• Val Agnew

In My Experience: Learning to Ask for Help


I'm an independent person. I have always been. I grew up an only child so I took for granted that I was figuring stuff out alone and bearing sole responsibility for both the good and less than good actions I took. And in many ways I'm thankful for that. This independence allowed me to happily live alone at times in my adulthood. It gave me the comfort and courage to travel alone for months. It made it completely uncontroversial for me to buy my first house on my own. I'm also a pretty good solo problem solver. I can usually puzzle things out on my own if need be. Basically, in most things, I never needed to rely on a team or allies if they either didn't exist or weren't reliable. I could soldier on by myself.


However there are definite downsides to being fiercely independent. I bristle at even the slightest oversight. Especially if it can be interpreted as a lack of trust or if it is attempting to force me to do something in a way I don't believe is right or efficient. I have lost out on opportunities because of this. And to some degree I believe that's warranted. That environment is not a good fit for someone like me.


And as an aside--this is not the main focus of this post--but you should work to understand what kinds of environments you thrive in when looking for jobs and do not be afraid to ask the questions that will clarify for you whether it's a good fit. At the end of the day, no matter how many perks or opportunities exist at a job or company, if you are miserable you will not be able to capitalize on them anyway.


OK back to the point... I'm good at being independent, sometimes to a fault. However, perhaps ironically, I LOVE to be a part of teams. All I want in life is to have a partner or team who share my passion for a project or idea. Having other people around fuels me, motivates me, keeps me accountable. But I've noticed that when I am lucky enough to find myself a part of a great team, I frame it as a service relationship. I am serving them. And at any moment they may feel put upon or realize I'm terrible and leave. Thus I am awful at asking for anything. I feel so lucky to have them that I'm afraid that asking too much will make them go away.


I have caught myself doing this repeatedly as I'm working on launching The Trident Network. I have an amazing advisory board and an equally stellar founding team. I have people literally asking me, what can I do? And even then I feel guilty making a request. Part of this is absolutely about my controlling tendencies. Another biproduct of flying solo for most of one's life is that you never have to adjust to others' ways of doing things. And in the case of Trident, I have such a clear vision for what I hope it will become, that when someone doesn't instantly have the same vision, I struggle to communicate it effectively or shift my expectations to their vision (which is equally valid, if not better).


But I have to learn. I have to learn how to ask for (and accept) help. How to take in others' ideas and incorporate them. For two primary reasons:

  1. I am not perfect - My ideas aren't always the best. My execution isn't always the best. I do not have all the answers. The reason I surrounded myself with these incredible people is because I know that. But I need to constantly remind myself of it because my default is to just plow forward on my own.

  2. I literally cannot do everything - Starting any business is a behemoth of an undertaking. Starting a business with dozens of members and moving parts is impossible for one person to contend with. If I don't get better at asking for and accepting help, this endeavor will fail.


So each and every day I try to remember that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It isn't going to make anyone who truly wants to work with me or support me walk away. It is not going to derail progress toward a vision of the future. It is my job as a good team member to share my vision, to be clear in how people can help, and to be grateful for being surrounded by talented, generous folks who will be the only reason for any success I or Trident achieve. The fruits of labor taste sweeter when shared.


How are you at asking for and accepting help? What strategies do you utilize to be better about this?

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