The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Anyone who knows me well knows that I am not super-emotional. That is, I do not cry at sappy movies (mostly because I know they are sappy and don’t get sucked into the blatant ploys to make women cry), I am extremely pragmatic when it comes to problems and I am – I know this will come as a surprise – extremely sarcastic. So, it probably comes as no shock when I tell you that, growing up in the 70s and 80s, I found it completely necessary to poke fun at the commercial with the elderly woman who has fallen on the floor and yells “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” And, recently, when I heard my little devilish children mocking that same commercial 30 years later I felt proud. However, one day recently, I was deep in thought and heard the words of that cranky old woman and suddenly thought about them in a much different way.
I am someone who has had a hard time asking for help. Sure, I can ask my husband to carry the laundry baskets up to bedroom or ask one of my kids to grab the remote when I am happily snuggled on the sofa. But, when it really matters and I need support or need to be helped up from a tough emotional fall, I suffer from paralysis and struggle to get the support I need. I presume the root causes of this stem from how I was raised. I grew up in a dysfunctional home where support was not provided because my parents – and ultimately my siblings – were not emotionally equipped to help themselves or anyone else. As a result, I learned very early on that if I fell, I had to get up, dust myself off and start all over again. This mentality has actually proven to be superficially beneficial as I am a survivor and it has also become of my greatest shortcomings because I am often in a perpetual state of survival rather than an evolving state of growth and transformation.
I knew, instinctively, from a young age, that this path of self-reliance might not be the best route in life and I continued to have an unhealthy relationship with it well into adulthood. When I finally submerged myself into therapy and started a deep self-examination, I was able to identify the root causes of my survivalist mentality but the intellectual understanding provided no refuge from my behavior. Even after years of therapy, my need for self-protection and self-reliance lingers. However, today I have a heightened awareness and can consciously monitor and control my behavior to take advantage of the support systems that I have put in place to help me when I have fallen and cannot get up. In order to do this, I had to become comfortable with some core beliefs.
It is ok to fall down. I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by many wonderful friends, coaches and advisors and, just recently, a group of us were discussing how much effort we dedicate to preventing ourselves from feeling pain and hurt. Most of us spend so much time trying to push away all of our painful feelings for fear that it will derail our efforts to be successful in the rest of our lives. We do not allow ourselves the time to heal or grieve. We treat disappointments, betrayals and injustices as if they are skinned knees rather than major internal wounds. Not every painful experience requires a visit to the ICU but they are always worth a quick examination to analyze the severity of the problem. The only way we can begin to allow ourselves the time and energy required to study and take care of ourselves is if we first accept that it is ok to fall. Much like when doctors say a fever is a good thing because it is our body fighting off infection, falling down often yields extraordinary outcomes. It is only when we fall that we are forced to step outside of ourselves and the inertia that pushes us along everyday and look at what went wrong.
You cannot always pick yourself up. If you are a survivalist like me (and many of you are and you know who you are), you believe that much like any other superhero, you can pick yourself up from any fall and pick up the pieces and keep going. We are like teenagers that way believing that nothing can really hurt us and just about anything can be fixed with a good bottle of wine, a cry watching a chick flick, a pint of ice cream or a good old shopping spree. And, continuing the medical metaphor, those solutions are putting bandaids on a 6-inch deep stab wound. You need stitches or surgery and you need a medical doctor and you need a recovery room and you likely have all of those tools at the ready – you just have to identify who plays those roles in your life.
Being picked up does not mean you are weak. As I write this I feel like these brilliant pieces of sage wisdom are rather obvious. As adults, we have learned, and have subsequently taught our children, nieces, nephews, friends, loved ones, how to ask for help. We have made ourselves available to anyone who asks and take great pride in the number of opportunities we have to help someone up. We remind our best pals how it is ok to be reach out but we do not offer ourselves the same luxuries. It is perfectly natural and healthy to be supported by others and does not mean that we are any less powerful because we asked for help. It also does not mean that we are now in debt to those that have helped us. I have worked hard to move past feeling like I owed something to anyone who took the time out of their life to provide me with guidance or support. Typically the only reward these people look for is the acknowledgment that we are receiving their support and the pleasure to see us heal from our wounds. While flowers and chocolates and other nice gifts are always lovely, they are probably more than you really need to offer to say thanks. Sometimes just saying “thank you” does the trick. I have made it a habit to acknowledge how much it means to me that someone will take the time to support me and make sure that they know that I am aware and appreciate it.
One of my wonderful friends/coaches/idols is Shaunice Hawkins, a brilliant architect of personal brands and author of one of my favorite blogs Evolve U. She has taught me about creating my own personal Board of Directors which I think is a fantastic way of building the toolbox of support you need for those times when you fall and cannot get up. Her advice has proven true time and again. As I have encountered some rough seas in recent months, I was able to identify all of the right supporters I needed to help right my ship. And, each time I seek out and receive help from these people, my bonds grow deeper and I become more and more comfortable with the process of asking for help. And then this other amazing thing happens. They reach out to me more and I feel the great satisfaction of helping them. Without trying all that hard, I have found that my circle has expanded and my “weakness” has made me stronger.