Learning to Ask

by Britt on September 7, 2011

A Woman with QuestionsAsking a question is embarrassing for a moment, but not asking is embarrassing for a lifetime. — Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore, 2006, p. 255. (Hat tip to The Technium)

A personal failing of mine involves questions, or more accurately the asking of questions. What makes this so crazy is that I’m curious. I like learning new things, and in certain situations, I’ll ask one question after another. But I’m also big on figuring things out for myself. So sometimes I’ll wander around a store looking for something or spend hours online trying to figure out how to do something new because I do not want to ask the question. At times, my pursuit of self sufficiency gets a bit ridiculous. (In case you’re wondering, I don’t like asking for directions either; I map it out ahead of time.)

However, I’m discovering that refusing to ask questions is costing me in other ways. Sometimes a project gets dragged out for much longer than it needs to be if I’d just asked, but heaven forbid I don’t appear competent or fully knowledgeable on something. Knowing that I have the problem has helped and prompted me to ask questions at times when I wouldn’t have in the past, but it’s also spilled over into other areas.

Asking for Help

Living on one’s own can’t help but make you more willing to experiment and figure out how to do things solo. But, just like my aversion to asking questions, I sometimes go too far. One winter I ordered a new chair. I picked up the new chair from the furniture store and got it to my house. Since my mother knows me so well, she tried to make me promise to wait until I had help to move the chair into the house. I don’t know if I actually promised or just made the reassuring statements that we all tell our mothers. After considering all my options, I decided that it was possible for me to move the chair myself. Luckily I damaged neither myself, the chair, or the house in the process, but there were several moments when I wondered what the hell I was doing and why I didn’t wait for help.

It Feels Like a Weakness

Perhaps I’m in the minority, but asking questions or for help feels like a weakness (even if it’s not). Logically I know this isn’t true, but emotionally it feels very true. By posing the question or request, I’m setting myself up to either be helped or mocked, and for some reason, I assume that the more likely outcome is the latter. This expectation has lessened to a degree as I’ve surrounded myself with real friends over the years, but it hasn’t fully stamped out that tiny kernel of skepticism that I’m better off asking for nothing. It also hasn’t stopped me from wondering about what I’ve missed because I’ve chosen to remain silent.

A Question a Day

In the same vein as an apple a day, I think it may be worthwhile to challenge myself to a question a day, and not just any question, but one that makes me uncomfortable. (And no, it won’t be because the question is tacky.) Few questions will result in anything worse than being told, “No,” and recovering from “no” is doable. But I am tired of wondering, perhaps enough to actually do something, like ask the question.

So here’s my question for today: what get’s in the way of you asking your questions or asking for help?



{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue Melone September 12, 2011 at 4:37 pm

Two things get in my way: 1) I enjoy the journey of learning on my own (not always the smart choice) and / or 2) I feel vulnerable asking for help and exposing my ideas, situation, etc. My remedy: ask myself “what is the best way to help right now?” Well, what do you guys think?


Britt September 12, 2011 at 6:38 pm

Sue, it definitely helps to address the individual situation at hand and leave one’s self open to either trying it independently or asking for help. Forcing a blanket approach every time (either doing it alone or always asking) only sets one up for disappointment and unnecessary frustration.


Carole Cohen September 12, 2011 at 4:37 pm

We are kindred spirits on this. The difference is, I like to kid myself that it’s not true for me. But it is. For me, asking for help seems like a weakness. Never thought about the embarassment issue. On many levels, I’m self deprecating and seemingly not worried about what people think. But asking for help – especially with things that I have no business doing myself? Very hard. I’ll start with one question a week (one a day, too hard for now lol). You’re right, it’s time


Britt September 12, 2011 at 6:41 pm

Carole, every little bit helps…my goal of one a day has become every other day :-)


Carole Cohen September 12, 2011 at 7:56 pm

Britt, that makes me feel a bit better lol. I’m tackling it tomorrow, already have question and person to ask. I’m doing it tomorrow because I’m not one who likes having uncomfortable things hanging around like a cloud.


Roberta September 14, 2011 at 5:44 am

Thanks for bringing this situation to light. It’s interesting how some questions are easy to ask: I have no problem asking a vender questions about a product, even a product that I have been using awhile. But I do sometimes have problems asking questions about things that I feel I “should” know. The examples that come to mind revolve around popular technology. As I am reminded daily by folks who care: 1) You cannot learn unless you ask 2) no one can be an expert in everything.

Not asking at the right time has cost me time, money and sore muscles. I too have dragged the chair/box/equipment when I could easily have gotten help. It also stops someone from helping you. That act of giving help makes everyone feel good. Maybe that is what we should remember when we hesitate to ask for help. Not asking for help prevents someone from giving their help. Hmmm.


Britt September 14, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Roberta, I should have also added that I hate asking because I don’t want people to feel obligated to help just because I’ve asked. The same with posing a question. I struggle with the sense that I’m somehow wasting their time or perhaps adding to an already very long to-do list, and that’s the last thing I want to do to the people I know. But you are right that we need to be open to giving people the opportunity to help. They can always say no. :-)


Bridgette Burbank April 20, 2012 at 8:58 am

Hi Brittany! It’s been a while. I love your blog. This post really made me think. I’ve found recently that I really hate it when I find myself in a “one-down” position. Like you said, when you are one-down, you open yourself up and make yourself vulnerable. But a life spent closed up, is hardly a life at all. Like you said, there are costs involved in refusing to reach out. I find that fear keeps me from reaching out to others for help.


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