This is a story of how I learned to ask for help.
I knew they were coming. A lot of them. But I never imagined there would be THAT many of them. They came in the door crying, laughing, embracing one another, and clearly ready to party.
I was alone – the only bartender on duty at a local dive bar that had been chosen as the gathering place after a funeral for the unexpected and tragic death of a guy my age. He had been a regular at the bar and it was a shock to realize he was gone.
Sundays were usually pretty busy and I was confident in my both my bartending skills and my ability to handle a large crowd by myself. But it soon became clear that this was going to be a shift like none I had faced before.
Within an hour the entire bar was full of grieving young people celebrating their friend’s life and mourning his death. I did my best to pump out their drink orders at warp speed, while greeting their moist eyes with sympathetic smiles and not letting anyone disrupt my rhythm as I poured beers, mixed cocktails, cleaned up, swiped credit cards, and handled cash. Luckily, several of the regulars were there. I didn’t even have to ask them to help out. They cleared glasses, changed kegs, and retrieved bottles for me so I never had to leave the bar.
The next 5 hours were a blur. All I know is that when I finally left, I was more mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted than I had been in my life. Not to mention completely covered in beer. But I felt this deep sense of pride at having handled it. Holy shit, did I really manage that massive crowd for a whole afternoon all by myself? I felt invincible. I am so fast! I am a whiz at doing math in my head on the fly! How did I keep so many drink orders in my head at one time?
The next day I walked into my happy hour shift standing a little taller. Maybe even sporting a touch of arrogance. Psh. Happy hour. This is going to be so easy…
Then it happened. The manager showed up. I threw my shoulders back and prepared to receive his praise. But as soon as I saw the look on his face I realized that was not what was coming. He was livid. He kept asking why I didn’t call someone and ask for help.
I didn’t understand. “But I didn’t need any help. I was fine…” I kept saying. It made no sense. I made us SO much money. Everyone had a great time and honored our lost friend.
He finally looked me in the eye and said “I know YOU were fine. But that’s not the point. If you had called for backup, we could have served twice as many people, made twice as much money for the bar, provided an even better experience for the customers, and done an even better job honoring our lost friend.”
It hit me like a ton of bricks. It wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about my ego. It wasn’t about what I could handle. It was about everything else. That was when I learned to ask for help.
Just because I can do it by myself doesn’t mean I should.
This can be a hard truth to accept if you have any amount of ego or pride dwelling inside you. Which I suspect most of us do. As a woman who has always felt strongly about being independent and able to take care of herself, it took me a long time to really understand this – to understand that by recruiting help or support I could potentially be more effective, more impactful and more powerful than I could ever be on my own.
I no longer see accepting help, not to mention asking for it, as a sign of weakness or incompetence. That came from a place of wanting to be seen a certain way, not from seeing myself as I am.
I now view accepting help, and especially asking for it, as smart. When I know myself, including my strengths and weaknesses, I can better see where I could benefit from reinforcement, advice, feedback, or an extra hand (or mind.)
I know now that while I may do and create great things on my own, I can do and create even greater things with a little help from my friends.