Do the unthinkable (ask for help!)

The phone rang last night while I was putting my kids to bed and it was a friend of mine that I suggested do the thirty day challenge.  She had been doing her best to keep up with the challenge and follow the steps that Ed and his gang give.  After all, that’s what they tell you to do, “just follow the steps”.  She felt discouraged as she tried to follow some of the steps and said “I can see why so many people don’t finish the challenge”.

That got me to thinking about what I see as the biggest obstacle to completing either the thirty day challenge, or the challenge of getting any idea off the ground.

I once heard that “The simplest solution is usually the best”.  That was in reference to Occam’s razor, a principle that dates back to the 14th century.  When it comes to achieving any vision of your’s and you have identified parts of that vision that you don’t know how to do, the simplest solution is to ask for help.  Unfortunately there are a few cultural oddities in our present day that prevent people from asking for the help they need.  In other words, we tend to complicate the otherwise simple solution of asking our acquaintances for help.

Do you speak English (or asking the right question)?

First off, last night while I was helping my friend get over one of her major stumbling blocks I couldn’t help but remember this video that I saw on YouTube a couple of years ago.  It’s hilarious, and there’s a lesson behind it (at least I want there to be one so I can post it here).

I’m going to try to s t r e t c h a lesson out of that video and say that the lady asked the wrong question.  Rather than just asking for directions to the garage, she asked if he spoke English.  That gave him a chance to make a good game of her.  Besides, it wasn’t what she really needed anyway.

The “major stumbling block” that I was helping my friend with last night had to do with WordPress (which I love and use, by the way).  She had successfully installed a wordpress blog on her site and begun to look into themes (way to go!).  Among other things she wanted to know:

  • how to update/modify her WordPress theme (such things as images and fonts)
  • how to create new pages, categories, posts, etc.
  • how to decide whether to create pages or posts for different types of content

Here’s the problem: before she called me I think she already decided that the technology was too difficult to figure out or that she wouldn’t be able to do it.  She did absolutely the right thing in calling me, as I’ll try to show below.

Assume that you can do it with the right help

The first little lesson to take away from this is to assume that you can do it and that you have the capacity to understand it.  This might sound stupid simple, but to show you that it is a stumbling block, I’ll tell you another story.

I have another friend that I’ve been helping do web site stuff for years.  He has actually had websites and uploaded images and other things to them.  A few weeks ago he sent me an e-mail asking how to get an e-book up to his site.  I told him how to do it in a reply.  He sent back asking me again how to do that.  I then sent him a click-by-click list of instructions to do it.  When I saw him a couple weeks later he still hadn’t uploaded his files.  He “assumed” that it was more complicated that what I had told him to do in my e-mail and so he never even tried it.  Read that again.  He never even tried to upload the files because he had already decided that there was more to it than the list of instructions I gave him.

How many items do you have on your to do list right now that you have already decided are beyond your capacity or understanding and so you haven’t even started them?  Whatever they are, go and highlight them right now and in just a minute I’ll tell you how to get them done and check them off.

American Pride (or how Walmart and credit cards stole my education)

Go back 200 years and America looked a lot different than it does today.  As with many things, there’s good and bad that comes with change.  Back when agriculture was the primary means of making a living (or should I say, staying alive), folks didn’t have a luxury of spending years in college, falling back on unemployment or just going to the store and picking up some food on their credit card before they got their next check.

Instead they relied on each other.  They imposed on each other.  When someone moved to a new area he instinctively went to those who had already farmed there and asked what worked and what didn’t.  Sometimes an experienced farmer could make something new work, but that experience comes after years of making the basics work.

Back then an education meant imposing on people and having an end in mind (like growing crops to stay alive).  It also meant that within a community there was a necessary diversity of skills and abilities.  After all, how could they barter to get a range of goods if they all did the same thing or grew the same crop.  An education back then meant acquiring practical skills through your association with others and your own testing.

Today I think there is a real tendency to assume that modern Universities in all their pomp and prestige contain a solution to every problem.  While it is flabbergasting (yes, that’s the word of the day) to imagine the amount of information and knowledge they contain, real life skills and education are as much your responsibility today as they were 200 years ago.

Don’t let your pride rob you of opportunities to learn.  Expect to try and fail.  Plan to impose on others that already have a practical skill that you need.  Don’t let yourself fall back on the dole of unemployment, or worse, a lifetime 9 to 5 job.  I think you’ll be surprised that most people feel like they get the better end of the deal when asked to do a favor.  Try it.  Ask someone to teach you something they know really well and see how appreciative they are to you after teaching it to you.  Or you could just think about the last time you taught someone something that you were good at.  How did it make you feel to see him get it?

Stop pretending to be Wonder Woman

So at the beginning of this post I asked “how do you know when to ask questions, mastermind, outsource, quit, change direction, etc.?”  I think that’s simple to answer.  The “WHEN” is always.  In our society and communities we’re surrounded by people that have real needs.  We have real needs, but we’ve conditioned ourselves to think that we should “do it alone” or that asking for help automatically equates to unecissarily imposing on others.

That’s a load of crap!

Yes, there are ways to go to far.  If I give you a list of steps to do something that you asked about and then you ask me to actually do it for you while you eat a donut and watch Oprah then I might feel put out.  But if you have your mouse in hand and a vision of where you want to end up and you think that I have some specialized knowledge that will get you there, then stop trying to be a super hero and just ask me.  As I help you I get better at:

  • helping
  • doing
  • participating

That last one is really important and I hope it has come through in the theme of this post.  We are much more likely to succeed in collaboration than in isolation.  So the next time you find yourself depressed or frustrated, staring at your computer screen at 1:30 am wondering how in the world you’ll ever learn everything you need to be a super internet marketer, just STOP.  Back up far enough that you see the vision of where you want to be.  Write down on your to do list the things that you think you already know how to do and the things you don’t know how to do (or pull out the list that you highlighted at the beginning of this post).  Then…

Do the unthinkable (aka, the simplest solution)!

For each task that you don’t know how to do, write the name of someone you know that is most likely to know how to do it right next to the item on your list.  Then send out e-mails briefly explaining your vision and the thing you can’t figure out.  ASK your friend, co-worker, client, vendor or whoever else it turns out to be, to help you do it.  Don’t be too surprised when you get the help you need and find your vision taking shape.

When you’ve done this a few times, come back here and post your experience as a comment on this post.  I can’t wait to hear about it.

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