Asking For Help Is Not a Sign of Weakness

Students taking notes while their classmate is raising her hand in an amphitheater
Students taking notes while their classmate is raising her hand in an amphitheater

Imagine yourself in this scenario: it's late at night and you are driving alone on an unfamiliar road. One wrong turn and you are hopelessly lost (yes, even GPS blows a call now and then). No street lights. No route signs. Nothing but trees and darkness for miles. What would you do?

If you're lucky enough to get wireless service, you probably call a friend or family member for help. It's scary out there all by yourself! But the person on the phone is miles away. In the stress and anxiety of being lost, you didn't notice that beyond the woods is a friendly village -- a caring, approachable, and helpful community. Maybe you caught the flicker of a front porch light at the end of a long driveway, but decided not to bother anyone. Well, I'm telling you to bother someone. Go knock on their door!

A former student came knocking on my door a few months ago. Jimmy was someone I honestly did not expect to hear from after his graduation four years ago. I was pleasantly surprised when he called. He was applying to graduate school and seeking a letter of recommendation from me. Not what I expected to hear. I probably write 50 of these letters each spring -- but this one would be very different. This was a guy who disliked college his first couple of years. He disliked it a lot.

Jimmy's first few months on campus were similar to the scenario of getting lost in the trees and darkness. Although well prepared academically, he lacked direction and motivation. Jimmy believed that he would navigate just fine on his own, and never asked for help -- he viewed asking for help as a sign of weakness. When I reached out to him at mid-semester, Jimmy said everything was fine. In reality he was struggling, falling behind, and giving up. This resulted in terrible grades, a loss of self-confidence, and a status of academic warning. Jimmy expressed regret for not taking a year off between high school and college. He had lost his way.

The most satisfying aspect of my job is when a student makes a transformative discovery -- the "ah ha" moment, a shift in perspective, a route recalculated. This happened for Jimmy in his junior year when he made a commitment to his education, sought appropriate help, fully accepted a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD), and advocated for himself. This week, he started a top-notch MBA program. Jimmy knows that he will need assistance on occasion. He also knows that the keys to academic success are not that complicated.

Show up. Speak up. Ask for help.

Show up. Go to class every day and participate fully. Sit toward the front. Establish yourself with the professor. Attend office hours. Be on time. Be prepared. Fulfill your obligations.

Speak up. Become an information seeker. Ask questions. Become curious. Get clarification if things are confusing. Be vocal. Advocate for yourself in the classroom, in the residence hall, and across the campus.

Ask for help. Needing assistance is not a sign of weakness -- it's a reality. For most college students, there will never be another time in your life when so many understanding, well-trained people are genuinely interested in helping you succeed. When you feel lost, please ask for help. Go knock on a door or two. We're waiting to talk with you.