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Ask any bibliophile around the globe and most would agree that the Harry Potter series of books is not just adult fiction but a treasure trove of life lessons. It’s not surprising to find profound thoughts, whether by way of conversation or monologues, at almost every 5 turns.
But one that’s always stood out for me is Dumbledore’s quote from the Deathly Hallows – “Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.”
There have been several interpretations, and that’s the beauty of literature (a topic for another day) but my take away from this is fairly simple, in terms of general life advice –
Help, that is! Notice that ‘Ask’ is the word of significance in both statements – ‘..to those who ask‘, ‘ask and you shall receive’.
Early on in my career, asking for help was a personal challenge, and what’s worse, I wasn’t even aware of it.
During most of my time in IT so far, I have either been the only female programmer in the team or was on the other side of a heavily skewed ratio, and that hurt me in a lot of ways. I was quite defensive all the time around my colleagues, as if I had something to prove, something was at risk. I always felt carrying a huge burden on my young shoulders; a burden dumped onto me in a sneaky inadvertent way; the burden of my generation, the burden of my very humble background, and most importantly, the burden of my gender. I was always on the edge, feeling the critical stare of society’s expectations looming over my shoulders all the time, every time.
I avoided asking for help at all costs, never ready to risk the perception that I didn’t understand or was aware of the technicalities because I was a woman and hence, lesser in any sense. And this meant many long nights and extra hours in office. Worse, I knew this could have been easily avoided by a 30 min. conversation with another team member.
Although, I’ll agree it did do wonders to my self-confidence! That moment of victory when you figure something out all on your own – o sweet mother of joys!
Yet, this behaviour was putting a slow but steady dent on my personality. Being an introvert dint help either. Luckily, as I became more self-aware, I noticed the pattern early on and decided to work on it. Trust me when I say it took mammoth amounts of effort to take that first leap of faith. That walk to a colleague’s desk, discussing where I was stuck, getting a new perspective, not to mention deriving one-of-a-kind solution, was liberating on so many levels that I am short of words. It was a personal achievement!
And I have never looked back since. It’s awesome to solve problems on your own, but at times, it’s even awesomer (did I just discover a new word?) to hear someone tell that it’s not your problem alone and help is just round the corner. Team work, yo!
I had learnt growing up that ‘everyone has to fight their own battles’ but I have my reservations now. Many a times, we make problems personal and assume that it needs a personal solution too. Especially at the workplace. We assume we won’t get that promotion, we assume we are not eligible for that raise yet, we assume we are not cut out for that lucrative project, or a role change or flexible work hours etc. etc. Let’s start by not assuming and just asking. The worst to happen is a denial. And that’s okay (another topic for another day :)). There’s nothing to loose. At least you will have a quick answer, instead of days of agony of ‘I wish…..’
I have been lucky enough to be blessed with a mix balance of some very supportive colleagues and managers who have come to my rescue in numerous ways. Not just by helping out with learning a new tool, or an onsite opportunity, or a promotion, but also (quite recently) with role changes that would have been extremely ambitious for me. The only thing I had to do was reach out.
Forget about your image or people’s perception or their expectations. Get out of your comfort zone and just ask, ask for help. People are inherently good and happy to lend a hand.
And that’s a smooth segway to Mentorship. Accepting that you dont know everything and can’t solve all of yours or anyones’ problems by yourself is difficult but definitely a starting point nevertheless. You need people to guide you, coach you and sometimes, even hand-hold you. And that’s how you learn and grow. That’s how we all learn along the way.
The next step, for many people, is finding (a) good mentor(s).
Remember, it takes a village.
Have you been afraid to ask for help too? Did you overcome it? It would be interesting to hear some personal stories!
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