Consider asking for help

Let’s say you have to do something you haven’t done before. It could be formatting an excel in a certain way; going on an 80 km cycle ride or building a chrome extension; What’s your instinctive first action? Is it to go to the excel wizard, the cycling guru, or the tech bro friend of yours? Or is it to stumble from a google result to a StackOverflow query to an obscure youtube tutorial only to realize that only 5% of what you researched is relevant to your project?

Until very recently I was strongly in the second ”figure things out on your own” camp. It was mostly because of my social anxiety and irrational fear of asking for help but I also believed it is a superior way because:

  1. It gives a greater sense of accomplishment, better yet the sense of figuring things out.
  2. You learn more than you asked for: The other 95% of tutorial videos and Wikipedia rabbit holes may not help you in the immediate project, but you do end up learning much more about the subject matter overall.
  3. It is cool: IDK man just seems cooler to figure things out on your own than ask someone trivial doubts.
  4. Asking for help risks demotivating you: If you ask for advice from the wrong person, they might try to talk you out of the project itself. (try asking for advice on what tattoo to get for your super-conservative uncle.)

But recently, I am coming around to the asking for help camp. The main catalyst for it has been my new role as a product manager. Inherently, PMs are always talking to the experts. The Engineering leads, Marketing Managers, Compliance officers, and Designers, all are experts in their fields. You simply have to ask them for help. Figuring things out on your own simply isn’t a viable option.

I also came across a more striking incident related to this on a recent cycle ride. When I started, I mostly went on cycle rides alone or with my flatmate. For us, riding 30KMs was kind of a stretch goal. One day, we decided to for a ride with a cycling group. The group was planning to do an 80 Km ride. We knew that “aapne se toh ye na ho payega”. The plan was to ride with the group for 20 KMs and then head back. But, when the guide corrected our saddle height, and technique in the first tea break; I felt like my third eye of cycling was opened. I was surprised at how easy riding the cycle was compared to before. The 80 KM goal actually seemed achievable. We ended up riding 85 km that day all thanks to the basic tuning of the bike and good technique. My “figure it out on your own” approach would have caused me to probably go many more months with suboptimal techniques and potentially some injuries.

Some clear advantages of asking for help that I have realized recently are:

  1. You save a lot of time as you get to the specific solution fast.
  2. You get to know the more efficient way to do things that you wouldn’t have figured out otherwise.
  3. You save yourself from a lot of hardship and injury.
  4. You actually form a good bond with your peers. Helping a colleague is one of the fastest ways to build rapport.

Some tips if you are considering transitioning to the asking-for-help world for the first time:

  1. Prefer asking for help on a specific task/concept rather than general “gyan” on your project, or domain.
  2. Prefer asking “how to” help rather than “should I” help.
  3. Be cognizant of your mentor’s time. If he seems in rush or annoyed; take a break.
  4. Take the advice with a grain of salt. Test even if it is coming from a verified source/expert especially if it contradicts your own research.

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