‘Can you help me?’
How does that question make you feel? Embarrassed or empowered? Nervous or bold? Weak or strong?
I believe that asking for help is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness. However, recently I have found myself holding back on asking for help and I have had to dig deep to work out why. I discovered I was telling myself some unhelpful stories about being a burden by asking for help and that asking for help was removing people’s choice and making them feel obliged to help me. I have reflected on this a lot over the past week or so.
If you don’t feel perfectly comfortable asking that question, ‘Can you help me?’ my insights may be useful for you too...
1. Think about how I feel when being asked for help. Remember that people like helping because they like to be part of others’ success. They may be flattered that I've asked them, they may get something out of helping me for themselves or they may just genuinely WANT to help me. I LOVE helping others – why wouldn’t someone love helping me?
2. Be genuine and authentic at all times - I think it's ok to say I don't want to be a burden on someone, and I also think it's ok to say I want their help because I really think they could help me. I also think explaining genuinely why I want their help from a place of authenticity is always appreciated. Linking back to my big ‘why’ and my values is important here – for example, I am often wanting help with my work so I can help more people. Not asking for help is literally helping no one!
3. Be specific and clear about what I am asking for – explain what I need and why I am asking them for that help. Sometimes saying 'I need help' is perfectly fine, but I think asking people for something specific with clear boundaries of what that help might look like allows people to know if they can or want to say yes or not.
4. At the same time, don’t minimise my request or apologise for asking (e.g. 'I only want a minute', 'I am sorry to have to ask', or 'I am ever so sorry for bothering you with my needs'). I can still be polite and genuine without doing this as this could make my request seem less important and less valuable. Why would someone want to help me if it doesn’t seem to be something of value to me? This feels a bit counterintuitive – because I don’t want to be a burden and ask too much – but sharing how valuable their help would be could be more beneficial. I know I like to help people when I know my help is valuable.
5. Put out the energy I want into the world. I can help others in the same way I would like to be helped. Why should I expect help if I don't help other people? Offer help, say yes to requests for help, look for ways I can help, pay it forward and be open to receiving help. I want to create a world where people ask for help freely and easily so holding back on asking and not giving help isn’t creating that world. Also, when someone helps me, say thank you. Be grateful. Tell them how impactful their help was. This will help them feel good and it will probably increase the likelihood that they will help in the future (not just helping me, but helping in general). Wouldn’t the world be a better place if that were the case?
6. Be detached. It’s important to remember that it’s not personal. If someone doesn’t help me, it's probably not about me - it could be timing, their capacity at that moment, their own self-belief (do they think they can help?), their feelings or all manner of things. Of course, I can respect people in what I ask for. Something I heard and liked the other day was, 'No-one has a monopoly on wisdom'. I think of that like having all my eggs in one basket - if I ask for help once and don't get it I may feel dejected – why don't I ask more people and probably get more back?
7. Finally, know what is in my control. I don’t have the power to make anyone feel obliged, or used, or anything else for that matter. Of course, I can minimise the chance of doing that, and I can maximise the chance they feel appreciated, valued and happy, but ultimately I cannot control anyone else’s feelings – nor would I want to. I can’t let the chance that someone might feel a certain way stop me doing what I need – especially in an authentic, respectful and grateful way.
Do not be afraid to ask for help.
Without choice, we are disempowered. We are less creative. We are not encouraged to think for ourselves. We are not able to choose how to focus our time and energy to have the impact we want to have. We are not taking responsibility for our lives.
As Zig Ziglar succinctly puts it:
Your life is a result of the choices you have made. If you want better results, make better choices.
When I was feeling most lost, stuck and disempowered I actually felt I didn’t have a choice. I had accepted that this was how things had to be. I saw choice as a luxury. Something other people had. Something that didn’t exist for me. Looking back, that wasn't actually true and that was a major part of the problem.
I now value choice and I want to share three key reasons why:
1. Knowing that there is always choice is empowering in itself.
A belief I now choose to hold is, 'there is always choice'. And as I’ve alluded to there – that might be in choosing what I believe. A quote by Heraclitus sums this up beautifully:
The content of your character is your choice. Day by day, what you choose, what you think and what you do is who you become.
The more I thought there was no choice, the less choices I made. The more I think there is always choice, the stronger that belief becomes. With a strong belief that choice is always available, I no longer feel lost, stuck or disempowered.
If you choose to belief ‘there is always choice’, see what choices then become available to you.
2. Replace the ‘have to’s with ‘choose to’s.
Choosing to do something because you know the impact it's going to have feels different to doing it because you feel like you have to.
An example from when I was teaching: ‘I have to mark these books. Why? Because I have to. I have no choice!’
Often, I would sit there thinking, ‘I don't want to do this.’ I’d probably mark the books begrudgingly, with it taking me much longer than it probably could have done. Or I’d put it off and feel guilty all the time I wasn’t doing it. Or I wouldn’t do it at all and then I’d feel a failure for not doing what I had to do.
I couldn’t win with the 'have to…’s. Changing the ‘have to’s to ‘choose to’s creates an important mindset shift...
‘I choose to mark these books because I want to give my pupils feedback that’s going to help them improve their work tomorrow, which I know will help them feel more positive about their abilities.’ This reframe feels much more inviting. I can see the impact of what I'm ‘having to’ do, and I am ‘choosing to’ do it.
Of course, I could also choose not to mark the books. There's always a choice. Remembering there is a choice is empowering in itself.
3. You get to choose what you want for the reasons you want.
You get to choose where you put your time and energy. You can pick from all the options available to you what works best for you, for whatever reason works best for you.
You can choose to think, say or do something because:
That’s obviously not an exhaustive list. There are infinite reasons why you may choose to do something. You can choose what and you can choose why. It doesn't really matter what you choose or why you choose, the important and empowering thing is THAT you choose.
Choice is such an important aspect of my coaching. I always encourage others to believe they have a choice, to look for options and choose where to focus their time and energy to have the impact they want to have.
I will be exploring choice more deeply in an interactive workshop on Saturday 31st Oct. If you want to believe there is more choice, learn strategies to reframe situations to create and find choice and make the choices that align to who you are and who you want to be, I’d love to see you there.
Find out more or sign up here:
I’ve been reflecting on my achievements and successes lately, and I've recognised that one of the common denominators that has been so helpful for me is the people that I have surrounded myself with to encourage, support, motivate, inspire and teach me. This has been such a powerful part of my success and growth throughout my life, but in particular in the last couple of years.
There is always space for me to be inspired by people who are world famous – I read their books, watch their TV shows and am in awe of their success. But sometimes, these people feel too ‘special’. How can *I* be like them? The gap between where I am and where they are is just too big to fathom.
People have said to me before that if I want to get better at running, I should go with a partner or a group. But I reckon choosing that partner or group is pretty important! If I go running with an elite group of athletes and feel demoralised as soon as they lap me, that probably isn't going to help me improve! What I need is people that are encouraging and supportive and always just few steps ahead, so I can follow in their footsteps and be motivated to keep up. I don’t want people pulling me backwards either. I want them to be a few steps ahead of me moving at a pace that’s helpful and motivating.
I remember saying three years ago, ‘I can’t have a balanced life and be a teacher – it’s not possible.’
Two and a half years ago, I was thinking, ‘I can’t leave teaching - what else would I do with my life?‘
Two years ago, ‘How can I rebuild my confidence when I feel as low as this?!’
Eighteen months ago, I vividly remember saying, ‘I'm not the kind of person that could start my own business – it’s a different kind of person who could do that.’
Even a few months ago, I was thinking, ‘I can’t record videos or write blogs. What do I have to share with the world?!’
Of course, I KNEW that people could have balance teaching. I knew people changed career. I knew people recovered from depression. I knew people started businesses. I knew videos and blogs existed.
But I didn’t believe *I* could do those things.
Until, I found people that were like me in some way that were doing those things already. These were people who would say, ‘I used to think the same as you six months ago but look at me now!’
They were really inspiring AND MOTIVATING because they were those few steps ahead.
I’ve now also realised that I’m a few steps ahead of others.
I might be a few steps ahead of those teachers who are really struggling to find a healthy balance - I have developed strategies that I wish I knew a few years ago. I might be a few steps ahead of teachers that are wanting to leave the profession but feel completely stuck.
I might be a few steps ahead of people who want to start a business but they don't know how to go about it.
I'm might not be the most ‘experty expert’ in this stuff but I am a few steps ahead.
So a personal question from me to you: How might I be a few steps ahead and how could I help you?
When I left teaching at the end of 2018, I was completely and utterly burnt out.
I had lost so much confidence in myself. I blamed myself. I doubted myself.
It's actually hard to remember exactly how I felt, because I feel so far away from that now. I think it’s important to point out that now I am speaking from a place of good health, strength and confidence: a very different place to where I was two years ago.
Whilst I've just said I can't remember exactly what burnout felt like, I do remember my last day in the classroom.
A few weeks earlier, I'd already decided to leave and handed in my notice. I just knew that there was something else for me. I didn't know what it was, but I knew I had to take the opportunity to explore it. So I wouldn't regret and forever think about ‘what if’s. When I handed in my notice, I felt like I was choosing the right thing for me. It was a big leap, but it felt exciting and empowering. I had made a choice that was going to make my life better.
But looking back, I was already on the way to burnout. I was stressed, I was overloaded and I was unbalanced. Apart from that choice to leave, I was pretty disempowered in my role.
I was striving to have my greatest impact. But I was trying to do everything in order to have that greatest impact. And so I was feeling guilty when I wasn’t doing everything.
I was always trying to help others, and I wasn’t helping myself. It's inevitable that I was going to burn out. I just didn't see at the time.
My penultimate day in the classroom was the first day after the October half term.
I went back to work after a week’s break so I should have been feeling energised, relaxed and reset ready for my final term teaching. I had planned to go out a high! Instead, all I remember is battling through my afternoon PPA wading through treacle in my mind.
I was looking at the screen desperately wanting to make sense of what I was looking at. But my brain going slow. I felt really hot, and everyone else in the room felt really cold. I had a headache. I couldn't focus. Something wasn't right.
I knew the rest of the week was going to be stressful because I hadn't got on top of everything as I wanted to in that session, but I couldn’t focus or do anymore.
I went home just before the children that day. I knew something wasn't right. I was home by 4pm and I went straight to bed. I got up the next morning and I went to work.
It turned out to be my last day in the classroom.
I remember it like an out of body experience. I remember being there but I don't really remember much else. The overwhelming feeling that I can remember was I could not make decisions at the pace I need to make decisions. I hadn't realised how many decisions I made as a teacher every minute of every day. But there's so many.
What's the focus of this lesson? What instruction am I going to give next? What word needs to come out of my mouth next? Where's the resource I need to hand out? What's that group doing? When they’ve finished that task, what’s next? How will I know if they have understood? Should I check in with that child? Which child has got a dentist appointment this afternoon? What do I need to say to this child? Does my TA need help? Should I have given them a different resource? Does that child needs a sticker on their chart?
It was like the computer programming in my brain was having to be done manually.
All these decisions were coming in fast but the processing felt clunky. I couldn't make the decisions like I normally do.
And I didn't realise, but I must have normally made these decisions on such a split second basis that to actually recognise everything that was coming in and not be able to deal with it all was exhausting.
I somehow got through the day. But I felt like I was in treacle again.
Everything was slow. Everything was hard. I was struggling.
And I planned to go home early. But, as ever, there was stuff I needed to do and I finally left the building at nearly six o'clock.
I went home and I slept and when I woke up the next day, I just knew I couldn't do it again.
Not forever. But, I couldn't do it that day.
I couldn't do it the next day.
And I couldn't do it the day after that.
I remember going on the 111 NHS website (I didn’t want to bother the doctor by phoning for an appointment). I put in my symptoms of feeling so tired, not being able to make decisions and my head hurting and all the things that I felt and it came back and said, ‘We need to phone you in the next two hours.’ That’s when I knew how I was feeling was ‘real’.
I had that phone call with a wonderful, warm responder. She listened, she got it and she said to me, ‘You cannot go to work tomorrow. You need to look after yourself.’ I remember her saying that I was not to wake up tomorrow, decide I was ok and go to work. ‘You need to call the doctor. I don't want you to ignore this.’
That's when it really hit home that something wasn't right. So, the next morning I did as she said and I phoned the doctor. I can't remember how long it took until I had an appointment with the doctor or when I spoke to them, but I never went back to school.
It wasn't the high that I'd planned. But it was what it was.
As I said, I am in a much better place now – and I will share how I’ve got here too. But the fact I can even contemplate sharing how I was feeling in a very dark, uncertain time of my life shows me just how far I’ve come.