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Career Coach: Too Independent

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson discusses an important facet of empowerment.

Pamela Kleibrink


I confess a lifelong reluctance to ask others for help. It's rather ironic since I provide services to help others. As a recruiter, I help companies find people. As a career coach I help people with job transitions and all kinds of other career and life-related issues. I help people and yet I tend not to ask others for help, even when I should.

Being too independent can handicap you and hold you back from accomplishing your goals and dreams. No one can do everything. The most successful people are those who ask others to help. Many of the most astonishing achievements have come about through the efforts of people working together, whether it's building the Panama Canal, landing a man on the moon or creating an animated feature film.

Being too independent can be painful and detrimental to your health. When my daughter was born I was determined to breast feed her. I remember lying in the hospital staring at a chart about breast feeding and struggling to understand it, not asking the nurse for any help. I was drained, exhausted. I didn't realize that my daughter had enough to eat, and was simply using me as a human pacifier. I went home without full instruction about breast feeding and reluctant to ask for a doula or any other help and soon developed an agonizing breast infection. It was more pain than I had during childbirth.

Tender and burning, I finally went to the doctor and got some help for my infected breast. (I advise anyone having a baby to get a mother's helper or doula for the first few weeks-- it's a great gift for any friends who are expecting.)

I have asked for help when there was no other choice. My first car was a Datsun 510 and I learned how to replace air filters, fuel lines and oil filters. But there were some mechanical repairs that were too complicated for me so I had to ask for help from friends who were car mechanics.

You may think asking for help is a sign of weakness, like I did. We all know people who get lost on the road and don't ask for directions. Asking for help is the sensible thing to do yet many of us stay frustrated and lost. If you don't have the expertise, don't let pride or ego stand in your way of learning and growing. 

It's actually clever and courageous to ask for help. In his "New Norm" policy memo the Army National Guard Command Sgt. Major Richard Burch notes that asking for help is not a sign of weakness and encourages his team to both provide and ask for help. Yet many of us persist in believing there is a stigma to admitting we need help. Dr. Robin Smith says asking for help is a sign of strength and maturity. Asking for help isn't something to be ashamed of. No one has all the answers.

I have recently realized that being willing to accept help from others will deepen my friendships and relationships. In one of my favorite films, It's A Wonderful Life, George Bailey's friends come to his aid at the climax of the story.

In Jesus CEO, Using Ancient Wisdom for Visionary Leadership author Laurie Beth Jones points out that "every person who touches a life helps shape it." Since each person we come in contact with can help shape our life and vice versa, it's vital that we allow others to touch our lives and make an impact on us, just as we do to them. We must be willing to both receive and give. To do so strengthens our connections with others.

As Bob Berg and John David Mann observe in their book, The Go-Giver, "Every giving can happen only because it is also a receiving." For you to give, someone else has to receive. "All the giving in the world won't bring success, unless you also make yourself willing and able to receive. If you don't let yourself receive, you're refusing the gifts of others." Be open to receiving help and the gifts of others. Berg and Mann write, "The secret to success is to give, give, give. The secret to getting is giving. And the secret to giving is making yourself open to receiving."

Recently I realized where I learned to avoid asking for help. My mother never asked anyone for help. When I was a kid she hired an occasional babysitter so she and my father could go out together, but that was as far as it went. She never asked us to help with chores around the house. She didn't believe children should do chores. When I was a teenager, my mother once got angry and told us that she was tired of doing everything. I created a chart listing the chores I thought might be required and we three kids assigned tasks to each other. I think our helping out lasted less than a week. My mom denied herself our help, and prevented us from giving her an important gift.

When I visit my mother-in-law, I attempt to wash the dishes but she stops me because she has a certain way of doing it. When you don't allow someone to help you, you are sending that person a message that you don't trust him or her with the task or feel you can do it better. People will stop offering help if you constantly refuse it.

I am resolved that I will allow others to help me -- whether it's offering to help me wash dishes, or to show me how to build a web site using Wordpress or teaching me about marketing. I will ask for help, or hire someone, because I know that others have special skills and talents to tap into and that helping is a sign of love. And we need more of that in the world. Asking for help can strengthen relationships and lead to new friendships.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is learning that asking for help is okay and not a sign of weakness or incompetency. She is finally able to admit that she can't do everything. For career coaching, recruiting, writing and speaking, you can reach her at