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Asking for Help.

25 March 2013

You know, all things considered, I feel like I’ve handled this enormous change reasonably well. I planned as carefully as I know how. Which is to say, I did a little bit of planning and occasionally wrote things down. Mostly, I asked for a lot of help. I cannot stress enough how much, when facing a major life change, asking for help helps. I needed all kinds of help to get this move accomplished, and I asked for help from at least a dozen people to do it. Prior to that, I needed help to find a job. I asked for help from at least 300 people about that, casting a wide net on twitter and among my other science and engineering friends.

And in fact, it was one of my requests that led to my position at MECMC. A man with whom I’d done some business, and with whom I will now do more business, put me in touch with the woman who was to become my boss here, and things rolled forward from there. Then, I had help from the scientific community on twitter to prepare my CV and my job talk for my interview. I had help from friends and relatives in planning how to negotiate for my compensation package (Though that turned out to be essentially fixed. They just wanted to know how much money I wanted, and their first offer was more than my first ask was going to be. Our most difficult negotiation was over my start date.).

And so finally, after all of that, I’m here, I’m ready, and I’ve started. And now, I’m asking for help again. I’m in a new job. I suck at office politics. I know it. I’ve asked my co-workers to help me keep from missteps. I’ve asked dozens of stupid questions. And I’ll continue to do so. I’ve decided that I’m simply not going to be ashamed about not knowing something. It’s far, far better to get help than to realize later that I really needed it, but now it’s too late.

The same goes in the program, and in other life upheavals. When I got divorced, I got help from friends who’d been through divorce. When I needed to get sober, I got help from people who’d gotten sober. When I am faced with these daunting challenges, I find the people who’ve been successful at it and ask them. I find it’s especially helpful to find people who have the experience of doing things badly at first, learning, and then doing them well. I have all kinds of experience like that. I’ve done a lot of things badly in my life, and later figured it out.

Asking for help can be humiliating. We all want to present ourselves as having all of our shit together. I want people to look at me and think: “There’s a hoopy frood who really knows where his towel is.” But the truth is, sometimes I’m totally lost. Afraid. Bewildered. And other people, people in my immediate community, have usually faced what I’m facing. So, these days, I ask. Because it works.

We also tend to think that we’d be a burden on others as well. But I think that’s generally not true. After all, if a friend came to me, and told me that they needed help quitting drinking, or going through a divorce, or applying for a job or moving to a new city, I’d be happy to help them. So why should I presume otherwise when focusing outward? If I’m willing to help, and if I think well of my friends, why should I think they wouldn’t be willing to help? In the words of a new friend that I am realizing more and more is a very, very wise man, “We get through this together, or not at all.”

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 25 March 2013 10:33

    You are a lot of cool things, but “hoopy frood” does not come to mind. Sorry.

  2. Syd permalink
    25 March 2013 14:50

    I don’t like office politics. The best thing that I found to do is to not play politics but work at science. Speak the truth and don’t kiss ass. But what do I know….

  3. 26 March 2013 14:56

    Be yourself – best advice I’ve had in many situations. But like you I have found asking people how they felt when their Mum died, when their kids left home, when they were made redundant etc. really helps – esp from people who have an idea of how my mind might work in any situation large or small to lead me back to the inevitable conclusion that actually a drink might be the answer to the feelings I have about a particular situation – now those people I really do trust – with my life

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