I only fly business class because too many things go wrong when I don’t.
When I’m at the airport, I miss my planes. A lot. My biggest problem is that I can’t actually read my boarding pass. So, I’m going to tell you about how I get help.
But asking for help is complicated. Garret Keizer, author of Help: The Original Human Dilemma, explains how nuanced the act of giving and receiving help is. But he shows also that help is what makes us human.
Research about mentoring, startups, organizational development, and even Asperger’s all show that one’s ability to ask for assistance makes or breaks their career. One way to get good at it is to watch how other people get and give help. Here are seven other ways to get good at asking for help:
1. Remember that people like to help. It feels good if it’s a defined task.
When I fly, I bring a Sharpie to the counter and I say to the person who checks me in, “I have dyslexia. Can you please write my gate and boarding time on the back of the boarding pass?”
The person is always nice. The person always looks at me, smiles, and writes it. And then the person shows it to me and says, “Is that good for you?” Every time.
2. Ask for help when you need it, regardless of when people typically need it.
I want to tell the person at the checkout counter that I don’t have dyslexia. Which I don’t. Of course. I mean, I’m a writer. And an obsessive reader. I have dyscalculia. But no one knows what that means. And anyway, people who have dyscalculia could still get to their gate on time if you tell them.
My problem is that I can’t manage all the visual input of an airport. I can’t sort it fast enough. It looks like a confetti party to me. You know how the confetti falls and you do not sort the red pieces and the yellow and the long and the short? You just see it all as confetti. That’s how I am at the airport. I see it all as airport.
3. Pay people to help you.
Melissa books all my tickets because she is my assistant now that she’s freelancing. Her freelancing has not actually been that good for me; she used to book tickets for me out of pity, because I’d make mistakes on every ticket, and now I have to pay her.
When I had a startup and employees there was always someone assigned to book my tickets. And to double check every time and date for everything. But now I’m on my own. So, for example, I told my brother I’d meet him in NYC for a wedding but I got the month wrong, and he called from NYC and asked me which building entrance we’re meeting at.
He went to that wedding alone. And I realized I needed more help.
Now I’m flying to LA to get a haircut. Don’t tell me it’s a waste of money. My friend Sharon is there, and every time I write about how I fly there for a haircut we have to debate if it is, indeed, cost effective for me to fly to LA for a haircut. I think it is. Well, it used to be. Before I started flying business class everywhere. But it’s cost effective because Sharon is a good friend. I love spending the day with her in LA, thinking of when we met, no kids, huge careers, and no worries except who we’d marry.
4. It’s OK to pay more if you need more help. But friends will help for free.
I drove my new BMW to the airport. First, I drove my old car, a Toyota Highlander, with the Farmer, and my son, to the BMW dealer in Chicago where my friend Grace negotiated a trade-in.
I did such a lousy job of negotiating for the Highlander that car payments for the BMW are only $100 more a month. When I negotiated the Highlander it wasn’t a negotiation. I walked into the dealer and said, “My car has bed bugs and I want to get rid of it right now. I want a car right now.”
“What kind of car are you looking for?”
I said, “Highlander.” I knew two people who had just bought one.
So, I walked out of the dealer that day with a 2012 Highlander. Leased, with $800/mo payments.
Grace tells me I got totally ripped off, but that I shouldn’t blame the guy. She says I basically walked in and handed him extra money.
OK. I get it. I panicked about the car and the bed bugs and I wanted to pay someone to help me. Which I pretty much did with that guy. He was very nice and helpful that day. Lots of free hot chocolates, for instance.
Grace is a tough negotiator and has instructed the BMW dealer not to talk to me about anything. In fact, I am not even signing for the car. The Farmer is, because my credit sucks.
The BMW guy had never seen a tax return for a farmer and he said the Farmer didn’t qualify, and Grace had to explain to the BMW guy that the Farmer could liquidate his farm and buy the whole showroom, with cash.
5. Don’t take advantage of friends.
We get the car and head back to Wisconsin. I ask the Farmer if people will hate me for driving a BMW in rural Wisconsin.
He says, “People here think of all foreign cars as one group. There’s no difference between BMW and Kia.”
So I hightail it through downtown Darlington, drop off the Farmer and my son and then drive to Chicago to fly out of Midway to Los Angeles. I was going to sleep at the house, but I realized I was too short on time.
Then I drove to Midway but when I got there, I realized my plane was taking off at O’Hare. So I called Melissa crying. At 5am. Friends call friends crying at 5am, but now she’s a freelancer, and she has a client who wants everything right away and pays a rush fee.
So I say, “Melissa. It’s me. I’m at the wrong airport. I’m really sorry to call at 5am. You can charge me a rush fee.”
6. If you can’t get help, get out.
So we book a ticket on Southwest but only sort of because there’s a hold on my credit card because I have been charging things in two states nonstop for 48 hours. I don’t know how thieves get away with anything because I get a hold on my card once a month.
While I am talking to Melissa and yelling at Wells Fargo, the Southwest ticket agent says, “I just Googled you.”
“What? How did you know to Google me?”
“Eccentric people who fly first class are usually famous.”
I get my first class ticket and wait for boarding. They announce, “Numbers 1 -30 now boarding.” I am number 1 but people are pushy and mean in line, and I have a first class ticket so I wait until 1-30 boards. I get on the plane and it’s open seating. Like a Greyhound bus. I call Melissa. I am screaming that there’s no first class and I have a $500 ticket and it gets me nothing and this is the most scrunched plane I’ve ever been on and the aisle seats are taken.
Almost the second after I say the word refund, the flight attendant is offering a refund and shepherding me off the plane.
7. Consider that anything is manageable if someone capable is helping.
So, I’m at Midway with no ticket to LA. So I have to drive to O’Hare. Which takes me 90 minutes because I pull over and sleep and wake up when Melissa calls to see if I’m at O’Hare. I fly out on American. Which has great food and big seats and I am very happy.
In LA my life is set up so nicely. I have room service. I have my friend who cuts and colors my hair and never asks me what I want. And then she picks where we eat and tells me what I’ll like. And I do like it.
I fly home. I read Simon Rich on the plane. I get to O’Hare and I can’t find my car. I send a picture to Melissa with the message: “Oh. Crap. Can you find my car?”
She says I should call the hotline. I talk to the hotline person:
“What’s the license plate?”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s a new car.”
“What kind of car?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Is it really your car?”
“Yes. BMW x3 or x5 or if there is another x maybe one of those.”
She sends a guy to get me. We drive around for two hours until we find my car.
The thing is, I’m fine driving around because he is helping me. I just like having a helper. I am very scared when it’s only me. And I’ll pay any amount of money to have someone help me with what I’m bad at.
The Farmer tells me I’m like a money train. And I think there is an engine pulling tons of money that I put in my train, but actually the money is blowing out the tops of the cars and people are running next to the train collecting all my money.
He’s probably right. But I don’t care. I’m so grateful for having help.
You might say, at this point, that you do not need help with this stuff. But you know what? You need help with other things. And we only get power from knowing our strengths if we can surround ourselves with people who compensate for our weaknesses. Whatever those might be.