Most people have a passion—something that drives them by generating a deep sense of well-being. I’m a writer, so most would assume my passion is writing. It isn’t. Don’t get me wrong—I love what I do. Writing gives me infinite pleasure. But it isn’t what drives me.
My passion is helping people. I feel empowered through the act of doing something for someone else, simple or not. Taking a friend’s dog for the weekend. Shovelling a neighbor’s walkway for them. Paying for someone’s morning coffee, hoping to spark a pay-it-forward spree. For me, these simple acts of kindness make the world beautiful, and I want to add to that beauty.
When online, I use my knowledge of writing craft to help others and luckily found a writing partner who shares my passion. Becca Puglisi and I are co-authors, and we formed Writers Helping Writers, a virtual hub for those seeking education and support. We blog about the craft, share resources, and create free tools and booklets. Becca and I also put on random acts of kindness and pay-it-forward events because we want writers to feel special. These things are a drop in the bucket compared to the wide-spread giving others perform, but we do what we can, and it feels good to do so.
My personal mission has always been to encourage kindness and fan the flames of giving. But here’s the thing. I was a fraud of sorts, harboring a deep secret: I could lend a hand to others, but was unable to accept help myself.
Like many, I was mentally stuck in my own past. I was bullied growing up. I experienced some dark stuff, and felt let down by the people around me. It was difficult to place my trust in others and ask for help because the fear of rejection was always there. The idea that it was better to make do on my own than risk being hurt again steered my choices and actions.
As an adult I’ve moved past being bullied, the lesson of feeling inadequate stuck. I questioned my own knowledge and abilities, especially as a writer. I was afraid that if I asked for help, people would discover I lacked talent and didn’t know as much as I should. I worried that if I let people see me at my weakest, they would glimpse that little girl who was spit on, the crying mess blowing uncontrollable snot bubbles in front of her entire class because she couldn’t handle being bullied any more.
We all know that negative past experiences can cause deep hurts. And my past, while certainly creating this desire I have today to help others, also left me with a giant fear of vulnerability.
Like many emotional wounds we have, they create blind spots: repercussions we miss as a result of our flawed thinking. I didn’t realize mine until a friend sat me down for a heart to heart. She was frustrated that I was always helping her, but would never accept any in return. She asked if I’d even considered that by not asking for or accepting help, I was denying others the rush of well-being that comes with giving.
Her words hit me like the proverbial truck, along with the weight of knowing I’d done others a disservice. Here I was, a messenger for kindness, and I was inadvertently preventing people from being kind.
Years ago when this conversation took place, asking for help was terrifying. The idea of being vulnerable brought up all my feelings of low self-worth. But I understood wisdom when I heard it, and I made a change. I started asking for things. It was so hard, but I did it. And when someone offered to step in or did something kind for me, I didn’t rush to repay the favor so I could “balance the scales” as I previously had done. Instead, I accepted the gift with a thank you. And guess what? The world didn’t explode.
Even now, asking for help can be a struggle at times, but the fear of vulnerability doesn’t hold me hostage any more. Making this simple change freed me in many ways. Because I can ask for assistance when I need it, and show grace when it’s given, I find that people are more open with me. They share their feelings more and I do the same, and our relationships are stronger as a result.
I never thought about how my refusal to show vulnerability could make me seem unapproachable or even intimidating, because of course inside I was a raw lump of insecurity. Yet it was keeping me from forming genuine connections with other people, in both the real and cyber worlds.
Now I understand that being open and honest about my own imperfections and areas for growth helps others feel safe enough to do the same. Sharing something small—a fear, a worry, a mistake or an observation, etc. opens a doorway for communication and acceptance. My relationships are more balanced, and allowing inner growth and satisfaction to flow both ways is the greatest kindness of all.
Angela Ackerman is a writing coach, pay-it-forward enthusiast and author of The Emotion Thesaurus, The Positive Trait Thesaurus, and The Negative Trait Thesaurus, a trio of unique writing guides to help authors create compelling characters readers will love. You can find her on Twitter, Facebook and her website, Writers Helping Writers.