands

Help! I need somebody….

One of my friends (who shall remain nameless) is a businesswoman who somehow manages to keep her small service business successful in two very distant locations—as in two states that are quite far apart—often without any help at all.

Well, “somehow” seems a bit unfair: she is focused, smart, energetic, and hardworking, funny and kind—completely deserving of her success.

She also has an incredible superpower—she asks for help when she needs it. And more than that, if you can provide it, she accepts it graciously; if you can’t, there are no hard feelings.

help! i need somebody…

Our lives were already busy before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Now that many of us are self isolating at home, many of us are feeling even more overwhelmed: now we’re not just trying to work from home and raise a family—we’re also acting as directors in charge of childcare and/or homeschooling, school nurses, school counselors, athletic trainers, organizers of extracurricular activities, teacher’s aides, hall monitors, and cafeteria ladies.

I sometimes wonder whether the pandemic isn’t meant to give us a deep appreciation for the many people we take for granted in our previous lives, especially those who see to our children’s needs, in many cases spending more waking time with our kids than we do.

(Will this be the turning point in time when we realize as a nation that we don’t pay these people nearly enough for what they do and recognize that they have every right to demand better pay and benefits?)

If we couldn’t do it all before, how are we expected to do it all now?

help is on the way … if you ask for it

First of all, even in the best of times, I firmly believe that we are not expected to do it all, and certainly not to perfection.

Secondly, the only way we’re going to get through this is to work together—whatever that looks like for you, and it will look different for everyone. That’s right—bio-individuality rules.

And finally, help arrives—often only when you ask for it.

My friend of the ask-for-help superpower has texted me to ask for a ride from the airport when her ride fell through (I was stuck in a meeting when that one came through, so no) and most recently for help with shopping and/or food delivery when she fell ill (definitely yes, since the grocery store is still accessible to us and it’s not a problem to make a little extra of what I’m already making).

I would never have known she needed help had she not reached out about it.

asking for, accepting, and offering help

In our “normal lives”—if you can remember that far back—there’s often a feeling that asking for help is a sign of weakness. In our new normal, not asking for help, not admitting that our strength lies in being in community may prove disastrous. There is still plenty of help that can be offered even in this time of social distancing and self isolation.

If we’re not used to asking for or accepting help or offering it, these are muscles we can build, best practices we can develop.

Need some training tips?

asking

  1. Know who is in your village, who has strengths in areas you feel weak, and perhaps most importantly who has the capacity (time, tools, etc.) to help with this particular request.
  2. Especially when you’re ill or pressed for time, it’s okay to reach out to a group of people via a group email, text, or direct message
  3. Make your ask very clear: being vague just invites miscommunication and hard feelings. If you’re sick, it’s really okay to say, “I have all the advice I need—I’m not looking for that; what I need is someone to bring me groceries or meals until I’m back on my feet.”
  4. Be careful if you’re asking for advice, especially of the medical variety. If you need advice, only ask those who are experts in the field.
  5. You don’t need to offer anything in exchange: this is not a case of quid pro quo. (There, I said it.) If you’ve curated your community carefully, it’s understood that the roles may someday be reversed.

accepting

  1. Experience gratitude: no need to feel guilty—there is no imposition if the help is freely offered.
  2. Express gratitude: as you mother surely taught you, say thank you—both when help is first offered and when the favor is fulfilled. In most cases, this is sufficient. And thank those who could not help this time.
  3. Offer to return the favor or do what is in your power for the giver at a future date—and only do so if you mean it.

offering

  1. If you are being asked to help and can do so, be very clear on what you can offer: “I can do … on … day at … time. Is that helpful?”
  2. If you can’t be of help with the specific request but are able to take over organizing or logistics, offer that: “I can’t cook, but I can organize meal deliveries for the next week, so you can just go back to bed.”
  3. If you can’t be of help with the specific request, don’t just offer advice: when we’re already overwhelmed, a long list of “you shoulds” is the last thing we need in our lives. This applies even more to giving medical advice: if you’re not an expert on medicine or pharmaceuticals, it can be really dangerous to tell someone what they “should” be doing or taking when they’re ill. Leave that to the patient’s healthcare providers.
  4. If you can’t be of help with the specific request, don’t offer something else before asking whether it would be welcome.
  5. And finally, if you are communicating in a group setting (email, text, direct message), be considerate of the entire group. Keep your responses limited to what everyone in the group needs to know. It’s the old “reply all” rule: there’s nothing more frustrating than getting endless notifications only to find people veering off in completely unrelated directions and yet insisting on hitting “reply all.” Take any personal communication with the one asking for help to a different thread.
  6. If you see someone struggling and you have the capacity to help, ask whether your help is welcome—some of us haven’t quite worked up to asking for what we need. Don’t make assumptions: better to say, “I feel like you’re struggling with …” rather than “You’re really struggling with ….”
  7. Don’t expect a quid pro quo (ack!)—and do recognize that when it’s your turn to be in need, there are others willing to step up.

make the connection

Leave a comment or email me and let me know: What are you struggling with during the pandemic, and who can help? What help can you offer others during this time?

Since I come from the culinary world, I’ve been getting a lot of requests for help with meal planning—so I’ll be offering some resources (in addition to my online Meal Planning Made Simple course) on that in the coming days.

Comments

    1. Elizabeth Baker

      You know, initially it felt a bit odd to write about this—and I realized that if I was having odd reactions to requests for help, then there was something to it….

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