To Need or Not to Need

Aug 21, 2013

Dismissed for lunch, I walked out of the leadership conference with an eye for my car. I needed to drive home, check on the littles, make sure the babysitter wasn’t duct-taped to the ceiling. Then, a quick lunch before finding my seat for the next session.

Drive. Duct tape. Dine. Derriere.

Go.

Hundreds of conference goers exited the building with me. Our faces were as bright with sunshine as the fairy dust of inspiration we carried out of the session.

What a conference! Amazing! I feel I strong. Empowered. Able to leap tall buildings with a single…!

Then.

Me. Flat on the ground. Arms and legs splayed across the manicured grass. A game of middle-aged-Twister gone bad.

The culprit? An uneven sidewalk. The victim? Rolled right ankle. I flew like Cirque de Soleil, but landed like Wipeout.

Then.

Humiliation.

I heard the gasps and felt the stares of conference-goers as they passed the carnage. Ugh. The way I saw it, I had two choices: ONE, tend to my ankle. Or TWO, tend to my ego.

Ego. Definitely, ego.

“Are you okay, ma’am?” Mr. Nice Guy smiled, reached out a hand.

“Me?” Pshaw! I gathered the paraphenalia I’d flung in flight: purse, car keys, water bottle. “Oh, I’m fine. No problem.”

Whoa. That ankle really hurts.  

Again, his hand. “Are you sure? Can I get your car for you?”

Later that evening, I’d recognize the wisdom of his offering. The kindness. Splayed on the grass, however, I saw only my neediness.

Feigning nonchalance, I surveyed the scene. A great multitude passed my perch. They watched, nervous, to see if I’d rise, a phoenix from my ashes. I couldn’t let them down. Any other group? Maybe. A group of leaders at a leadership conference? Not a chance.

[Insert “Eye of the Tiger” here.]

I rose up from the ground, and stood up.

Ouch. 

“I’m good!” I offered Mr. Nice Guy a reassuring smile. “Just need to walk it off, that’s all. Thanks.”

I’d eventually make it to my car, and return to finish the last four hours of the conference.

But the pain wouldn’t stop. Worse, neither would I. I kept going, limping through my experiences and responsibilities for six more hours until pain, an x-ray and the words “fractured distal fibula” forced me to admit reality.

I was hurt. And I needed help.

Somewhere along the way, long before the mishap in the grass, I bought into two big, fat lies:

  1. Asking for help is a sign of weakness, and
  2. Strong people, leader-like people, are never needy.

That, my friends, is a bunch of bunk.

You and I may claim to know this, may brag all about vulnerability and community and the value of each other. But when something happens to make us limp, pride tempts us to prove how very strong and able and determined we are. Instead of asking for help, we walk it off. Push through our pain.

Until we end up in a doctor’s office, counselor’s chair, or bedroom corner all fetal-like wondering how we fell so completely apart.

So let’s get a few things straight (she says as she types from a recliner with an ice pack on her foot):

Weakness—that occasional moment of neediness—isn’t evidence of failure; it’s proof of LIFE. Welcome to the human race. You’re allowed to be mangled on the grass from time to time.

Asking for help doesn’t disqualify you from leadership. But refusing to might. “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.”  Your best leadership isn’t your altogether, always-have-an-answer perch of superhero perfection. It’s who you show yourself to be in the wipeout. Don’t miss an opportunity to lead from the ground.

Always, always, always tend your heart, not your ego. Enough said.

And, for heaven’s sake, let Mr. Nice Guy pull up your car.

Is it difficult for you to feel needy from time to time? Why or why not? 

32 Comments

  1. Linda Lochridge Hoenigsberg

    What a great new design, Michelle! Love that photo…

    Oh…I remember it well…I was a church secretary. It was winter in Montana. I decided to take matters into my own hands and haul trash out to the dumpster out back. After all…I, for one, cared about these things! Hrumph! So I took my bagged trash, and as I walked past office doors, I asked others if they wanted me to lower myself to servanthood and take their trash out too. Wow! Look at me! High heels, pretty dress, willing to carry bags of trash even!

    I walked outside into the “brisk” (ok…it was -19 with the wind chill) air and confidently walked to the back of the church. Since I couldn’t see over the bags, I didn’t notice that the ground was covered with thick ice where the side of the dumpster never saw the light of day. In one fell swoop I went flying and so did all the trash. I landed on my tailbone, dress up to my waist, bladder emptying all over me. I was hurt…very hurt. But more than that, I was embarrassed.

    What was the first thing I did? I looked around to see who had seen this display of gracefulness. No one..whew! If they had, I may have said something like, “I meant to do that!” I crawled over to the grass and very gingerly made it back into my office. Instead of telling anyone, with tears stinging the back of my eyes I called the pastor’s phone and told him I was going home ill.

    I just finished Priscilla Shirer’s Gideon Bible Study. It was fantastic. The main lesson for me was that God’s strength is manifested in our weakness. The weaker we allow ourselves to be, the more his strength is displayed through us.

    It’s a battle, alright. I hope your ankle heals up very soon!

    Reply
    • Michele

      Goodness, I relate to so many of your words, Linda. THANK YOU for exposing your story and giving us all courage to be needy from time to time.

      Reply
  2. Dave Bratcher

    We feel like we must always have the answer. If we don’t, it is seen as a weakness…to each of us, but not to others. This post outlines how important others are to our success. I remember the time right after I lost my job and my father gave me some amazing advice. He asked, “If nobody knows you are looking for a job, why would they call you if they heard of someone looking?” Great point. Thanks for sharing and I hope you ankle is better.

    Reply
    • Michele

      It’s taken me a long time to learn that saying “I don’t know” IS leadership, too. BTW, love your father’s advice. Wisdom.

      Reply
  3. anita and jay dawes

    So very true… we always seem to fight shy of asking for help, we think it demeans us somehow. I am as guilty of that as the next person, always fiercely proud of my independence…
    This attitude only seemed to be for me, as I would help anyone who needed it (and those who didn’t!)And then I got old and my health began to suffer, I was forced to accept help from all kinds of people and gradually I got to like the idea that there was no need for me to ‘grin and bear it’ all on my own anymore. Shame I had to get decrepit before I got the message!

    Reply
    • Michele

      Brene Brown spoke the afternoon of my broken ankle. During her presentation, she said, “When you judge yourself when you ask for help, you are always in judgement when someone else asks for help, whether you recognize it or not.” Ouch.

      Reply
  4. Terry

    Somehow we have forgotten that His strength is magnified in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). Michele, you are a marvelous storyteller not only because you are so expressive and engaging, but especially because you communicate truth so effectively.

    Reply
    • Michele

      Thank you, Terry. Such a kind thing to say.

      Reply
  5. Joy DeKok

    Thank you for your transparency and vulnerability. Sometimes I wonder why when I love to help others it’s so hard to ask for help when I need it. In this post you nailed it for me. One is heart, the other is ego. Ouch – but the kind of sting that leads to wisdom. Thanks again!

    Reply
    • Michele

      Yes, ouch. The sneakiness of my ego always surprises me. 🙂

      Reply
  6. Kelly Combs

    I LOVE your new web design. And I couldn’t agree more with your post. I too am a leader and a “I’m fine!” person. Always fine. Until 2 years ago, when my family experienced a loss. It’s amazing tho, how quickly I am back to my mantra, “I’m fine.” Thanks for waking me up…again.

    Here is my short post from 2 years ago:
    Up until this point in my life, if anyone asked me, “Are you okay?” the answer would be a resounding “YES!”

    Kelly, your mom tried to kill herself again. Are you okay? YES!
    Kelly, a family member has been hospitalized. Are you okay? YES!
    Kelly, {insert any situation here}. Are you okay? YES!

    The answer was always, “YES, I’m okay,” because to not be okay would be less than perfect. I had to have perfect faith, and be perfect, and act perfect, and be perfectly okay.

    But this week something has shaken me to my core. The tragic death of a young infant in my extended family. It was an accidental death, and the family has huge grief. And while we all know Jesus and love him, the pain is overwhelming.

    And so I need you to know 2 things.

    1. I am not trying to be perfect anymore. I am just me. *and*
    2. I am definitely NOT okay.

    Reply
    • Michele

      YES! I love your short post. Poignant. Honest. Thank you, Kelly. It’s difficult to fight the “I’m fine!” mentality. I know there’s a better way, but it seems to be in my DNA.

      Reply
  7. Ree Klein

    Hi Michele, this was a great post and so well written!

    My favorite bit…”Asking for help doesn’t disqualify you from leadership. But refusing to might. ” People tend to be intimidated by someone who appears to have all the answers. Put off even. The leaders I admire the most are smart and capable, yet also see the smart and capable people around them that can help to make any situation, project, undertaking much better.

    Hope the ankle feels better soon and thank you for sharing your vulnerabilities with us 🙂

    Reply
    • Michele

      Thank you, Ree. And you’re absolutely right. Polished, plastic people are always suspect to me. Still I fight the temptation to only show that side of myself, even if it isn’t real.

      Reply
  8. Jon D Harrison

    This can be such a difficult thing…as an Organizational Development Manager I feel extra (self imposed) pressure to have “all the answers.” That’s my job, right?

    The more I know, the more pressure I feel to keep it up. The longer I escape “failure,” the more difficult it will be to handle it’s arrival.

    Thanks for sharing this story.

    ps. I love the new layout – really great look & feel!

    Reply
    • Michele

      Wow –> “The longer I escape failure, the more difficult it will be handle its arrival.” And it WILL arrive.

      Reply
  9. Karen Jordan

    Thanks so much for your reminder today! Your story reminded me of a few of my great falls–ugh! It’s odd how the first thing we notice after the fall is the reaction of the other people around us, like the gasps and stares you experienced. I hope I can react like the nice guy who helped you, instead of ignoring or even laughing at the misfortunes of others. Thanks again for this timely reminder!

    Reply
    • Michele

      I learned two lessons that day on the grass. First, how poorly I admit a need when I have one. And second, how I need to be more aware of strangers who could use a hand. I’m with you, Karen—I want to be more like Mr. Nice Guy.

      Reply
  10. Tracee Persiko

    I am so not a fan of feeling needy. If I’m being most honest, somewhere along the way I forgot how to need. Long ago I was told the message that life is up to me. Without a choice, I grew up fast. Self-sufficiency is inevitable in that case. I have taken care of me for so long, that “help” means to cope and figure it out.

    To receive help is to choose to participate in community. To risk help is to be seen and recognized as human and permeable. Eeeek! makes me wanna wrap my jacket flaps tighter around me.

    The truth of help is that we need one another. That is okay. Help does not make us less, but more of a whole person.

    Love your heart!

    Reply
    • Michele

      I’m not a fan, either. 🙂

      (love YOUR heart)

      Reply
  11. Adventure Girl

    Ugh! Most of my life, I tried to hide who I was, but it the past few years, I’ve let go of a lot of my facades. There is always this temptation lurking to hide again though. I hate asking for help, not just because of how it makes me look, but also because of the rejection I’ve encountered when I’ve made myself vulnerable in asking. I love your story, and it has definitely given me something to chew on! Thanks!

    Reply
    • Michele

      Yes, yes, yes. Always a temptation to hide again. You make a good point about the rejection we sometimes face when we finally do get up the guts to ask for help. Been there, which makes us more reluctant to need anything the next time.

      Reply
  12. Connie

    Yes, this post describes my life for almost the past 2 years! In some ways I wish it had “just” been physical pain instead of emotional pain (not to minimize your ankle/foot) because it is readily visible and others are usually sensitive when they see a physical wound. The inner ones are easier to hide until they consume all of you and are left broken. While in recovery, people’s words and lack of sensitivity can continue to jab at the wound, but they wouldn’t think of kicking your broken ankle while it’s in a cast and you’re on crutches. BUT God has done a lot of work in my heart that has left me more humble, more full of compassion for others, and more perceptive of those in ministry that are in similar pain. On good days, I rejoice in what God has done! On rough days, I wonder, “What if I exposed my need and asked for help earlier?” Playing the “what if” game doesn’t help anything though, and my hope is that I learned a lot about choosing safe people and asking for help before I wind up completely broken. Thanks for sharing, Michele, and using a recent experience to underline a deeper issue.

    Reply
    • Michele

      The emotional pain is more difficult to see. And to admit. Choosing safe people, as you mentioned, is key.

      Reply
  13. Karla Akins

    Oh my goodness you have such a great way with words. I could actually see the action. Yes, I’m guilty, guilty, guilty of not asking for help. I thank you for the reminder that I don’t have super powers! Great post.

    Reply
    • Michele

      Thank you, Karla.

      Reply
  14. Linda Caldwell

    Thanks for your graphic ways with words. I sincerely hope your ankle heals quickly as it is a pain (no pun intended) to be in a cast or boot. However, it is not a pain to ask for help as I and so many other have learned the hard way. Looking forward to seeing you again in Tyler, TX in January.

    Reply
    • Michele

      Can’t wait to be back with my Cowgirls, Linda! 🙂

      Reply
  15. Rob Trenckmann

    Thanks Michelle–I really needed this today. The last 2 years (and especially the last 8 months) have been remarkably difficult for me. I’m 31 years old and facing a major disease that is totally altering my life–and my son has it also. (I’ve been blogging about it here: http://www.RobTrenckmann.com). Today was an especially ‘down’ day, and your clear words offered me perspective and courage–thank you. I especially like your exhortation to “Don’t miss an opportunity to lead from the ground.”

    Reply
    • Michele

      I read your post, Rob. I have no doubt you’re weary. MCS has completely changed your life, in every way. Thank you for letting us in on your need, but also for seeing the potential of leading from the ground. There are so many others who will find hope through your story.

      Reply
  16. Mickey

    Funny – the VERY afternoon that this email arrived I tripped on a curb and fell flat to my face in an instant. Pain and fear immediately took over. I had done some real damage to my ankle. Again – funny – the next thing that I thought of was your email. Yup. There I lay on the concrete in full humility not being able to get up. Wow. Well…….with no one in sight my pride was only slightly bruised but I wasn’t sure what to do. Pray. God got me back up and to the car………still thinking about your email. That evening I made a point to allow my hubby to ‘help’ me with all the things that I so methodically and daily check off my list. It was tough!……….but, it was a blessing. With no broken bones but plenty of time required to heal – I’ll be working on my need to ‘let go’ and ask for help. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.

    Reply
  17. Kelli Wommack

    Michele,
    This may be one of my fave leadership posts ever. Seriously. Wow.
    How we aim to hide our weaknesses and display our facade of strength!
    Thanks again for being you and putting all your stuff on paper. Makes my stuff seem normal.

    Reply

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