I ran a half marathon last Sunday. In 2:05:59, just for the record, which of course is very different from 2:06.
To make this event happen, an amazing number of women and men got up early on a Sunday morning not to run but to volunteer or to stand by the side of the road and cheer for the runners, most of whom they didn’t know. True, most of them came for a friend or family member, but they were generous with their applause and encouragement. I am not sure I could have finished the race without them, and I am sure it would not have been as enjoyable.
Running past them, I wondered why we don’t do this more often, why we don’t support each other so freely most of the time. But maybe people are willing to help and we simply don’t ask.
A half marathon is a societally acknowledged hard thing, which makes it easier to ask for support. Everyone knows you’re going to need it, and we’ve all agreed—for unknown reasons—that running thirteen miles is a worthwhile goal to pursue.
On the other hand, when we go through equally hard things as part of our daily lives, hard in the emotional rather than the physical realm, it’s often difficult to ask for help. Or if someone assigns us a task or a role, it becomes our job, and we may feel that asking for help is the same as failure.
I am not much good at it myself. I fear people will see me as weak or incompetent or needy. The truth is, I am sometimes all of these things. None of us is always strong, good at everything, and always capable of going it alone.
I met Bill Bellows once, who pointed out that none of us has achieved anything in our lives, from a grade in a class to a well-cooked meal to a Nobel Prize, by ourselves. Everything in our lives is a group effort, and if we have the confidence and humility to ask for help, we might find there’s a whole crowd of people cheering us on.