Lorraine owns a small clothing boutique in a bustling town in Minnesota. In her first year in business, she'd already developed a following of great customers. Unfortunately, she also faced the stress of success. "I have phone calls to return and ordering to catch up on, not to mention the day-to-day tasks that come with running the business," she told me in an e-mail. "It's more than I can handle. I feel like I'm ready to crack."
What Lorraine needed to prevent complete burnout was something every woman needs when she's at the breaking point: a willingness to get help.
This solution hadn't even occurred to Lorraine -- and I wasn't surprised. Most women have trouble acknowledging when they need help, let alone asking for it. Raised to support others, we often have no shortage of excuses as to why getting help won't work. First of all, the very thought of going out and finding it is overwhelming in the backdrop of an already busy schedule. Then there's the discomfort of giving up control. We might also fear disappointment, have negative past experiences, or hold mistaken beliefs like "Good help is hard to find."
But excuses or no excuses, Lorraine clearly needed to share the workload. When I suggested this, however, she bristled. "I don't trust others that easily," she said. "I prefer to run things myself. It makes me anxious to even think about letting go of control."
The difference between hesitation and action often comes down to having an effective strategy for asking. Right off the bat, I wanted us to look at Lorraine's past to see what she had learned about asking for help. Her early family experience instantly shed light on the problem. "My parents divorced when I was four years old, and my mom not only raised us but took complete charge of the house, repairs and all," Lorraine explained. "She worked full-time and never wanted to put anyone out by asking for help." As I listened to Lorraine talk about her overworked mom, I wondered if she could hear herself in the story. "Yes, I guess I learned a lot about handling things solo from her," she admitted. But as much as Lorraine appreciated her mother's strength, she affirmed that she wanted to set higher standards for herself -- "standards that let me live a better life." I assured her that with a good plan she could overcome her reservations and success -- fully step outside her comfort zone.
Take a Load Off
As a homework assignment, I asked her to write down the following statement at least 10 times, filling in the blanks with a different answer each time: "If I raised my standards and asked for help, I would no longer have to do______ and that would free me up to do______. Her answers would both help her discover where she needed support and motivate her by identifying the payoff.
Lorraine came to our next call feeling energized by her list. The things she'd "no longer have to do" included everything from taking inventory to working the cash register. We had another step to take, however, before she would be ready for action. I asked Lorraine to consider: What obstacles might prevent me from getting the help I really need? Lorraine was quick to respond. "I tend to be impatient, so I might settle for less and hire someone who doesn't quite fit the bill." (I've seen this many times. Desperate for help and finally ready to ask for it, we lower our standards to solve the problem quickly). Too often women accept help from someone underqualified and end up proving themselves right that "no one can do it as well as I can." Or they undersell their needs and end up frustrated and tongue-tied when the help comes up short.
Now that she was ready and willing to get help, we began to talk about where to find potential candidates. Starting with referrals from friends and continuing with community and online resources (like craigslist.org). Another great way to find help? The tried-and-true method of hanging flyers on local bulletin boards. I've hired people using this strategy myself.
Just as Lorraine started her search, though, something unexpected happened. A customer came into the shop in need of a new outfit and mentioned that she was looking for work, too. As Lorraine and the woman began to talk, they realized their needs were strangely aligned. Lorraine was completely amazed at how things seemed to fall into place. "I can't believe how our goals fit," she told me.
But it wasn't just fate that brought Lorraine this new opportunity. It was the marriage of intention and action. She set herself up for success by breaking out of old family patterns holding her back; taking the time to engage in a thorough planning process; and letting go of some control. Now all she needs to do is follow through, keep her standards high, and prepare herself for the next, best phase of her life.
Need Cheryl's coaching?
Each issue, life coach and best-selling author Cheryl Richardson helps a Body+Soul reader with life challenges. Write to her, describing your situation: Cheryl@bodyandsoulmag.com.