Brian Cavanagh CONSULTING

Asking for Help- Breaking the Habit of a Lifetime

Without asking for help, I would not have been able to type the following sentence. I have written a book, and it is going to be published! It may be run of the mill for Cecilia Ahern or James Paterson, but for me, it is such an achievement. How I got to this position is not unique, nor distinctive. So flushed with success, I wanted to share my experience because I cannot be the only person who has allowed self-doubt and hypercritical behavior to prevent them from achieving an ambition.

It is not that I have not wanted to write a book. Indeed, several people have suggested that I should write one. It has been a long-standing ambition to write a book on a subject that I am enthusiastic about. Over previous years I had attempted to write, and had amassed some thoughts and material but could never really get going. And despairing, the idea was shelved.

I have always found writing difficult. Expressing myself on paper, getting a structure, and filling the white space with fresh and readable content brings out the self-censor in me. I immediately go into comparing myself unfavorably with those who ‘know much more than me’ or are ‘better writers than me’ all of which may be true. But rather than acting as a spur to disprove these internal critics, it served as confirmation that I do not have what it takes.

The fear of public ridicule, being seen to be not knowing what I am talking about and knowing that writing a book will require asking for help from others have been powerful deterrents to putting words to paper. That fear of exposing myself to the scrutiny of others and discovering that there might not be much in my ideas, or that the way they are expressed is pedestrian, has held me back. Much better to seek refuge in the perfect book in my head, with the added advantage of not requiring any actual writing.

So, what changed? I recognized that there were things I wanted to say, have wanted to say for years, and believed that what I had to say could be of value. I was also frustrated about not having an outlet to voice my views.

I also wanted to break a pattern of giving up too early and too easily on things that I found difficult, of which writing was the most obvious example. There were two patterns that I wanted to end. Firstly, a sense of arrogance, that my grasp of the subject will enable me to produce a piece straight away, and it would require little effort. Yet, as I discovered knowledge does not always translate onto paper. I was easily gripped by the terror of the blank page. The other one was a sense of laziness. I was not prepared to put in the hard yards that all writing requires, writing, editing, reviewing, and sometimes re-writing. That process gnawed at my self-confidence, and I was no further forward. Yet unless I decided to do it differently, what I had to say would remain within me.

One year and 50,000 words later the book will be published in September. Focussed feedback from a publisher and support from copy editors has given me affirmation that I have got something to say. Working with others and seeking their help on my areas of weakness has turned my views into a format that is readable and hopefully will engage the audience for whom it is written.

Spoiler alert. I am not holding my breath about it being a best seller, adorning every airport bookstore in the English-speaking world. However, I have realized that accepting the risk of exposure that asking for help can sometimes bring, has enabled me to achieve something of which I am proud. So is your fear of asking for help holding you back from realizing an achievement?

Why not decide to break that habit?