I came home from work to find several of my neighbors in my building’s lobby. Coincidentally we had all arrived at the same time and were tending to the business of getting our mail, newspapers and packages as we exchanged pleasantries. There was P, the landscape architect, who does an amazing job of keeping the plants alive on the roof deck, and M and T, the long-married couple. T has taught at a Catholic high school for decades. If he has his way, he’ll never retire. M enjoys yoga. Despite having lived in this country for about thirty years, her accent remains so thick that I can only understand every third word she says. I’m the only one who seems to have this problem. She loves Reggie and leaves little treats for him now and then on my doorstep.
Me: This is very nice of you, but Reggie doesn’t really eat brie.
M: What…you talking…? …cheese…delicious. …he…picky?
On this day, a long, narrow package arrived for me. It was the wood blinds I’d ordered for the kitchen. Finally. I tucked it under my arm, making sure not to hit anyone when I swung around. Of all the crazy things I’ve carried up the stairs over the years, this was a piece of cake.
P: You need help with that?
Me: No, it’s lighter than it looks.
That was true. The weight listed on the sticker showed twelve pounds. Reggie’s dog food bags weigh twice as much. We trooped toward the stairs. As it turns out we all live on the same floor. Long time readers may remember that I live on the fifth floor of a walk-up. (If I had a dime for every delivery person who asks, “Where’s the elevator?” I’d be rich.) We rounded the second floor.
T: I can get it for you. I’m not carrying anything.
Me: It’s fine.
T: Really. It’s no problem.
At the fifth floor, the four of us went to our respective apartments. I propped the package against my door while getting my key.
M, gave me a tsk-tsk and patted me on the shoulder: Two men here and you refuse help.
I was about to say that I didn’t need help. The package was light enough. I’d rather ask for help when I have no choice: like when I have to carry a sixty-pound air conditioner. But, as usual, I had missed the point entirely. The point wasn’t about needing help. It was about accepting help. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “It’s one of those beautiful compensations in this life that no one can sincerely try to help another without helping himself.” By refusing help, was I being unkind?
For me, this isn’t a gender issue. I’m not assuming that my neighbors don’t think I’m competent enough to handle the box. I’m not trying to prove that I can carry wood blinds up four flights of stairs. It’s really not about the wood blinds. It’s about allowing others to provide assistance, about not worrying that I’m unfairly burdening someone else. “I got this” has been my m.o. for years.
My mom has always been a pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps kind of person. She instilled that in me from an early age. And there is a lot of value in that. It is good to know that you can rely on yourself and, most importantly, trust yourself to handle whatever life throws your way, whether it’s carrying window treatments or buying your first home or dealing with an illness.
But it is equally important to graciously accept someone’s sincere offer for assistance. People like to feel needed. Both men and women. In Erin Henry’s thought-provoking piece for the Huffington Post, she says when she is uncomfortable asking for help, “I turn the tables and think of how happy I would be standing in the other person’s shoes with the ability to help me out and do something nice out of the kindness of my heart.”
That’s a great point. I like helping out. Watch your cats while you’re away? No problem. Mash the potatoes for the dinner party? Check. Put together your Ikea table? Show me the directions. It makes me feel good to do something nice for a friend. Why not give my friends and neighbors the same opportunity?
Now I’m off to see if I can find someone to rub all this tension out of my neck.
Do you have trouble asking for help? Are you a recovering “do it myself-er”? How did you overcome it?
Have a great weekend, everyone!