How Asking For Help Made Me Less Self-Absorbed
“People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges.”
~Joseph F Newton
It wasn’t until my mid 20s that I realized how absurdly self-absorbed I was. When the revelation hit me, it changed my life.
I had just graduated from a prestigious Dietetic Internship program and accepted my first job working for an inner city school district as a Registered Dietitian. I had grand intentions and was eager to begin work. I was going to save the world, or at least the wildly unhealthy population of my community, one school lunch at a time. Or so I thought.
It didn’t take long for me to become discouraged. I was surrounded by school food service veterans who were very resistant to change. With no clear direction or common goals among my team members, leadership was lacking to say the least.
My hands were tied by government regulation leaving me no leeway to use my professional judgment, and sadly I had little to no support for the efforts I was making to improve the health profile of the meals we were serving. I found the sub-par standards and unbelievable amount of food waste to be sickening to the point that I couldn’t sleep at night.
I would dread going into work every day.
Every day presented a new problem which could have been prevented. Every day, I felt angry, resentful, frustrated, and sad that I was left dealing with it alone. I wasn’t working in nutrition at all. My time was consumed with menial and ridiculous administrative tasks, none of which spoke to my passion.
I began to doubt myself and lose myself.
I arrived at a very deep, dark, hateful place— a place where I was bothered by everything and everyone around me. A place where I could sense my negativity affecting others and where I purposefully stopped communicating with everyone, because I didn’t care to hear anything that could potentially upset me more.
I didn’t like the person I had become and I hated that I had let my job turn me into it.
So, I began working to “fix” things, starting with what was realistically possible. Quitting my job didn’t feel like the right answer because that would have meant I failed and been “defeated” by my colleagues. I was too proud for that and I didn’t want anybody to know I was struggling.
Instead, I opted to solve my problems totally alone. I spent countless hours exhausting my mind and weighing the pros and cons of every possible option. I brainstormed, carefully planned, managed my time, and worked with my strengths to create what seemed like the right answer.
In my spare time between tasks at work, without mentioning it to anyone in my department, I started creating a new marketing and nutrition education program which fed my creativity and passion for health.
I spent months building materials and resources. I showed them to my manager. To my surprise, my ideas were well received! I felt confident, passionate, and arrogantly clever again. With each new element I added to the program, my heart felt a little brighter.
My manager was so satisfied with what I was doing that he created an opportunity for a full-time position which would manage the nutrition education and marketing program I had started. He encouraged me to apply.
I did and I was selected. I was ecstatic. I felt like I had figured it all out on my own. I was beaming with pride and could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. For the next six months, I had a skip in my step again.
One day, I was called into a meeting with human resources and was told that there was an “error” in the hiring process, that I “should not have been selected”, that I “was not qualified”, and that I would be removed from my new position and returned to my old one.
When I asked if the judgment call was performance-based, I was told that it wasn’t and that I had been performing the position at the level expected. This left me feeling confused and discouraged. It turned out that someone else who had applied claimed they were wrongfully denied the opportunity.
In receiving the news, I felt horribly insulted, unappreciated, and wronged. I couldn’t believe it was happening! Shortly afterward, I learned that the candidate who had complained was moved into my position—the position I worked so hard for!
This person was someone I worked with regularly and I considered a friend. I felt betrayed and took it personally that he would interfere and steal something he knew I was so passionate about.
As I watched him make a mockery of the projects I had been working on and listened to him complain about having to do them, I immediately reverted to my deep, dark, hateful place. I reached my true rock bottom—all of my negativity, anger, hurt, sadness began spewing out of me.
I called my family sobbing about my problems—all of which they had been totally unaware of prior to then. I confided in my close friends, finally expressing to them how badly I was struggling and how deeply depressed I was. I became more honest with my work colleagues about how I was feeling, and I began being more honest about my job with new people.
As I desperately asked for help and comfort from others when I was in need, I discovered a truly beautiful thing. I realized how insanely self absorbed I was being and how I had become so consumed with feeling sorry for myself that I had stopped noticing the positive things and people in my life.
I had created a story in my mind in which no one was “on my side”, which kept me from voicing my concerns or asking for help and clarification. Perhaps if I would have openly discussed my struggle with my manager rather than masterminding a manipulative plan on my own, he would have accommodated me. Or, maybe I would have gained more insight as to why things were the way they were, which might have given me comfort or at least made me less frustrated with my organization.
If I had given the person who complained about the hiring process some idea of how important the job was to me, he might have let things go. Or, maybe I would have taken it all less personally if I had made any effort to reach out to him.
Unfortunately, I’ll never know because I never asked for help or admitted that I was struggling. Instead, I bottled things up and am now facing the consequences of remaining in my unsatisfying job.
By trying to deal with all my problems alone, I drove a wedge between myself and the people who sincerely cared for me. In closing others out of my life and letting them believe I didn’t need them, I boxed myself into a world which only included me and my problems— a very self-absorbed way to live.
As I have begun to be more humble and honest with the people around me, I’ve been forced to acknowledge the good people in my life that I had been ignoring. Asking for help has improved my self-confidence because I no longer have to guess if people accept and care for me—they show me with their actions instead.
In receiving advice, I learn intimate and important details about others’ lives along with lessons that they have learned from their own struggles—struggles that I would have never bothered to ask about while thinking only about my own problems.
My improved attitude towards myself has freed more space in my mind for thoughts about what I can do for others. I am motivated and inspired to be for others what they have been for me and I feel less dependent on success at work to drive my personal happiness.
I have learned a lot about other people. By drawing on their personal life experiences, I have become less shallow, less vain, less self-absorbed, and more self-forgiving. I have gained a better appreciation for people who are able to recognize, embrace, and work on their imperfections. Asking for and receiving help and advice from others has caused me to be vulnerable in a way that allows me to connect on a personal and purposeful level.
Before, I considered asking others for help as a sign of weakness, something to be ashamed of, but today, I see accepting help from others as an opportunity for us to share a mutual understanding. One that says, “I’ve seen the best and worst of you and I understand with perfect clarity exactly who you are and I accept and love that.”
Today, I still struggle with feeling fulfilled and happy at work, but now I have a network of people to catch me on days that I fall and to encourage me to keep learning and growing as we work on finding a solution to our struggles together. I have a greater appreciation for the good people in my life and I’ve learned that it isn’t always best to solve my problems alone, because I’m not alone.