My dad (with a plethora of tools) was here for the past couple days, beautifying my apartment. I came home from work Friday afternoon to find my bedroom decked out in the exact same shade of rich teal that it had been at home. It went from feeling like a hotel room to my room almost instantaneously. We hung my curtains, some shelves, some posters and knick-knacks, and now I smile every time I walk in. (The living room is another story—no frills, no furniture, just my TV and a love seat I bought on clearance. That’ll be a work in progress for a looong time, but if you can’t relax in your own bed, that’s a bigger issue.)
A friend of mine scoffed when I said my dad was painting my place. (Whatever, Jen!) And I get it—you get the big girl apartment, you should do the big girl home improvement by yourself—but I think it’s fair to know your own limitations and me plus a ladder plus nine-foot ceilings and the potential to make an obscene mess would just be the worst combination ever. Plus, I suspect my dad has been secretly waiting for me to get my own place just so he could come be Mr. Handyman. 😉 Right, Dad?
Asking for help is hard. I certainly struggle with it. Sometimes it’s a matter of pride, other times it’s about hating feeling like a charity case. When I need—and receive—financial help, it usually drives me to tears because it’s an uncomfortable mix of overwhelming gratitude and bitter resentment that I had to ask in the first place. I imagine feeling this way isn’t all that uncommon. I think people who struggle with it, like me, are the same type of people who struggle with feeling a sense of failure. If you have to ask for help, it means you couldn’t do it yourself. There’s no worse feeling to those of us who are fiercely independent. And as someone so attuned to that feeling, it’s sometimes really hard to follow my own advice, but I’m about to give it anyway—in this industry and this economy, you just have to get over that shit.
I once lost a job because I didn’t ask for help. I had been hired as a part-time staff writer for a collection of newspapers in New Jersey. The newsroom was big, bustling, and beautiful. I felt like I was on track for my next big adventure. I was assigned a quick piece about a nearby house fire on my very first day and saw it published the following week. I was excited, motivated, inspired. My cube mate was around my age and it seemed like we would hit it off. I couldn’t wait to settle in, meet people, and start seeing my name in print over and over. This is what I’d been waiting for after three internships and a year of freelancing. I was a reporter.
I lasted 10 days.
Nine, technically, since I was fired the morning of the 10th. There’d been no training period, not that I felt I would’ve needed one anyway, but the editors had a tendency to just throw you in the deep end and expect you not to drown. I’d been keeping on top of my features, but I forgot all about a questionnaire I’d been assigned to send out to some city council hopefuls for the upcoming election. Monday was our deadline and I emailed them all Friday afternoon. My editor was not happy to find out that we didn’t have any anwers yet Monday morning. “Call them!” she barked and went back to her desk.
I, uh, had a bit of a phone phobia at the time. I eventually overcame it, but back then, the thought of calling up local politicians with a slew of strangers sitting around to listen in made my hands shake. I had no choice. Luckily—unluckily?—most calls went to voicemail. I didn’t leave messages. I followed up with more emails.
I only got two responses by lunch. I was so afraid to leave my desk that all I had to “eat” all day was cup after cup of coffee. I saw my editor talking to her editor and thought, surely it’s not about me. This is just one piece. This is one bad day. I’m still new! But they both glanced over at me and I knew.
The editor’s editor started giving me a hard time about another piece I had going in for that edition. She was nitpicking the details of a zoning board decision, making me fact-check everything even though I’d taken detailed notes at the meeting. In taking my attention away from the bigger problem, it made it easier to blame me when it fell through. I’ve often wondered if that was the point.
I should’ve thrown up a white flag. Admitted I was in over my head. (To be fair, when a source won’t call you back, there’s not much you can do short of stalking them.) As a part-timer, I was supposed to leave at 4. I stayed until 5 and still hesitated. I kept calling and emailing. My editor never came back to my desk. At 5:30, I accepted that I’d done all I could and whatever would happen would just … happen. I left.
The next day I was called into HR just a couple minutes after I sat down. They didn’t even have the decency to admit the real reason. They claimed my “work wasn’t up to par,” which was bull because everything I’d done prior to that one incident had been published with very little editing needed. I asked if deadline day was to blame. They gave me the runaround. My editor wasn’t even there.
Packing up my desk, which had only just been affectionately arranged a week ago, was one of my most humiliating moments. Tucking my little “congrats” plant under one arm, I tried to carefully stack my picture frames, notebooks, and Eagle Eye mousepad under the other. If it wasn’t making it in one trip, it just wasn’t coming with me. I avoided all eye contact and quietly left the newsroom.
I was living with my grandparents at the time. I came home, unwilling to talk about it just yet, gave some random excuse as to why I was home early, and went to my room. I stood there for 10 seconds, looking around, my mind racing, then turned and left again.
I drove straight to the beach. Staring at the ocean is one of three things I do to effectively recharge. (More on that later.) I sat there for two hours. Just thinking. Reflecting. Beating myself up, yes, but also rationalizing. I thought the whole situation was a touch unfair. But there was also an overwhelming sense of, now what?
My mental state took a bit of a nosedive in the months after that, which I’ll expand upon eventually, but the point to all this is, I’ve tried to squash that feeling of “I don’t need help” when I clearly do ever since that day.
It’s OK to need help every once in a while. It’s even more OK to ask for it. You’ll either be in an environment that’ll make you dread it (good luck) or one that’s so amazingly open to it, you’ll feel so much lighter throughout the day.
There’s no such thing as a stupid question at The HSUS. Each one is an opportunity to learn, which I need, seeing as how I’m playing with things I’ve never seen before. In addition to a lot of copy editing, I’m getting my hands dirty with some HTML code and if you’ve ever done anything with website coding, you know it looks like a fuckin’ foreign language! So, if I need help at work, it’s there.
If I need help at home, it’s still there, though slightly more embarrassing. I’ve met every single leasing staff member of my complex—‘scuse me, community—because I’ve had to bug each of them for one thing or another, most of them just over the past few days. The one who convinced me to live here knows me by name and I’m not sure if it’s just part of his job to be that good or if he sees me coming down the hall and thinks, oh dear god, what does she want now? I feel like I should wear a T-shirt that says, “I swear I’m not completely useless” when I go down to ask what kind of extra lock can I get, what am I allowed to hang up, oh, I can drill all sorts of holes in the walls, but I can’t have a welcome mat in the hall, right then, can you print the first page of my lease for me so I can get my driver’s license, I need a parking pass, I’m allowed to paint right, OK, well, we need ceiling paint because the last guy didn’t do a good job, here’s a pickle jar, fill that baby up, wait, you gave me wall paint instead of ceiling paint, by the way, my fridge doesn’t seem to be cold enough and there’s an outlet tripping my circuit breaker, oh sure, I can do that online and stop harassing you, and oops, I need another parking pass …
Oh well. I’m still getting the hang of this whole successful adult thing. Me and Siri are really becoming besties. And of course, there’s always this …
… but I’m getting better in the kitchen too. 🙂
P.S. Need help with your resumé or cover letter for your next journalism job interview? That’s why I’m here! Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.