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Mayday! Asking for Help in Times of Need shows how to make the intimidating but potentially rewarding process of asking for help far less daunting. Using an inviting conversational style sprinkled with humor and personal stories, M. Nora Klaver first delves deeply into the social and psychological factors that keep us in isolation and then lays out a straightforward process for cultivating a mindset that will accept and invite help at home and at work. Using exercises and examples, she explains how to figure out what to ask for, whom to ask, how to ask, and when and where to ask.

Besides making our lives easier, Klaver shows that asking others for help can be an emotionally and spiritually enriching experience, one that, surprisingly, will end up making us feel more confident and will strengthen our relationships. Drawn from her twenty years of experience as both a personal and a Fortune 100 executive coach, Mayday! is the first book to fully integrate the body, mind, and emotions in a truly effective step-by-step approach to getting the help we need.

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11 Chapters

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Chapter 1: Why We Don't Ask



The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same
level of thinking we were at when we created them.
Albert Einstein

Asking for help is a universally dreaded endeavor. We often choose instead to continue on alone, struggling valiantly and often unnecessarily with day-to-day burdens or even with crises, convinced that asking for help would exact an emotional price too high to bear. Nonetheless, in a world where people are living longer than ever before and may need ever more support over time, reliance on others has become increasingly necessary. It is time that the universal signal of mayday is sent.

No one is immune from need—not CEOs, not the cleaning staff, not store owners nor the store clerks. Grandparents, parents, and children all require a boost at some point. Team leaders and teammates, coaches and players, teachers and students, presidents and citizens all must, at some time, ask for aid.

Yet so many of us resist. One can’t help but wonder, if we all experience need, why it is so hard to ask for another’s help in satisfying that need. What parents wouldn’t want their child to come to them with a problem needing resolution? What loving spouse wouldn’t want to be called upon to support her partner? What leader would prefer to be kept in the dark if a team member needed help? There comes a time in everyone’s life where we can’t move forward unless we rely on others. The people who know and love us want us to ask. Yet we ignore our need. We pretend that we’ll get through on our own, and in the process, deny the frail reality of our humanity.


Chapter 2: Why We Don’t Ask–Really



Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.
Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.
Marie Curie

We do not ask for help because we are afraid. Fear is what stops us from looking someone in the eye, admitting a need, and saying the words, “I need your help.”

Anthropologists describe fear as a natural, protective response to potentially dangerous stimuli. Fear kept our ancestors from venturing into caves populated by people-eating lions. Nowadays, it keeps us from venturing into equally dangerous dark alleys. This protective quality of fear is instinctual. The little hairs stand up on our necks and our eyes widen in anticipation of the risk ahead. This primal fear keeps us safe from harm and protects us from the very real and imminent perils that lie ahead.

We have come far from those days of the cave. For most of us, primal fear lies dormant. Metus gravis, or grave fear, is relatively rare. Living lives of comparative safety, few of us experience the cringing terror that accompanies urgent life or death situations. When we do, we rarely think twice about asking—no, screaming—for the help we need. Our instincts kick in and we react immediately to save ourselves. In those situations, the dread of asking for help usually pales in comparison to the heavy fear we feel if our lives are in danger.


Chapter 3: Why We Should Ask



A friend is someone who will help you move.
A real friend is someone who will help you move a body.

No wonder we don’t ask for help! We lack instruction, models, awareness, and even permission to ask. Our fears conspire to distract and confuse us, sometimes keeping us from fulfilling even basic needs. These same obstructions also keep us blind to forgotten rewards, benefits, and blessings that come when we ignore the fear and embrace help. The moment we decide to make a mayday call, we set into motion a creative energy that brings us into the realm of possibilities. Something new is brought into reality.

Sending out a mayday call, often the last step you want to take, is just as often the very first one you should consider. Nowhere is it written that you have to solve all of your problems by yourself. Do not buy into the lies told by the riptide fears of surrender, separation, and shame. The truth is that you are truly worthy of your requests for aid. You are cared for, you are not alone, and you are blessed. These are wonderful gifts in and of themselves. When we ask for help, even more wonderful things can happen. What follows are seven priceless gifts of love, flow, and simplicity that can be yours—if you only ask.


Chapter 4: Anchoring Yourself



Great necessities call out great virtues.
Abigail Adams

Amy loved her father dearly. Aron had always been her greatest supporter, cheering her on when she ran for class president and comforting her after her divorce. He had been both mother and father to her ever since Amy’s mother passed away decades before. And now, Amy had the chance to repay him (as if that’s even possible) for all his kindness, generosity, and love. Aron had Alzheimer’s disease and Amy was his caregiver.

At first it had been painful to watch the man she most admired disappear into the illness. She secretly wept when she had to remind him what spackle was and how to use it. “He had practically built the family house with his own two hands and now he couldn’t remember spackle.” She cried. There were also frustrating times when Aron forgot to meet her as planned or became lost along the way. Most difficult of all was watching her father shrink before her eyes. The disease had made him small and frail.

A day nurse was hired to care for him while she was at work, and at night, Amy would return home to fix and feed him dinner. Afterward, she would help him to his chair. Once he was comfortable, she’d put on some music. If Aron was in a quiet mood, she might be able to do a little reading. But if he was talkative, she would listen to him as he relived a memory from his past. Sometimes, he would ask Amy where her mother was. The first few times he did this, she would gently remind him that his wife had passed many years before. It would upset him to hear, all over again, that she was gone. Eventually, Amy learned to just say that her mother had gone out to do some shopping. Aron would be satisfied with this and within a few moments would have forgotten all about his question.


Step 1: Name the Need



A man travels the world over
in search of what he needs
and returns home to find it.
George Moore

In 2005, disaster struck New Orleans. Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and battered the Crescent City until there was practically nothing left. Flooding forced people to their roofs where they signaled to passing helicopters. Day after day, thousands of people cried out: Help!

Months before Katrina, a tsunami hit Indonesia killing thousands. Entire communities were destroyed. More than 212,000 people were swept away or killed by debris. Homes gone, infrastructure gone, and thousands of families torn apart.

Clearly, the victims of these catastrophes experienced grave fear, fear for their lives and for the lives of their loved ones. It’s not difficult to guess the immediate needs of the residents of New Orleans and Indonesia. None of us even needed to see the horrendous scenes on television, we knew instinctively what was required to help those poor souls: water, food, safety, and housing.



Step 2: Give Yourself a Break



If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.
If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
The Dalai Lama

The Mayday! process has begun. At this point, you see the gap between what you have and what you need. You might even feel this disparity acutely. You have an idea of how the need could be met but have decided to remain open to other options. There is a strong possibility that fear still holds you back from obtaining the gifts of flow and connection that come from asking for help. It’s as though fear jams your personal frequencies, stopping you from making any kind of mayday call. Now is the time to take another deep breath and to move on to Step 2.

It is damn difficult living life in this day and age. We face complexities and challenges that our ancestors couldn’t even begin to imagine. We are inundated with messages about how we should be, what we should buy, which groups we should belong to. Our minds are rarely at peace. We think constantly. We schedule our days, jamming them with more than we could ever possibly accomplish in twenty-four hours. Our bodies work overtime trying to squeeze “it” all in. And, to complicate matters, we have others to consider, too. We work to make sure they are provided with all they need. We involve our loved ones in almost all our major decisions. And through it all, there is very little room for us. When do we get a little “me” time? Who cares for the caregiver? Step 2 is all about breaking away from our relentless focus on everything and everyone else. To send out our mayday signals, we need to believe it is permissible to ask for help. That’s where the applied virtue of compassion comes into play.


Step 3: Take a Leap



If you can’t have faith in what is held up to you for faith,
you must find things to believe in yourself, for a life
without faith in something is too narrow a space to live.
George E. Woodberry

Walter was in trouble. He had just had a difficult conversation with his boss. The big guy had made it perfectly clear that if Walter didn’t stop micromanaging his teams, he’d never make it to the next level. Walter agreed to try, but he really didn’t have a clue how to begin. Contributing to his nervousness was the fact that he had project kick-off meetings scheduled in Europe over the next couple of days. Literally overnight, Walter was expected to change how he worked with teams.

From a hotel room in Bonn, Germany, he called me for his regular coaching appointment. Walter explained that the first meeting was less than ten hours away and he had no idea what he should do. He knew he needed help.

I began by asking him how he had prepared for the meeting. I could hear the pride in his voice as he described how he had planned everything down to the last detail.


Step 4: Ask!



Know how to ask. There is nothing more difficult
for some people, nor for others, easier.
Baltasar Gracian

The applied virtues of self-compassion and faith are powerful emotional states that turn asking for help into a declaration of self-love and self-care. For some of you, this may be enough to get you out there asking for what you need. Others, however, might require a review of the basics, or the nuts and bolts, of transmitting effective mayday signals. This chapter presents the who, when, where, and how of making requests for help.

There is no way around it, asking for help demands that we actually ask for help. This time, making the ask, as salespeople often say, is going to be much easier. Self-compassion encourages you to ask for the help you deserve. Faith supports you as you make your mayday calls. Together, they relax and ground you physically and mentally. Your words and body reflect the belief that all will work out and that you are not alone. The suggestions that follow serve to create a supportive environment for your requests.


Step 5: Be Grateful



Gratitude is not only the greatest of all virtues,
but the parent of all the others.

Gratitude is the third applied virtue that transforms us. Even more than the other two virtues of self-compassion and faith, gratitude bolsters us as we make our mayday calls. It braces and supports both self-compassion and faith. By seeing how we’ve already been blessed, it’s easier to believe we will be blessed again. With gratitude in our hearts, all applied virtues come to us more naturally. Cicero was right, gratitude “is the parent of all others.”

While self-compassion compels us to ask for the help we need, and faith centers us as we make our request, gratitude allows us to hear the response with an open heart. We naturally feel grateful hearing a response of yes, but can we feel the same way if the dreaded no is delivered instead? This, then, is the power of gratitude: the prospect of hearing “no” causes us no fear. With gratitude, we will truly be grateful even if a request isn’t fulfilled.


Step 6: Listen Differently



There was a definite process by which one made
people into friends, and it involved talking to them
and listening to them for hours at a time.
Dame Rebecca West

You’ve prepared, you’ve empowered yourself, and you’ve voiced your mayday call. Supported by self-compassion, faith, and gratitude, all you can do now is listen.

The two anchoring principles of the Mayday! process both deal with emotions. The first is that emotions drive action and language. The second is that powerful emotional states are required to overcome our fear of asking for help. It’s not a surprise then, that listening differently requires us to attend to the hidden emotional messages being conveyed. Step 6 is no longer about you and your needs. This step requires you to focus on your helpmate.


Consider what you do when you direct your mayday call to a specific individual. You ask him to step into your life and give of his talents and skills to make your existence better. If he agrees, your helpmate sacrifices something, even if it is just energy, to meet your need. The very least you can do is to listen to, and not just hear, what he has to say.


Step 7: Say Thanks



Give thanks for a little and you will find a lot.
The Hausa of Nigeria

Congratulations! You’ve reached the final step in the Mayday! process! Look at all you’ve learned. You now understand the temporary power that fear has over you and the lies that it tells. You realize the importance of getting clear on what you need, and at the same time, you know it is equally important to be open to other suggestions. The magic embedded in the applied virtues of self-compassion, faith, and gratitude have seen you through. These “emotions on steroids” have changed your physical presence and your words, so your mayday calls become strong, with dignity and self-respect. Along the way, you picked up some practical tips on who, when, and how to ask. Listening differently, you have heard the hidden emotional messages underlying your helpmate’s response. The final step, of course, is to say thank-you.


Just as you learned to be clear in your requests for assistance, it’s equally important to be obvious in your gratitude. Say thank-you openly and loud enough so your partner can hear.



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