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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    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Easier for some people. For sure. But not for me. If I didn’t feel panic and claustrophobia in coach then I wouldn’t have spent the money for the expensive ticket in the first place.

      I think that how people spend their money is never logical to the next person. Because there is no right way to spend money. We spend money based on what personally feels good and bad to us. And it’s different for different types of people.

      So, I have only one bathroom in my house and sometimes my kids get exasperated waiting and they go outside to pee. This would bother some people. I’m fine with it and I’m not spending money to get a second bathroom. I don’t care.


  1. Meg
    Meg says:

    Throwing money at problems and wasting the time of others isn’t the same thing as knowing when to ask for help. When I can’t reach something on a shelf, and I summon the 14 y.o. to come get it with his monkey arms, that’s asking for help. It takes about ten seconds. And if I need to use that thing often, I find a new home for it where no one has to come help me grab it.

    What you’re doing is more like:

    1. Put everything I own on tall shelves.
    2. Don’t write down where things are, and then forget where I put things on the tall shelves.
    3. Pay people to reach the things on the tall shelves, but since I’ve forgotten where they are, watch as they search every nook and cranny of the shelves for a while, and maybe find the thing I want, or maybe not.
    4. Pay someone to put the things back up on the tall shelves, but not to tell me where they put things.
    5. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    You could have bought a step stool, or made a list of where you kept things, or moved some of the things you use most often onto lower shelves, or perhaps even gotten the people who help you get things down or put things back up to make a list of where things are, so they know, even if you don’t. Then you pay them for less time, since they can go right to where things are.

    Instead, you: hand people cash to make up for disrupting their lives with your needs; you refuse any hope of independence, citing a disability that doesn’t actually impact the thing you’re talking about (and lie about having another one entirely); you make excuses for disappointing people you care about because you just “can’t do it” and it’s their fault for thinking that you could; and you write a long blog post offering action points that have little to nothing to do with what you’re talking about.

    There’s nothing wrong with you, really wrong with you, that makes all of this inescapable. You’re making an active choice to not be dependable, to be demanding, to inconvenience, and to act like it’s eccentricity, when it’s really just manipulative.

    The people who take money from you to do all of these things aren’t wrong to do it, since it’s clear you’re not helpless, but rather choosing to appear to be.

    The only people I’m really concerned about are the ones that pay you to tell them that this would be a good way to live. You will say that’s not what they’re doing, since you’re not teaching them to be like Penelope, you’re teaching them to be their best selves.

    But how do you teach someone to be effective when your entire life is lovingly shaped around what you’re not effective at?

    • lulu
      lulu says:

      Meg actually thank you for this response because i realize i too am like this, i took a lot from what you said and looking forward to change it in my life

    • Frenesi
      Frenesi says:

      Great analysis!

      I didn’t think I had anything more to add, but this post has been stuck in my head for days, so I’m throwing my two cents. It’s just such an odd contrast to Penelope’s earlier post about how thinking you’re special can get you stuck. I think this post has a mix of great advice of situations of where to ask for help — e.g., asking to have the gate info written on the ticket. It’s a very concrete, specific action to address a specific weakness, dyscalia.

      But…I keep getting stuck on the image of Penelope on the Southwest plane, screaming that $500 didn’t get her anything. That’s not asking for help. That’s thinking she’s special. Because $500 DID get her something — a last minute ticket out of Midway on a flight to LA and the first choice of seats on the plane, which she chose not to take because the people in the boarding line were pushy and looked mean. There’s a difference.

      We all have weaknesses. I certainly do. I have great verbal skills and lousy spatial ones, so it makes sense that I earn my living as a writer and, when it comes to things like changing faucets or putting together IKEA furniture, ask for help. But there are also times where I’ve fumbled in life because I felt “special” — ie, I’m so busy being a writer and working that I don’t need to pay my bills on time. At one point I realized that no, I had to grow up and find a way to meet my responsibilities. And whether it’s paying bills on time or following the directions on when to board the airline, sometimes we just have to accept that we’re not special. We have to do things like everyone else.

  2. Thy
    Thy says:

    Thank you for the last paragraph. The whole post is good and funny and a great read, but the last bit is what I really need to take to heart. I find it tremendously difficult to ask for help – especially when I need it.

  3. Juliette
    Juliette says:

    I messed up my airline travel last week, and while waiting for my bag, I was telling my bf I really hate it when my plane doesn’t leave on an even hour. It always messes me up if it leaves at, say 4:50 and not 5. I told him that if I can just make $15,000 more a year, I can hire an assistant to help me with stuff like this. How I manage to be such a great earner and so inept with details (especially airports! my hell, the stimulus!) and still be called an adult is just beyond me. And then, there’s your post. Maybe I have dyscalculia and ADHD…

  4. Kristen
    Kristen says:

    I completely subscribe to this belief. I have a husband, nanny/housekeeper, and a nurse/personal assistant. Without these people my life would be in shambles. I always advocate using money to buy services rather than goods. Stuff turns into junk, services turn into more hours in your day and more time living your life.

  5. Patricia Rossi
    Patricia Rossi says:

    Love this post with every cell in me!
    I get car sick looking at airline tickets, board game rules, and scrunched copy of any kind. Is scrunched a word?
    Walking to pocketbook and dropping 3 fresh sharpies in…
    My best,
    Patricia Rossi ESFP

  6. laura
    laura says:

    I need help with a few things that people apparently accept money to help with, but I can’t figure out how to find one of them who will call me back. Where do you get Melissas? Or more to my needs, where do you get the budget version?

  7. Anna
    Anna says:

    Regardless of the reasons, I think the point of this post is that we all need a little help every once in a while. So, if you are able to get it and pay for it, sometimes that is the best way to go, especially if you are not good at various things (again, for whatever reason) I am chronically late because I have no sense of time and I am extremely disorganized. One day, when I can afford it, I will hire someone to organize all my stuff.

  8. in the trunk
    in the trunk says:

    Penelope, when you are screaming at Melissa in front of the people on the plane, how do you feel? Exhilarated? Angry? Can you honestly not stop yourself from making a scene?

  9. Mary
    Mary says:

    Thank you Penelope. This post was serendipitous for me because my new goal is to be comfortable asking for help. Not doing it has held back my career. Now I know for sure that I picked the right challenge.

  10. Nancy @ Film Release Liners
    Nancy @ Film Release Liners says:

    The wedding really does give example of how busy and hectic life can get. You really didn’t talk to him prior to the actual wedding?

    I actually flew to the wrong city entirely because two trips were flip flopped when they were booked. November was LA and December was Chicago. I was in Chicago in November and had to buy another ticket to LA the same day. Disorganization can cost you money. Ask for help.

  11. Isela
    Isela says:

    Very few persons are diagnosed with dyscalculia , most of the children who have it learn to deal with it by the time they are adults.

    Must have been really difficult for you, not only to leave with it but to have to explain everyone the condition.

    I wrote an article about dyscalculia in my blog, and no one had heard about it.

    You are so brave by coming forward.

  12. Allison
    Allison says:

    When I started working part-time, I realized that I could work more efficiently if I asked for help. I didn’t want to waste time stumbling if I didn’t have to. So I came up with a method that still works for me:

    1. Is my problem small or do I feel embarrassed for not knowing how to solve it myself? I ask a trusted friend or a subordinate with a different skill set than mine.
    2. Is my problem complex but within the scope of my job? I ask an experienced colleague, who can act as a sounding board.
    3. Does my problem threaten the success of my project? I ask my boss, who needs to know anyway and will be glad for the opportunity to provide input.

    Knowing that asking for help can make me more efficient — that was the kick in the pants I needed to get me to jump up from my desk and walk down the hall. Figuring out who to ask made it even easier. If only I could do that in my personal life!

  13. Vincent Nguyen
    Vincent Nguyen says:

    I love asking people for help! I love it because I know that the other person feels like a personal hero and most want to do good just like you mentioned. It’s strange how so many people are scared of asking for help. It’s not a sense or pride or ego, nothing like that. It’s as if they think it is frowned upon but it is just another way of learning!

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      asking for help is a good thing, asking for help because you are too lazy to do your own thinking means using other people. The same is asking for help all the time – people will still help you but they will not feel good about it because they will feel used.

  14. Cheryl
    Cheryl says:

    One of few great things about getting older is you lose your fear. I will ask for help from anyone, anytime, and, I will ask anyone anything. My daughters get annoyed, “Mom do you have to talk to everyone?”. But it is so liberating. And Penelope is correct, most people love to help you. Except for cranky airline customer service reps.

  15. Carl
    Carl says:

    If you are flying that much you should have status to get one of the frequent flyer desks that has a real person, they are very helpful.

    Take a picture of the parking garage designation of where you leave your car with your phone whenever you park in a garage. Take a picture of your license plate, leave it on your phone.

    This one stirred up a shit storm eh? Gets all those analytics numbers going.

  16. jane
    jane says:

    There is an app for that – for finding your car in a big parking lot! I am always panicked where my car is – especially if it’s a rental and I am not quite sure what it looks like. “My tracks” by Google is supposed to record your path as you walked from the parking lot to wherever. So all you’d need to do is retrace your steps.

    Congrats on the new car!

  17. Drew
    Drew says:

    Asking for help is always positive. There were a lot of times in my life when I needed help and didn’t ask for it, and that was my fault. Now, I ask or pay for help whenever I can and whenever I can afford it.

    There’s a quotation about the president only being a person with a lot of support, and I think the more support I supply myself with, the more successful I’ll be.

  18. Genia Simkin
    Genia Simkin says:

    I suppose if this sort of behavior is tolerable to your friends, and you have not suffered any serious repercussions from it, and you can amuse the masses with tales of your various short comings, then god bless.

    Personally this tale reads to me as brazen (and to some extent proud) narcissism. You’re falling back on your wealth to compensate for not wishing to be more careful or thoughtful. If you didn’t have this wealth would you starve or freeze to death, or in simpler times be eaten by wolves? I suspect not. I’m pretty sure you’d get your act together; which is not to say that your problems aren’t real and that you don’t have a much harder time than most in doing mundane things that the majority of people don’t need help with. But if you think people “love” helping someone that can’t be bothered to write down where they parked their car, you’re absolutely kidding yourself. The person that helped you that day may have been curious and friendly, but they absolutely thought of you as a careless and selfish nincompoop that lies to herself about how delighted everyone is to have her waste their time.

  19. laura
    laura says:

    I spend so much time talking myself out of asking for help! I have a death spiral of an inner mologue: “I should know how to do this myself; it will build character to figure this out for myself; people will think I’m stupid if I ask this dumb question; I’ll waste their time if I ask; uh-oh, there goes my flight.” I pledge to ask for help more — even if I have to pay for it…

  20. Judith rael
    Judith rael says:

    one of my beautiful, smart, competent daughters just sent this site to me with an ‘aha!’ comment. I’m 74 and read the blog and comments and feel two things:relief, and sadness. I’m so glad to know that what I have has a name and an explanation. my daughters used to call me space cadet when they were growing up. but the sadness is residue from the lifetime of judgment and cranky frowns turned my way almost every day. except for my 3 daughters. they loved me for my other abilities including demonstrative love for them. after 23 years of marriage to a critical, cranky man who believed that I was being helpless only to torture him, Divorced and returned to school and got a masters in social work and began to reap the rewards of my own skill set. although I almost didn’t graduate due to confusing administrative paperwork and timetables and brutal challenges that encompass almost everything I read here in this blog. now I’ve been married for 30 years to a good and understanding man who helped me repair my self-esteem by believing that I always mean well, and that i suffer when I fail and even thinks it’s cute sometimes…and because he is naturally empathetic and a supportive personality, he thrives on ‘getting’ to be helpful. i slowly have picked up over the years that my brain is wired differently and to go ‘around’ my brain freezes ,and use my compensations, and laugh with my daughters and friends about their own brain bugs and mine. I like this blog, thank you Katrina, for the link!

  21. Sara
    Sara says:

    Thanks for this. My weakness is actually asking for help, so the reminder that other people like to be helpful is, you know, helpful.

  22. Kendall Garmon
    Kendall Garmon says:

    I have dyscalculia, and was exposed to unusual circumstances as a direct result. When I was a child they were calling (ADD,attention deficit disorder) (MBD, minimal brain damage). Upon learning the newsand knowing I did not comprehend numbers like others, I remember thinking, great, I am really dumb. I figured that since I was in Texas I could make up for my shortfalls in football. Got school without having to do any mental work and got A’s in everything for being the star on the football team… After graduation I joined the Marines to be in the infantry as I am a great shot and I hunt. In the Marines they give you a test while your in boot camp under stress and it turned out that I was a “genius”, “according to them”. (Marine intelligence… very funny say’s you). They would not let me join the infantry as in their words (You might think about NOT jumping on that grenade…) In Intelligence school I graduated head of my class. During the Persian Gulf War it was my job to come up with targets and coordinates for the pilot’s to bomb and now,,,, number related things like map coordinates and peoples lives depended on my result’s… Horrific to think of is it not? The man your country sent to bomb people see’s not the information relayed in numbers, as that was in Greek for me and I just do not speak that language. I was surprised by what happened in my head…. At that time and under such great pressure I developed a photographic image that was color coded and I could decipher that into digits for them with great stress… Incredible stress!!!!!!
    How I got through without comprehending numbers is difficult to explain other than to say I used colors instead of numbers. I see equations as hues of colors. I do not see map coordinates I see something different than others that my brain came up with to get by… Because it was a survival situation my brain went past that nonworking part and made something for me in colors emotion and feelings. You have perhaps heard of “The Highway of Death” where all the Iraqi army was fleeing Kuwait? That was me responsible for their destruction as I only used two coordinates… Start bombing HERE and Stop bombing HERE.
    At 45, I am retired after making money as an analyst and inventor in Italy and I moved back to Texas… Things are great and I have a terrific house and it is sweet as brother does my book’s. I no longer see numbers in colors as the stress to do that is no longer there… These day’s, if someone insist’s on talking numbers to me I simply insist on speaking in Italian to them… Nobody really speaks Italian in Texas… and, FINALLY, I am no longer bothered with numbers.

  23. Kris
    Kris says:

    Great description of driving around looking for the car. Reminded me how I once walked around the Disneyland parking lot for an hour or two, with a toddler on my shoulders and another one in tow looking for the car….Thankfully have made ‘progress’ since those days….parked at LAX a few weeks ago and actually found the car after being away for 5 days…

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