A year ago at this time, I was unwittingly preparing for what would become my most difficult semester as a professional in student affairs. Over and over again, my supervisor asked me how she could help with student staff training or early arrival processes. I repeatedly declined her offers of help. The work was time consuming and tedious, but not difficult. We were short a professional staff member in the office and so I added more to my plate at a time when my plate was already overflowing.
In October, things began crashing in around me. There was a student death on campus. My supervisor left her position with less than a day’s notice, leaving me as the only full-time staff member in our department. The university was taking a critical look at my department to see if it was meeting expectations in its second year of auxiliary operation. With each new challenge placed in front of me, I accepted more responsibility personally and professionally than I should have.
Offers of help and support came in from friends at schools across the Midwest. Though the offers were appreciated, I had no idea how to best utilize the people around me. It wasn’t as though they could come in and answer the phone for a day or take the duty cell phone for a night. At some point in our lives, most of us erroneously start associating asking for help with being weak.
And then one day I sent an e-mail asking for help. The initial e-mail went to a handful of professionals in the Great Lakes Association of College and University Housing Officers. They were women who had consistently been involved in my professional development through mutual conference attendance or sharing of resources. I had no specific goal in mind with my e-mail, but I let them know that I wasn’t in a good place and needed help. Within days, my established professional support network became a personal safety net. There were daily phone calls and e-mails checking on me as well as moments of letting me bounce ideas off of them for feedback as I tried to keep our department moving forward. When we all arrived on site for the annual regional conference in mid-November, we gathered in a suite on the top floor of the hotel, where I finally cried.
It struck me that night that we aren’t afraid of asking for help only because it makes us feel weak; we also fear that when we reach a hand out for help, no one will be there. I can count at least four professional relationships that are stronger because I asked for help in October and three new professional relationships I’ve built by asking for help since then.
Especially at this time of year, which can be overwhelming and daunting, we all need a reminder that others are there to help, even when we aren’t sure what we need. You might find the answer you need or the support to find that answer on your own.