If you don’t know how to do something, find someone who does. Then ask that person for help.
This sounds ridiculously simple, I know, but it took me a lifetime to learn.
Asking for help is uncomfortable for many — probably even most — grown folk. I used to believe that it was a very unattractive sign of weakness. I needed help, therefore I was needy. If I was not totally independent, then I was dependent, and that made me a lesser person. To truly earn the badge of adulthood, I had to know all the answers.
Or some such bullshit.
Thank God I came to my senses. I’ve been on a journey of self-discovery in recent years, and one of the key tenets of that journey has been learning humility.
When I started my process of reinvention five years ago, it was pointed out to me that my self-concept had historically swung from one extreme to the other, sometimes on a daily basis. I was either up on my self-righteous high horse, better than everyone around me, or I was a piece of garbage hell bent on self-flagellation. There was no in between. (Turns out that the “in between” is where serenity lies.)
I also learned that humility is not the same as humiliation. Duh. You would think that, as a writer and lover of words, I would know the difference between those two terms, but I frequently got them confused in practice.
I finally began to “get” the concept of humility when someone much wiser than me explained it as a state of being “one of many.” I am not better than or less than anyone else, I am just one of the many other struggling humans on the planet. Our stories may be different, but we’re basically all the same. (I know that statement is ripe for philosophical argument, but it gives me a hell of a lot of peace to believe it. Don’t let me stop you from arguing with yourself if it makes you happy.)
Another practical definition of humility that resonates with me is the idea that a humble person is a teachable one. I don’t know everything, and thank all the stars in heaven that I don’t have to.
My self-imposed reinvention has granted me a faith in a higher power that absolves me of the need to know it all. So today, if I don’t know the answer to a question — any question — I am humble enough to ask someone who does. Major or minor issues, it doesn’t matter.
Case in point, buying a new pair of running shoes.
Last week, I spoke to a personal trainer who told me that the niggling pain in my calves was likely a result of wearing the wrong shoes when I run. When I first took the initiative to get healthy last year and began incorporating short runs into my regimen, I bought a pair of Reebok cross trainers, thinking they would work for running and whatever other form of cardio that struck my fancy. I really did not expect to like running so much that it would become a staple of my workout routine, but I do, and it has.
So after being informed that my shoes may have been inadvertently causing injury, I went online to look at options, thinking, “I can shoe shop with my eyes closed and one arm tied behind my back. How hard can it be to find a suitable pair of the athletic variety?”
Holy shit on a stick. Can you say, overwhelmed??
I found one website that offered to analyze my running habits in order to choose a shoe for me. OK, I thought, NOW we’re getting somewhere. At first, the questions were easy: Do you run outside or on a treadmill? On the road or on trails? Do you have a low, medium or high arch?
But the next tier of questions I just could not answer. There was a whole series asking how my feet hit the ground when I run. How the hell should I know? I pick them up and put them down, WTF?
I ran around my driveway for a minute to see if I could self-analyze, and I still have no idea what my damn feet are doing. So I said screw it, and gave up my online search.
A few years ago, I would have ended that futile search feeling stupid for not being able to reach a solution on my own. Today, I realize that I just needed to try a different tack. ASK AN EXPERT, CUZ I AM CLEARLY NOT ONE OF THEM.
As I closed my laptop, it dawned on me that there is a Fleet Feet Sporting Goods store two blocks from my house. Hell-o? *SIGH*
Turns out all of the staff at Fleet Feet are runners, and they are extensively trained on the amenities of the products they sell. My salesperson, Cat, was a 20-something college student who spent 45 minutes with me determining the perfect shoes, arch inserts and socks. I did not feel like I was being upsold at all, just that she was focused on making sure I got exactly what I needed. It was a glorious experience.
Cat knew what she was doing; I did not. Therefore, I deferred to her judgment and was completely comfortable with her advice. I was humble, I was teachable and I came away with an awesome pair of shoes that felt like air on my feet the first time I took them to the streets of my neighborhood.
Big, big WIN!
Anyhoo, my shoe-buying experience is a simplified illustration of how humility works in my life today, but there are plenty of other more significant examples. Opening my own freelance writing and media consulting business last year has proved to be an ongoing lesson in humility, starting with the planning and preparation I did before I settled on the decision to go out on my own.
I spent months consulting with other freelance writers, business owners, accountants, attorneys, business counselors and anyone else who I felt might have valuable wisdom to share. In other words, I was a veritable sponge, soaking up as much information as possible.
I am so grateful to everyone who freely offered their time and expertise. It’s sounds cliché, but it's da troof: I would not be where I am today without them. For realz.
Because of their gifts to me, I am more than happy to pay that kindness forward and share my own experiences so far with anyone who asks.
Of course, I'll be the first to tell you that I don’t have all the answers. And today, I am perfectly OK with that.
About Amy Higgs
A former newspaper columnist, Amy takes her random, slice-of-life stories to the web. After nine years, she's still just saying.