A few years ago I competed in a Tough Mudder. At the time it was marketed as ‘one of the hardest obstacle courses in the world’ consisting of a 20km course with about the same number of challenging obstacles created by British Special Forces soldiers. Oh and did I mention the mud? Yep there was quite a lot of it thrown in for good measure.
About 16 kms in to the course, already exhausted, covered in cuts and bruises, body feeling battered and caked in dried mud, I reached the next obstacle – Everest. Looming ahead of me was a quarter pipe standing at over 15' tall, with a curved top just to make it that little bit harder to grab and, our challenge? To get to the top of it.
But all I saw were people running at full pelt and not getting anywhere quickly; bodies slamming in to the wall and sliding unceremoniously to the ground; arms and legs being stretched as people hung on for dear life and body parts being grabbed as teammates tried to pull each other up. People looked exhausted. It looked really hard and really painful.
So what did I do?
I panicked. My inner voice went into “I can’t, I can’t” overdrive and there's no doubt the amygdala part of my brain was having its own party tune of ‘you are going to hurt yourself, you are going to fail, you are going to hurt yourself, you are going to fail’ playing on repeat and at full blast. The tears started to roll and I froze.
Let’s just say thanks to my teammates I did eventually conquer Everest. After much cajoling and voices of encouragement, some very deep breaths from me and a shout of, “C’mon Janine, Put Your Big Girl Pants On”, I succeeded in calming the panic, pulling myself together and getting my brain to connect to my legs to run. I tried once, twice, three times and finally made it. (Photo proof above!)
This experience got me thinking about how the same type of panic can happen in the workplace. You may be swamped with work, have a major challenge that you are trying to complete, a tricky client that you are having to placate, a significant business pitch you are leading, a challenging relationship at work, you may well have truly fucked something up and don’t know what to do next and instead of looking to our colleagues to ask for help we try and go it alone.
And why? Because we think that asking for help is a sign of weakness and incompetence. We want to show that we are self-reliant. We think it’s going to show others our vulnerabilities and therefore affect our futures.
But asking for help can actually be the difference between success and failure. We cannot be successful alone. We need others to help strengthen ourselves. Realizing we cannot do something and asking for help shows humility and strength.
Dr. Paul Schempp, an award-winning research professor at the University of Georgia and known as ‘The Expert on Expertise’ has led several studies that have consistently shown:
a willingness to ask for help as one of the largest differentiators between extraordinary achievers and ordinary achievers.
“Leaders who ask for and accept input from team members are more successful and inspirational than leaders who believe they need to go it alone,” says Schempp.
So next time your fear kicks in, you don’t know what to do or which way to turn don’t give up. Instead reach out to your support network and ask for help.
Successful people know who they can rely on when they are facing their own figurative Everest.
And they know that there is no way they are going to reach it’s summit without asking for help.