On Stubbornness and the Curse of Refusing Help
I used to be like you.
Who am I kidding, I still am. I hate when people say that.
You know what else I hate? Those clickbait ads that say “X things you’ve been doing WRONG this WHOLE TIME!” And arugula. I really hate arugula.
But I digress. I hate it when people tell me I’ve been doing something wrong my whole life, not because I don’t think I can do wrong (believe me, my inner critic makes sure I’m well aware of that), but rather because the idea of some rando on the interwebs presuming to know better than me how to cut cherry tomatoes is absolutely ridiculous. Like, what makes you think you know the objectively best possible way to do something? Who the hell are you, anyway?
Never mind that putting them between two plastic lids and slicing across is faster, keeps your hands free of tomato goo, and prevents those buggers from rolling away and onto the floor to get squished under your foot later—no. I know what’s best, dammit.
Like many moms, mine loves to tell humiliating stories of me as a little girl. One of her favorites is how I was so obstinate that I’d climb up onto the counter, get myself stuck, and refuse to let anyone help. “I do it!” was the catch phrase of Natalie: The Early Years.
Now that I’m older, I see how that personality trait carried into adulthood. It’s hard to ask for help, and even harder to take unsolicited advice. Why? Because doing so requires admitting that we don’t actually know it all. We don’t have all our shit together. We may even be — gasp — a human being.
I know. Terrifying, right?
My inability to ask for help led me down some crazy roads. I’ve let people walk all over me most of my life. I’ve held jobs that were fundamentally against my core values for far too long. I almost walked down the aisle with someone I didn’t love and had to break off the wedding 6 weeks before it was scheduled to go down.
On that last point, I remember my mom calling me several months before the invitations went out, saying, “You know you don’t have to do this.” My response? Pure denial. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Everything is fine!”
I do it! Some things never change.
Except when they have to. Life sucker-punches you in the face and you come to, stars and bird whistles circling your head, wondering, How on earth did I get myself into this mess? I call this the Moment of Truth: Your carefully crafted (albeit super cute) veil of self-deception has slipped and you start to see reality for how truly shitty it’s become. If you’re lucky, you’ll see change as the only real option after the Moment. If you’re lucky, the idea of continuing down the same road of denial will suddenly seem just as ridiculous as it actually is.
For me, the Moment happened after I’d started seriously meditating. After just two weeks of sitting every day, the veil slipped. I saw every person I’d hurt and every person who hurt me. I saw the pattern that had led me to this point. I saw the truth: I didn’t want to marry this man. And I heard a booming voice, my voice, sternly say, “You are so much stronger than you think!”
I’d like to say that was the hard part and it was all downhill from there. But no, it got a lot harder. And then it got easier and then hard again. What I can tell you is that once you get some years between you and the Moment, you’ll see that the path you chose was a hell of a lot easier than the one you were headed down. And you’ll appreciate the beauty of the journey you’ve taken so far. You may even feel a sweet sense of nostalgia toward that time for all the wonderful things you learned about yourself.
You read that right. You’ll actually yearn for the hardest time in your life. The human brain is weird.
When I look back on my turning point, my Moment, I see that it could have all been avoided if I would have opened myself up to the help that was being offered. This is not to say I feel any sense of regret for what happened; on the contrary, it was completely necessary and has become an integral part of who I am today. Instead, I see a little curly-haired girl perched on the kitchen counter with no way down, refusing to let anyone help her.
So yeah, I used to be like you. But the thing is, I still am. Just because I fixed one thing doesn’t mean I lived happily ever after forever and ever, the end. I didn’t change fundamentally as a person. I removed obstacles that kept me from living my best life, hooray me. But I also have to remain astute of the way my personality tends to lead me astray under certain conditions. I have to constantly use words such as codependency and boundaries. And yes, I have to be aware of times when I resist asking for help as this is a red flag that I’m unnecessarily trapping myself up on the kitchen countertop.
Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. Because here's the secret: When you ask for help, you’re actually helping yourself. I do it. And you are so much stronger than you think.