Scratching my bald head: Asking for help – possibly the best thing you’ll ever do
By Emily Luscombe, Chief Client Officer
This is part 5 of a series. It also appeared in PR Week.
“Oh to have our house to ourselves again!” explodes my usually-placid husband, as a well-meaning relative breaks yet another wine glass.
I observe the scene, uselessly, from my all-too-familiar position on the sofa.
Two weeks out of surgery and I have never felt so incapable. Which, after the last six months, is saying something. Me, a go-getting, multi-tasking working mother; a city professional, priding myself on my ability to juggle a pitch rehearsal while chairing a Board meeting and still make it to parents’ evening.
That woman feels long gone. A shadow, weakened by four months of chemo and an eight hour operation; unable to even bend to sweep up the broken glass.
“But these blogs are supposed to be inspirational!” I hear you cry. Perhaps she’s finally hit the wall?
Never. Because in the greatest challenges come the salient life lessons, and here’s the latest one to clobber me around the head: don’t be too proud to ask for help. And never believe you won’t someday need to.
In the early years of my career the corporate workplace was still male-dominated; flexibly-working mums a rarity, shunted into the corner to work on the side projects. ExCo comprised, with occasional exception, suited males working seven-day weeks. Those exceptions were not to be envied; wearing perfect suits of steel. I worked for a female MD for two years before I realised she had primary school-age children. Family, femininity; any responsibility or need of help beyond the four corners of the office – these were weaknesses.
Thankfully we’ve come a long way in 20 years. For all its disaster, Covid propelled us forward at least another ten. Those delightful but irascible toddlers cannot be concealed from a Teams camera in the front room; the support network that parents had carved to place a buffer between home and work was unavailable. And everyone got sick; you could stop apologising for taking a week off to isolate, because it (finally) became socially unacceptable to stagger into the office with a cold.
In this new world, family responsibilities became acceptable office conversation. And so we learned to ask for help – and to accept it with grace.
Lo and behold, our agencies found ways to thrive from this. More creativity, fresh thinking, better talent. What had heretofore been a weakness, was found to make us stronger.
This is what I remind myself as I apologetically ask seven-year-old-son to escort me to the bathroom. This is too much! I will surely never feel like superwoman again. How will this version of me ever march back into a boardroom and convince a CEO that we are gamechangers?
I was once told that, if you want to build a connection with someone quickly, ask them for help. People like to be asked. It shifts the dynamic; forms a bond. Maybe this will be my new pitch strategy.
So I urge myself – and you – to once again look at this through a different lens. Working at a distance, and in a less time-pressed capacity, has prompted more colleagues to come to me for help; for mentoring, to review a strategy deck, or observe a pitch rehearsal. The more I have talked openly about my need for help, the more others have asked it of me.
And as a result, my well-wishers pre-surgery were full of gratitude – not sympathy. Professional relationships cemented, rather than undermined, by cancer treatment.
An unexpected but very reassuring live experiment in humanity.