The Power of Asking for Help

I will never forget this.

I was deep in the California redwoods on day two of a year-long leadership program. We had been led in blindfolded by the facilitators and now our hands were touching a rope barrier at waist-height tied between trees. We were told that the rope was interconnected making a up a huge maze on the downward slope below. Our job was to find our way out of the maze. The rules were we had to do it silently and we had to have one hand on the rope at all times.

I thought: alrighty then, how hard can this be?! And off I went.

There were 25 of us scattered throughout the maze to start. The forest was eerily quiet with just birds chirping and the crunch of leaves and twigs under my feet. I was quite focused on me and was feeling pretty confident and strong.

Hand over hand, I felt my way along. The rope would split at a tree or a knot and I kept making decisions about which way to go and trying to remember which I had already travelled. Where was the way out?

I bumped into several participants and silently worked around them, one hand always on the rope. Determined to follow the rules and figure this thing out, I kept going.

Then I heard someone cry out for help and I froze. What the…?! They sounded quite emotional and I wondered who it was and what was happening. A scuffle… and then quiet.

I hesitated but then kept going, even more resolved. I bumped into someone else now, but unlike the others, they weren’t trying to get around me. I am sure it was my friend Doug, tall and wide as a redwood himself but why was he actually trying to block me? Frustrated and determined, I eventually pushed past him. Hand over hand along the rope, bent forward, not able to see, determined. Retracing my steps then forward along aother fork in the maze. Working hard trying to picture the maze in my head and assess the way out.

Then …another person in front of me who refuses to move. They quickly grab my free hand as I try to inch around them and shove it up into the air. Then she starts shouting for help. Janet? Is that you? I say nothing though. That is the rule afterall. Why is she shouting for help with my hand? I don’t understand. OK, perhaps she will get what she needs then I can keep going. Blindfolded I can only hear the rustle of her being quietly removed. Silence again and …on I go.

I'm slightly shaken but focused and determined not to be a whiny loser. Jesus, what is wrong with these people. It can’t be that hard. Is everyone going crazy? I am probably the only one left with any stamina I think. I can win this thing! But after endless more minutes, I have travelled a lot of rope and have no indications of the way out. Still, I push on.

Then the whistle blows and we are told “game over” and to remove our blindfolds. I immediately see that the majority of my group is sitting up on the hillside looking down at the maze and there are but a few of us left inside. My first reaction is "Suckers!" We down here in the mess are the strong ones who didn’t give up.

I look around at the large rope world I have been stumbling around in for what feels like forever. Where is the way out? They call us to gather together with those already seated and we start to process what happened.

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 Slowly, I start to grasp it : the only way out was to ask for help. There was no other way. There was no hole in the maze, no one route to take that would be magical. The only way out was that you HAD to ask for help. You had to break the rules. And as soon as you did, it was easy. You were out.

I sat there in stunned disbelief. All the people on the hill had figured it out. Those of us still in the maze hadn’t.

My friends, Janet and Doug, once they had gotten out were given the option of going back in to try and help me out - though the silent "rule" still applied. So they tried each in their own way but realized it was hopeless. I wasn’t open to it at all.

All thru that evening and into the next day, I was in a daze. I couldn’t believe that a) admitting vulnerability and weakness was the answer and b) that it never even remotely blipped on my radar as a possible solution. In fact, I was in intense judgement of the cries for help I had heard.

Wow. Talk about missing the point. It showed me that asking for help wasn’t even in my repertoire BECAUSE I had such intense judgement of it. Life had given me a distorted view of what that meant about you. But the belief was clearly no longer serving me.

I have never forgotten that experience in the redwoods… though I still forget to ask for help. And then I remember, and go do something about it. and then forget again...

I heard someone say the other day that we are not much different from the plants. We cannot thrive on our own. We actually need cross-pollination to thrive.

People who strive to achieve and be recognized can easily distort the truth of this and think that we must be self-reliant or our success is a lie. 

If you were to ask for help with something specific right now at work, what would it be? And who would you ask?

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