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Levin: First step to getting help: Asking for it

  • Article by: ROSS LEVIN
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • November 24, 2012 - 4:51 PM

In the quiet confines of our office, all of our financially successful clients have come to ask for help.

Many of these people are unaccustomed to appearing unsettled or uneasy. Yet they know they simply cannot do this on their own. They know their challenge isn't managing their finances, but managing their lives around money.

They are asking for help with what to do with their children, their businesses, their parents, their careers. They want help with whether they should buy a new home, retire or give effectively to charity. But it goes far deeper than that. In some ways, they all want help in determining how their lives matter and how the choices they make today will affect those around them.

All of us need help with these questions. Let's cast aside the image of the self-assured, self-made person with all the answers. Instead, during this holiday season, let's ask for help. Let's admit that while life holds out great hope for each of us, there are times when it is confusing and overwhelming. In her book, "Help, Thanks, Wow,'' Anne Lamott writes: "We are too often distracted by the need to burnish our surfaces, to look good so that other people won't know what screwed-up messes we are, or our mate or kid or finances, are."

What if you were strong enough to no longer need to burnish your surfaces? How would your life change if you were willing to ask for help?

I was talking with a business owner about how things were going and he started by saying things were busy. Only after several minutes did he disclose the real challenges he was facing and his fears about whether the business would make it. But once he opened up, he no longer had to act like he had everything together.

Instead, he could describe the things he was feeling. I couldn't give him answers, because I didn't know enough about the business to be of specific use. But I could lend him my ear. I could listen, ask questions and help him think about things slightly differently. He didn't really need advice, he simply needed help. Help came in the form of listening intensively enough to allow him to talk through new ways of seeing his problem. We often have our own wisdom that we cannot get to unless we ask for help.

Asking for help can show greater strength than giving it. When you ask for help, you reveal confidence with insecurity. The reality of our lives is that things are constantly falling apart and coming back together. Masquerading as invincible makes one impenetrable. Asking for help evens our personal playing field.

One of our clients is a successful professional who is working long enough so she can retire early to do what she originally wanted to do. But if she was already doing what she wanted to do, she could do it many more years. She wouldn't want to retire from it.

Lamott writes, "We learn through pain that some of the things we thought were castles turn out to be prisons, and we desperately want out. But even though we built them, we can't find the door."

Prisons can be developed early -- college and career choices, being defined by the things you own, circles of competitiveness that leave you losing the essence of your purpose. But you can do something about it.

First, take a half hour and write down what is going right with your life as well as where you need help. Take a moment to be grateful for what is going well. For the areas where you need assistance, write down people you know who can provide help. Maybe it will be a friend, partner or spiritual leader who will simply listen to you as you talk through your issue. Maybe it is something where you will need to turn to a professional. Then give yourself a date by which you will set a time to talk to the people you listed.

Once you have done this, you may find that some of the people did not respond as you expected. Find others. As you do this for yourself, think about whether there is anyone who you know who needs someone to listen to them. Make it easy on them to ask for help.

Spend your life wisely.

Ross Levin is the founding principal of Accredited Investors Inc. in Edina. His Gains & Losses column appears on the last Sunday of the month. His e-mail is ross@accredited.com.

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