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Asking for Help
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. This week’s is about asking for help, even when we think, “I’ve got this!”

Apparently I value my life at twenty U.S. dollars. At least, that’s what I tipped the Mexican guy who saved me from drowning last week.

My daughter and I were vacationing in Cozumel, eager for some wonderful snorkeling. And while two of our excursions were highly successful, on one particular day we decided to snorkel right off the beach in front of a popular restaurant. The reef was teeming with life, but unfortunately the current was surprisingly strong. We had no problem swimming out, but when we tried to swim back to the dock, we kept veering to the right.

Within a few minutes a Mexican guy had swum out to us with a flutterboard, but I refused it. I’m a good swimmer. I can tread water for hours. I’ve finished swims that were several kilometres long. When the flutterboard was proffered, I was so embarrassed. “I should be able to do this,” I kept thinking. “Oh, come on, Sheila. This is ridiculous. Just swim harder.”

My daughter, who is a lifeguard, found it challenging, though she managed to reach the ladder. But though I got within about twenty feet of it, I couldn’t get any closer. All I was doing was standing still. So finally I reached out, grabbed that board, and was pulled in.

Looking back I’m not sure why I was so stubborn. I guess I just didn’t want to accept the fact that I needed help. I considered myself a competent, if not good, swimmer. If I took help, it was as if I would be admitting that I am not as in control as I think I am.

I wonder how often in my personal life I’ve done the same thing—I like to think of myself as in control, and accepting help is admitting weakness. None of us wants to think we are weak. Often we’d rather have the frustration of butting our heads against a wall rather than give in to the fear of being vulnerable.

No wonder so many of us are spending our lives treading water. Maybe debt is piling up and we honestly have no idea how to create a budget. But mature people know how to stick to a budget! Admitting you have a problem is like saying you’re not mature. So the red ink keeps getting redder.

Or perhaps that pain is getting worse, but we don’t want to go to a doctor because we hate hospitals, and we’re too young to start falling apart. Maybe the principal keeps calling reporting more problems with a wayward child, but you don’t want to admit that something’s really wrong because it could reflect badly on choices you’ve made. And so you lash out at the messenger.

My husband and I speak at marriage conferences, and while I love sharing our failures and victories, the conferences always make me a little sad. There are two types of couples who go: those who can’t keep their hands off of each other, because they’re blissfully happy and want to make sure it stays that way, and those who are about to file for divorce and are giving it one last chance. I always wonder about the middle: those who have a few issues that a little help could easily remedy, but who don’t want to admit they may have problems. And so they wait until everything blows up.

We aren’t meant to walk through this life alone. Certainly many of us just need to get more disciplined and try harder and we’d be more successful. But sometimes discipline won’t cut it. Sometimes you need help. And in that case, it’s far better to grab that flutterboard and let the hunky Mexican guy save you.

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