Here’s how to ask for help

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.



123 replies
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  1. Becky P
    Becky P says:

    I love this article! Your description of seeing the airport as confetti is excellent.

    Good for you for asking for help! We all need some help, but most of us are too afraid to ask.

  2. Daniel Baskin
    Daniel Baskin says:

    While I do not have the same problems navigating the practical everyday realities of the real world, I completely relate to the feeling of not knowing some key piece of information that normal people are supposed to remember–and then being made to feel bad, or foolish for it. I’ve not known my license plate number for longer than I have known it. Or, you are not supposed to be doing this or that because of this or that arbitrary social rule. I’ve gotten a lot of police / security attention because I often dress and act out of place and don’t realize it. Then I feel confused and scared when I’m verbally apprehended so suddenly (to my perception).

    Your last statement is maybe the most surprising lesson I’ve learned about people in the past five years; about how bad everyone is at various tasks I think are effortless, and how skillful everyone is at tasks I freak out at attempting. Of course we know that people have different strengths and weaknesses. What I didn’t understand was just how stark these differences among aptitudes could be!

  3. CL
    CL says:

    I love the way that you tell stories.

    Why, though, would you stay with a bank that puts a hold on your card at least once a month? Especially Wells Fargo? Get one of your tech-savvy friends to get you an invitation to BankSimple, where at least when you call customer service you get real service. I’m betting that if you banked with them, you wouldn’t have to deal with those holds on your card.

  4. Diana
    Diana says:

    I am shocked. I don’t believe you. No one could be so dumb as to mix the MONTH of their brother’s wedding. Either you have ten brothers who get married every month, or you don’t communicate at all. Weddings are important! In any normal family others would have called and asked what you are going to wear or give, or how you’re going to get there.
    And the same goes for mixing up airports. I mean how careless do you have to be?! Just look at the tickets if you know you have such problems! And again – I can’t believe your husband lets you go anywhere (he must know you are so helpless) not asking you if you know where and when you have to go.
    How badly do you have to mess up your relationships with everyone not to have support from those people that really have to help you for free? That’s your immediate family, your husband, your children, your parents/siblings.

    Or there’s the other explanation, which I believe says it all. In psychology things like being always late or systematically mixing things up or “accidentally” forgetting something is a way that a person demands special attention. “Look at me, I’m so helpless, I need special attention, you have to sacrifice your time and go out of your way to help me, because I am so very special.”
    That’s so convenient! I’m really disappointed by this post, I always read your posts in true delight, but this post just kills everything for me.
    No one is born knowing how, when and where, but we make the effort! You just cannot be relied upon.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Hi, Diana. It’s not my brother’s wedding. It was someone else’s. Which is pretty clear in the post. I am a very very good reader, so I wouldn’t miss that. But you missed it. See? We are each good at different things. I think that’s how the world works.


        • Charlene
          Charlene says:

          Yeah, but this person feels that it’s not that important that she reads a post correctly but it is important that Penelope attends weddings. We all have things that we are rubbish at but we find a way to become competent at the them because we don’t want to affect/let down other people. I think the anger in this comment may come from a perceived unfairness – why do I have to work my stuff out and Penelope doesn’t..

      • Juliette
        Juliette says:

        So, now I’m curious, Penelope. When you read that comment, did you go back to your post to make sure it was clear? I make myself absolutely crazy with stuff like this. I think I don’t really want to be right, because it means the other person is an asshole for pointing out a detail they should have confirmed.

      • Rachel
        Rachel says:

        I think it’s more “kind of clear” than “pretty clear”. I mean, I understood what you meant, but I’ve learned to read your nuanced style of writing over the past two years.

        I was wondering who helps you remember to bring your Sharpie to the airport? Or even to put the cap back on?

        • nia
          nia says:

          i’m on the ‘really clear’ side. I mean, who says that they are ‘going with’ someone to a wedding when that someone is getting married?

          • Tommi
            Tommi says:

            I’m with nia, absolutely a clear message. I only once went with someone to a wedding when she was getting married. I was also… so I guess it was not a wedding, it was the wedding, our wedding.

    • Ebriel
      Ebriel says:

      ‘Making the effort’ means knowing what things you need to do, to ensure everything you need to do gets done.

      It’s easy to mess up travel plans. I’ve missed flights because:

      * Mixed-up time international time zones in the same longitude
      * There are three airports in one city, I booked a flight at an obscure out-of-the-way one for a budget airline, and I took a cab at 5am to the wrong one
      * Booked a flight online for the wrong date while fatigued, and didn’t double check my reservation

      These mistakes ingrained habits I now use to confirm locations and time zones. But I traveled for years with no problems beforehand, so never developed those habits – until I screwed up.

    • Shannon
      Shannon says:

      It’s really easy to mix up a month. Maybe you’re good at that sort of thing, but it looks like you’re maybe not so good at empathy.

    • Becky Castle Miller
      Becky Castle Miller says:

      My husband is an ENTJ, like Penelope, and I could totally see him ending up at the wrong airport. He is a big picture thinker, and has trouble focusing on details. He would think, “I am flying out of Chicago,” and forget which airport it was. He gets overwhelmed with all the details of packing for trips, and his closet looks like confetti to him, so I pack his suitcases for business trips.

      He is really good at negotiating, though. So he negotiates for me, and I pack for him. And we both pay people to help us with things, because we don’t want to burn out our friends.

    • Julie
      Julie says:

      If you live in a city with more than one airport, or travel to a city with more than one airport, it’s actually pretty easy to do, particularly if you travel frequently. If you only travel once or twice a year, you probably are much more careful, examining tickets, etc. If you travel once a month or once a week, you go on autopilot.

    • Dani Vesco
      Dani Vesco says:

      @Diana. If you knew anything about autism or Asperger’s this post would not be at all shocking to you and your comments would be much different and maybe less cruel.

    • Katrin
      Katrin says:

      I can entirely relate. My solution for consistent ‘help’ is my guide dog. He can find cars, people, our hotel room. he remembers how to get us home when I get confused, disoriented and lost. He can even find the ladies room ANYWHERE. When I used to drive, I can remember standing in parking lots, endless parking lots, panicked, “I have no clue what my car even looks like, let alone where it is!!” In airports, when I check in at the counter I automatically ask for gate to gate personal assistance, it’s the only chance in hell I ever have of getting where I need to be and making it onto the plane. And no I’m not legally blind, I have a sensory processing disorder and ASD.

  5. eric
    eric says:

    Wow. That all that is the overwhelming thought i’m having right now.

    Next to that is “good on you!” for getting help where you need/want it.

  6. Chris
    Chris says:

    Here’s some advice for the airport. Since you have a hard time finding your gate focus on just that. Forget everything else. All the shops and kiosks are rubbish. Besides being heavily overpriced they are all actually identical. There’s 10 locations of the same shop in any given airport, multiplied by the 4-6 different shops they have.

    Forgot the confetti mess and try figuring it out as if it were a puzzle.

    I’d still suggest getting the info written down for you, but if you have time, try to decipher your ticket against the departure board to see if you can work it out without having to look at the back of the ticket until you think you’ve figured it out. Then check your answer on the back.

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      I think her point is that she has a hard time focusing in the airport, not just a hard time finding her gate.

      So it’s like saying, “Oh, you have a hard time focusing? Just try harder.”
      Not very helpful.

  7. Thessaly
    Thessaly says:

    I wish I had money to get that kind of help. Not to discount free help or the help of friends, but flying first class would certainly lessen my flight anxiety.

  8. Ann
    Ann says:

    I run a business that manages the lives of those suffering from dementia.
    You need a full-time personal assistant. A really good assistant will keep your life in order, reduce stress, help maintain relationships and save money.
    I subcontract certain tasks to my own personal assistant because I wouldn’t be able to help my clients if I did everything myself.
    I laughed at this post, but I felt sad for you.

  9. Gib Wallis
    Gib Wallis says:

    Penelope, explaining dyscalculia is exasperating. So I do what you do — I say I have dyslexia and then I might follow-up and say, “But my dyslexia is just for numbers.”

    I, too, have had the banks putting everything on hold, so here’s my tip: call the bank or have your assistant call the bank to notify them of your itinerary.

    If you’re traveling to a state or city you don’t regularly travel to, they’re much more likely to have the fraud squad lock your card. And not even notify you.

    I know you don’t like international travel, but you really must do this before international travel because often you won’t be able to easily call from the country you land in, and then your money will be frozen.

    Because you have an iPhone, I’d suggest you try using Siri for things like the wedding — you can talk to your brother, hang up, and then ask Siri to give you a reminder or to calendar the wedding. Siri will read it back to you and then you can confirm it. That way you skip dealing with all the numbers getting mixed up with dates.

    I love the theme of this post, but especially the “ask help when you need it.”

    We all need help at different times with different things!

  10. Katherine
    Katherine says:

    I routinely forget where I parked my car in the airport. I have a block about that. Plus, I’m always late and frazzled and forget to write down the floor, aisle or space.

    This is harder in O’Hare but in a smaller parking garage, I hold up my car alarm button and push it. It actually has great range. Then I start walking toward the sound. This also works in mall parking lots or on a street or at a concert parking lot.

    Lately, I just pay to valet park my car at airports. Since I’m always late, I have to park in the daily lot anyway. It’s like $3 more a day to valet park. Worth it!

  11. Mina Grace Drake
    Mina Grace Drake says:

    So glad to read you survived your haircut adventure Penelope :)

    I got a valuable insight from your post. In my work with women in career transition I simply convey the truth anyone who has done anything great in life has not done it alone. Oftentimes these women have been trying for years on their own to dig themselves out of a career rut. But we don’t know what we don’t know and to ask for help gets us unstuck- otherwise you’d spend days in that garage instead of a couple of hours.

    And pay no mind to the haters. Big people need big support.

  12. Julianna
    Julianna says:

    I don’t get why a Southwest guy would say, “Eccentric people who fly first class are usually famous.” No Southwest flight has first class.

    So you’re leasing a BMW for 100 more than 800/month? So $900? You’re still getting ripped off.

    Your credit card knows your history. It shouldn’t freeze up when you’re buying shit in WI and IL. I use my credit card in 5 states and 3 countries routinely every 8 weeks and have never had it frozen. (When charges show up from the Ivory Coast, they knew that was unusual and froze it) That part of your story doesn’t make sense at all. At the very least you should call them.

  13. Kate
    Kate says:

    I like this. I got a new car, and my boyfriend offered to Scotchguard it for me if I bought the stuff. After a few remarks from him about the fact that I hadn’t bought it yet, I had to point out that the part I needed help with was the actually going and buying it. Once the Scotchguard was home, I had no problem treating the car. But he had trouble understanding that going to store was the hard part for me because I am so busy. I had to realize that whichever part I needed help with, that that was okay, even if he didn’t understand or thought I was being unreasonable.

  14. gordana dragicevic
    gordana dragicevic says:

    I quite admire people for seeing when they need help and for knowing how/when to ask for it. It wasn’t till the age of 35 or so that i realised people do that (yeah, IQ of 150 doesn’t help much when your EQ is just 66…) Now i know, but i still rarely do because it just doesn’t occur to me to ask. When i do though, it is true – magic happens :)
    I’m convinced we all need to learn to compensate for our shortcomings somehow. Some people do it by paying others to help, some by doing mental acrobatics to reframe, improvise, try something else when we fail, and remember to repeat what we did when we did not fail. It’s s what i do and it’s cheating really because i don’t understand why those things work, i just remember from trial and error that they do. (I use that compensation to function at a cheat EQ level of about 83. Which still makes me socially stupid, but more acceptably so.)

  15. Janet Thaeler
    Janet Thaeler says:

    I guess I’m sad that you have to pay Melissa to help you, and even a rush fee. Your friendship has become an economic transaction? I think that’s sad. Wouldn’t it be better to set boundaries on what she can help with and what is not reasonable (you need to ask someone else to help with)?

    But then I think what about the Farmer, can’t he help at 5am? You don’t call him for help? You pay for it? Then he tells you you’re wasting money? Shouldn’t he know that this would be something you’d need his help with and offer to help you through the process? Or is he overwhelmed by it too? I don’t get it.

    To me it’s sad when you are married and you still have to pay someone to help you. My husband would if I ask, walk me through the steps and make sure I got off alright.

    When I was a single mom that I needed a lot more help and wished I had the money to hire people to help. Because I needed help a lot. The best were other single moms, they just got it and pitched in, then I did the same for them. No guilt. No feeling like I was too needy.

    I always use my cell phone camera to take a picture of where I parked and my hotel room number. It’s a habit now. I don’t have to worry about not finding my car, I just worry my phone will run out of juice so I won’t be able to look it up. So I usually carry a charger too, just in case.

    It’s so frustrating to not be able to find your car for hours. But it’s sad that the people closest to you can’t help you walk through this and help prevent a lot of what happened.

    Blog on

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Janet. There are a lot of ways to respond to your comment, but here’s the best, I think:

      The Farmer has to load pigs on a trailer and take them to the butcher once a month. It’s a big job. The animals weigh three times what we do, and they’re unpredictable, but if the Farmer doesn’t get them to do what he wants, he messes up his business of supplying restaurants with pork. So he pays someone to help – someone whose been loading pigs for decades.

      There are days when people say that I should be helping him. They can’t believe I don’t help him. They say what’s the point of having a farm wife who doesn’t help with things like the pigs.

      Your reaction to the Farmer not helping with airplanes seems very similar to our neighbors’ reactions to me not helping with pigs.


      • Janet Thaeler
        Janet Thaeler says:

        Ah, I get it. Thanks for explaining, Penelope.

        My response comes from empathy (getting lost is so vulnerable for me because I used to get lost so often and easily) and because I don’t like to ask for help. I’m afraid people will see me as incompetent, or worse, say no.

        Still, the few times I paid for help (like sorting the paperwork so I could finally get my taxes done, or organizing my house) went well and cost less than I thought.


  16. vicky
    vicky says:

    I also say I have dyslexia, and I also say I can’t read. I have a B.A. in Communications, I have taught (am qualified to teach) ESL, I can write, have had articles published, have been paid to edit college students’ papers…but…like you, when I am faced with a ‘meaningless’ page of words…I…can’t…read….

  17. Jill
    Jill says:

    Thanks for this! I may send some friends here who don’t get it, because I am the same with the dyscalculia. But I also have some dyslexia with words and letters, and do interesting things when I am remembering someone’s name. I also think it is why I have falied at Pinterest. Too much on the page, much like your airport analogy. I have asked a friend to help me with it because I think I could learn to use it. I hope.

    • Good at Pinterest, suck at appointments
      Good at Pinterest, suck at appointments says:

      This is so funny! All the different people with different strengths and weaknesses frustrated by others’ lamenesses that are so easy for them! Funny because this post struck me in how much I am like Penelope, constantly losing my car, always off by a week or two days or an hour late for appointments and yet, I FINALLY found something I’m REALLY good at: Pinterest! And Pinterest has brought me a lot of pride and endless joy and entertainment, plus a lot of followers, showing me I have something to say that others like, but with images not words! Yay me! Thinking about the coaching button.

  18. Ella
    Ella says:

    Question about 5. Don’t take advantage of friends:

    Did you mean that Melissa was taking advantage of you by charging to help, or were you taking advantage of her by calling at 5am? Sorry if it’s obvious, but I can see it going both ways and I can tell that it’s not meant to. Plus, I always find it interesting to know what others consider within or above the bounds of friendship. I guess it’s different for everyone.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Melissa and I are very clear with each other about what we want so we both get what we need from each other. In this case, I am happy to pay her a rush fee. It makes sense to me. Our relationship is complicated. We have to be careful to make sure the other person is happy. But I think that’s true of all significant relationships in life.


  19. evelyn
    evelyn says:

    I think it’s fantastic to know when to get help. I’m not a lawyer so I have one that reads contracts and negotiates. I’m not a handy person, so I have a handyman who fixes things around the house. You know your airport shortcomings so you’ve learned what works for you, more or less.

    In reference of the comments about Melissa, Hi Melissa, to Janet and all the others.. Melissa is freelancing now and her time is her currency. If she is answering Penelope’s emergencies at 5am, it means that she might not be available for other clients, or tired to do the work in the morning. Melissa has clients and Penelope is one of them. I had a friend that I did her bookkeping and she paid me for it. We were friends, but when I was paying her bills she was paying me for my time. It worked great until I stopped doing accounting. You know Melissa skills and she knows your ways. If it works keep at it..

    btw – maybe you need a full time personal assistant… even someone remote…

    Looking forward to the seminar…

  20. thandi
    thandi says:

    This just makes me sad. I agree with the article, I feel this is a free job for a husband and best friend or both. But I read an article about you not being able to handle relationships without money involved so this is your “normal”. I had a friend who also insisted on paying me back for every favour. Of all my friends I miss her most.

  21. D'Ella Peters
    D'Ella Peters says:

    I have to say that I totally understand the above. I’m such a can-do person about so much, that when I do need help, no none knows what to do. Except one person. And he’s AWESOME all in capitols. But that’s complicated, so lets not start. But, the point is when you need help, you need it. So if you can, get it. Bravo, Penelope!

  22. Leslie
    Leslie says:

    You know, I don’t agree with all these comments about your husband having to help you and how sad it is. I doubt he flies as much as you do, and doesn’t know how to help you anyway since you can’t read the ticket. Plus at 5am he has farming to do, or is still asleep and isn’t going to be happy if he’s tired all day while he’s working because you called him for something you knew he couldn’t help with. He helped with the car because he was able.

    My boyfriend is thinking of hiring an assistant (even though I’m unemployed right now and can run all his errands) because I’m not dependable for that stuff. I understand about the haircut thing though. I cut my own hair now because I only trust one girl to do it right and I was always missing my appointments with her and therefore causing her to lose money. :(

  23. Helen W
    Helen W says:

    I have always had such trouble asking for help!! I am not even sure why. It’s partly control freak, maybe I also feel like it diminishes me somehow even though I am aware I have weaknesses. Perhaps I feel that if I just try hard enough I can get past anything?

    It actually irritates me when someone asks me if they can help!! It flashes in my mind that they will make things worse, I will have to fix it up, and I will be worse off than if I just did it myself.

    How weird is that?? Does anyone else feel this way?

    • Ebriel
      Ebriel says:

      Yep. Mine comes from what some see as my ‘control freakishness’. Drives my husband crazy. The flip side is I am actually less efficient/competent because I don’t ask for help when I need it.

  24. NT
    NT says:

    Mixing up airports, losing cars in garages, and missing dates of events are not unusual for those of us who travel and fly alot. Flying business class is nice for the big seats, but nicer when things go wrong and flights get canceled. The airlines help get you on the next flight faster. It helps to have elite status with the airline too.
    As a frequent flier, I can relate to your posts travel story. Don’t feel bad. You are not alone. I have lost more rental cars than I can count. Not to mention I recently flew to Hong Kong only to realize when I landed I forgot to book a hotel room!

  25. NetM
    NetM says:

    I have dyscalculia and when we play Uno as a family I can’t tell the difference between the six and the nine. I have my husband write the word on the card so I can play w/o being confused.

    Adapting is also good.

  26. Tony
    Tony says:

    A bit off topic but I finally figured out how to read your posts. I keep getting lost in the stories you are telling in between the main points of your post that I keep missing the over all theme of your post. I figured out that if I read your main points, think about those and then go back and read everything else it makes much more sense to me. Just the way I learn I guess.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      I really like this comment, Tony. I spend a lot of time forcing myself to be organized in my posts (well, organized for me — it’s all relative!) because I think I need to be organized in my writing to ensure that I learn from my experiences. I put the headers in the posts to make sure that I’m consciously learning as I go. So I like that the headers work for readers, too.


      • TD
        TD says:

        I love these two comments from Tony and Penelope! Penelope, I have been reading your posts in two steps for the last few months: first step is to skim the major points, second step is to read the stories related to the main points, and then I think about how it comes together and which ones are relevant for me. Interestingly, this is how I read text books or work-related books. So I find your style very fascinating. Knowing you organize your posts in this fashion intentionally makes it even better.
        I read somewhere recently that skimming before the real read improves speed of reading. For me it improves comprehension but takes a bit longer sometimes.

    • summer
      summer says:

      I do that too! I read the headlines bullet points first and go back for the content.

      I also tell people I am dyslexic rather than try to explain my issues with numbers. I just had this conversation with a college advisor two days ago. I take a lot of photographs with my phone of parking garage signs, hotel room doors and identifying marks of other things throughout the day so that I can navigate my way back to my car/room/meeting place/table in a restaurant.

  27. Tennille
    Tennille says:

    This post reminds me of why I will pay quite a bit more for the privilege of flying out of San Jose instead of San Francisco.

    San Jose airport is designed to avoid upsetting folks with any sort of sensory integration disorder: You can pay to park in a lot outside, on the ground (one level), within walking distance of the exit. The TVs are usually on silent, the art is almost translucent, the color scheme is neutral, there’s space, many power outlets & free wireless that works, big signs of gate numbers, small signs of advertisements/vendors, huge/easy to find screens of arrivals & departures, and the bathrooms have many stalls.

  28. Kristen
    Kristen says:

    I live in Chicago and used to be an assistant to a family. Maybe we should talk!? I definitely have weaknesses, particularly knowing when to leave to arrive places on time, so I simply outsource those decisions to a extremely punctual friend. Works every time!

  29. Leah McClellan
    Leah McClellan says:

    What kills me when I read your stories like this one is that I get it like you wouldn’t believe…but I haven’t had your talent for earning money. Which I’m trying to acquire by hanging around :)

    So–as I’ve been realizing for some years–I’ve been doing some amazing compensation, all my life, for all my probable-ADHD stuff and possible other issues just because I haven’t had a choice: it’s sink or swim for me.

    I *am* capable of getting to planes on time–if I’m super focused on and careful about all the planning involved–but I’ve missed a few and almost missed many others. My ex-husband interfered with my planning one time, though, and he sort of rushed me out the door so he could be super-anally early as he likes to be. Trying to be nice and agreeable, I rushed out. Which bit him on the ass since the last thing on my list was to make sure I had my passport. And after waiting in line for an hour–oops. No passort. No flight. Muhhahahaha. It wasn’t funny at the time. I felt really bad about it though I realized later he wasn’t respecting me anyway so…whatever.

    At airports, I underline the gate/seat# etc and keep saying it aloud as I walk toward it and stuff like that–I am able to focus if I consciously ignore the confetti. I usually have to ask along the way though, even in my “home” airport because the distractions just sort of wipe my brain clean of everything lol

    Sleeping on the floor at CDG one time was fun, though :)

  30. Morgan
    Morgan says:

    A stylist who knows how your hair looks best is worth her weight in frequent flier miles. I’m fortunate that my out-of-town stylist travels to my city every few weeks, but I’d probably go to her if she stopped making the journey.

    I’m the sort of person who won’t ask for help unless it’s a dire circumstance. (I once moved an entire refrigerator by myself when a leak sprang to avoid asking the neighbors for help – INTJ trait?) But I also often find myself in overwhelmingly confusing, but seemingly simplistic, situations (anything involving crowds or requiring a sense of direction), so I’ve had to devise systems to do basic things. A smartphone is a lifesaver in that respect – I can plot out my whole day, with lists so that I don’t forget what I want to accomplish, and maps for when I inevitably get lost going to a location I’ve been to tens of times before.

  31. Alanna
    Alanna says:

    I now feel like I can confess that I can’t read airline itineraries. In a job that requires a ton of international travel. My husband figured out it’s not the information I have trouble with, it’s the format. So every time I get a plane ticket, my husband makes me a spreadsheet in a format I can understand to tell me what planes to get on, how long my layover is, and how much time I have between flights. I can actually do the spreadsheet myself, in a pinch, but it’s better when he does it.

    Maybe it’s format for you too. Could you write out your planned plane flights in words? Like a story that you can read again whenever you need to. “At five in the morning I will drive to Midway airport. At seven in the morning I will get on American flight four hundred that is going to Los Angeles. At eleven in the morning I will land in Los Angeles…”

  32. KimBoo York (@kimboo_york)
    KimBoo York (@kimboo_york) says:

    It also feels good to be asked for help. A close friend asked me over yesterday to put my personal project management skills to use helping her clean out her post-divorce house. It seemed insurmountable to her, a job she could never get done.

    Well, we didn’t get it done completely, but hours later we could see the floor and bags of trash were outside on the curb and we were laughing and drinking wine and toasting the future.

    I’m glad she asked for help; I know she’ll always be there when I need her, too. Thanks for the great article about friendship…maybe that isn’t what you called it, but that’s what I read! ;)

  33. KarenB
    KarenB says:

    And to elaborate, I mean that you show the softer side and actually the weaker side of your ENTJ self. The way you present ENTJs they seem so invincible, bossy (but probably right), and clueless about some F nuances. This is comedic and vulnerable. Perhaps more ENTJs need help than I realized.

  34. Laura
    Laura says:

    You should leave a trail of bread crumbs wherever you go, like Hansel & Gretel, and then you could find your way back to the car, as long as a flock of hungry geese don’t descend upon the O’Hare parking garage.

    Also, if my calculations are correct, you are bringing in $60,000 (400 people times $150, right? I need an assistant for math) for your Myers Briggs seminar. You are a genius at making money! So what if you can’t get through an airport? I am totally organized and I can barely make it through security. Last trip I had a prized jar of German mustard (don’t ask) confiscated from my carry-on because I wasn’t organized enough to notice how many ounces it was and remember to put it in my checked luggage. And on top of that, I am not good at making money.

    You are doing fine. Just get yourself a full-time assistant who knows she/he is on 24-hour call.

  35. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    “Diana” must be one of those people you love to hate because nothing ever goes wrong for her. I was a flight attendant for 24 years & I once got on the wrong airplane. Almost got myself fired & I don’t have any form of autism. Wrong airport in the same city….I get it, shit happens!!!!

  36. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    I need so much help too. Mostly with things though that I have to do on my own, so I hold off until it gets to crunch time and then I just have to do it. I like that when it comes to hard stuff. But I had a breakdown in college when I had to pay a bill (I always lived with people who could handle that stuff) and that’s when I knew I was in trouble. And I’ve realized that I’m really bad at dating guys who make lots of money (I know you hate that) but I am really good at dating guys who will help me. And so maybe that’s ok, at least right now.

    • Janet Thaeler
      Janet Thaeler says:

      Harriet, when I was single I was pro at getting guys to help me.

      They like feeling like they saved the day and I loved getting the help. Sometimes I worried that it would be too 1-sided but I found ways to help them out too (with online marketing, for example).

      Now I’m married to a man who is great at helping with schedules and finding places. He’s a planner. He plans for me. Truthfully sometimes it’s annoying but then I remember on my own I’m terrible at it (though I learn from him).

      I wonder if we’re attracted to people who are care taking personalities because we didn’t get that from our family growing up. Until I became a mom I didn’t realize I wanted/needed to have friends or a spouse with nurturing personalities. I thought I could handle it on my own.

      Reading Penelope’s post helps remind myself that I’m not good at doing certain things on my own and if she can admit to help and enjoy it, so can I. I would’ve had 2 breakdowns though – the second when driving around looking for my car for 2 hours.


  37. whitney
    whitney says:

    I have had lots of problems with airports too. Recently I was visiting my sister in LA and was trying to check into southwest through my phone to leave the next day. I kept getting an error message that said I needed to wait to check in within 24 hours, which I thought I was. Turned out I had booked myself flying back home a month later. On my honeymoon, I took us to the wrong airport in Milan to fly back home. I know to never rely on my memory about what time I have to be anywhere, because I transpose numbers in my head. Life is very confusing, and all of these things have taught me how to slow down, check details, and ask other people to check my details too.

  38. Sheri
    Sheri says:

    Fantastic post, very honest which is why I love what you write. I also love this . . . I do this kind of ‘stalking’ all the time! Of course, I would never admit to it, I’d just keep the information close in case I needed it.

    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.”

  39. Renae
    Renae says:

    Thanks for the info on dyscalculia. I wasn’t aware of it, but have long told people I have navigational dyslexia. I’m super smart, yet often confuse my right from my left, and can’t find individuals in a crowd. It hasn’t had as much of an impact on my life as it has had on yours– I probably have a mild version, and have had a support system since I was young to help me. Great post.

  40. joe
    joe says:

    Tonight, when I get home from work I am going to fix a water pipe that froze and burst under my kitchen overnight. I will do this because I cannot affort to pay someone to fix it for me and I have no one that will feel sorry for me enough to do it for me.

    We couldn’t shower this morning, but no one freaked out, no one will start throwing around exorbitant sums of money to get it fixed. The incident will pass mostly unoticed and we will be showering again by tommorow and I will have taught my kids how to fix a frozen pipe, how to save $500 by doing it yourself and how to accept the need to mop up alot of water and not showering for a day. No one else will be inconvenienced or put out by my mistake to have not insulated that pipe adequately.

    I could not do all these things, apparently, and come away with material for a witty blog post tommorow but I CHOOSE NOT TO because taking care of these types of life’s details with grace and skill is part of being a responsible, adult human being. Teaching one’s kids how to manage thier lives in the same manner is part of being a responsible, adult parent. No one just enters the World knowing how to read a map, read a time table, fix a pipe or anything else.

    I used to believe that the rewards of life belonged to responsible adults that have bothered to have learned these things, even if they were as subltle as having peace of mind or knowing that you’ve mastered some small task associated with overcoming the daily chaalenge of simply living. Most people are denied financial benefits until they do.

    The appalling truth is that incompetents like Trunk have learned how to circumvented this path and conduct life amid chaos and tumult while still, somehow, being able to enjoy a lifestyle that enables her to fly across the continent to get her haircut and for her to homeshcool her kids while many of the rest of us that bothered to master, or at least gain rudimentary skills in the minutae of life will struggle to make ends meet.

    The only thing remotely admirable about Trunk is her ability to con people into believing her narrow skill set is worth the huge financial rewards she is able to reap. The rest of her life is nothing to be envied and it has become impossible for me to keep taking someone who can’t even bother to learn how to read a boarding ticket or remember where she parked seriously. She hasn’t worked to overcome her disability; she has found a way to force the world into compensating for it and taking care of her and disguised it as having the strength to ask for help.

    That parking attendant had more to do than drive around for two hours. Whether they “ask” for help or demand it by causing a delay or making a scene people like Trunk do little more than bung up the works and people like us put up with it to keep the line moving. People like Trunk are one more obstacle in front of us and I’m pretty sure that no one “likes” to help purposely helpless people like this as much as she thinks. We get them out of our way as soon as we can and resent that the opportunity to fly business class so often goes to people who haven’t worked in a meaningful way to deserve it.

    • Brad
      Brad says:

      Some have skills in doing, some have skills in getting others to do. She got 400 people to pay a significant fee to listen to her muse on Myers Briggs for four hours. You may find that absurd, but at least acknowledge that few could pull that off.

    • David Santy
      David Santy says:

      You know you can’t nullify the symptoms of a disability with hard work and gumption, right?

      If you’re that strapped for cash, maybe you should become a successful writer so you can afford a plumber. Since Penelope is apparently (in your opinion) undeserved of her modest wealth, it must not be a very hard job.

      It’s unfortunate that you don’t have friends that would be willing to help you when you’re in need, especially if it’s just to fix water pipe. I’ve done that outside in the dead of winter before, and it’s much easier with a pair of helping hands. I try to be worthy of my friend’s support, and in kind, offer mine when needed.

      • joe
        joe says:

        I know. This blog post hit a really sensitve nerve. Jealousy is an ugly emotion that brings out the worst in people and I regret writing that comment with as heavy a hand as I did. If I could delete that comment, or edit it, I would.

        The truth is that Penelope has worked to overcome a disability. I know that it is a struggle. I struggle, too, with very much the same issues (that is why I follow her blog) and despite trying to portray myself as someone that has it together, I have made every single one of the mistakes she wrote about in that post. Maybe not all in the same trip, but I know the frustration of each of those circumstances and the outcome is never as rosy as it seems to turn out for Penelope and her advice just pissed me off.

        I don’t see every day like a confetti party.

        For me, every day is war. Every day I need to draw up battle plans and arm myself to the teeth with systems and procedures to make my life run smoothly and even then, they hardly ever work 100 percent as planned.

        But that doesn’t mean that I should stop using them, or simply ignore the need to learn from a situation or foist the responsibility of managing this trial stuff onto someone else even if I could pay for it as a “service”.

        My own value system of self sufficiency and self mastery tell me that if I am failing, I need to turn to my systems more often, make them better if they are falling short or take a really close look at how I managed a situation so that I can learn how to engage a similar situation in the future. Penelope’s whimsical post seemed to endorse the construction of a fantasy world where we can say “Forget all that, enjoy the confetti storm and just pay someone to attend to the shitty stuff you don’t want to deal with or that you’ve made yourself believe you simply can’t handle.”

        This isn’t even a remote possibility in most people’s lives. We can’t all afford a Mellissa, and for most of us, the ticket taker isn’t going to smile when we hand them a Sharpie and demand to be taken care of.

        Now, I did imply that Penelope’s success wasn’t deserved and that was straight up wrong. Certainly she possess skill and talent in a profitable niche that she recognized and capitalized on. She is being paid handsomely for her knowledge and insight on relevant business topics, not how well she can filter out the beckoning of the Starbucks in an airport.

        My ugly comments stemmed from my own frustration in failing to achieve a similar level of compensation in my own niche despite what I consider to be a similar level of competence and despite years of seeking, daily warfare and on the surface, an apparently greater level of success at what I called the minutiae of life. I owe you an apology here, Penelope. I’m sorry and I hope you can forgive those ugly comments and their implication.

        What I learned from this exchange is that we design our lives according to our individual value systems which are neither good or bad. Perhaps, if faced with my plumbing situation, Penelope would have simply paid someone $500 to make the problem disappear and then used the time to write a kickass blog post or design a seminar that led to enough profits to pay for cello lessons. The benefits I find in learning about new plumbing products that made the repair super easy, the empowerment of honing the skill to fix the leak and the freedom I think it brings, and the blessed time I was able to spend with my helper son and discuss his school day while we worked on it may not be important to her as they are to me. I can buy him a few guitar lessons with the money I saved on the repair so in the end we all would have “won” according to our values.

        In the end, and free of an emotional response to the post I can see she is right. I might be able to fix a busted water pipe, but I am unhappy with other aspects of my life that I do need help in and in which Penelope does not, and I’m mad at my self for not having figured out how to get that help or surround myself with people to compensate for those weaknesess.

    • Tommi
      Tommi says:

      So, Joe.

      Why do you choose to read this blog and to write a long reply, instead of doing something productive?

      There’s something interesting here?

  41. Simone
    Simone says:

    Maybe, the answer here is to fly your hair stylist to you. It’d probably be more cost efficient if anything else… just a thought..

    Also, can’t wait for Sunday…though I’ll have to watch the first day later, got a Super Bowl to party!

  42. gem
    gem says:

    Great read as usual. I’m curious though — how does this integrate with homeschooling? How do you help your kids find their strengths and weaknesses? How do you help them accept them?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      With Myers Briggs! Really. It’s like a key that unlocks the answers for how the kids function.

      Also, though, the Farmer is my opposite — ISTP — so he can give the kids a lot of stuff that I can’t give them. Like, he is incredibly predictable, efficient, and he loves fun. I am none of those things.


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