An Exercise to Write Your History of Help

By Marshall Goldsmith

Consider all the times someone—friend, neighbor, colleague, stranger, even foe—has asked you for help. Did you —

  • refuse them, 
  • resent them, 
  • judge them to be stupid, 
  • question their competence, or 
  • deride them behind their back for needing help? 

If you’re like most good people I know, your first impulse was to help. You’d demur only if you lacked the capacity to help—and you’d probably apologize for it, regarding your inability as somehow your failure. 

Before you reject the idea of asking others to help you, consider this: 

If you are willing to help anyone who asks for your help without thinking ill of them, why would you worry that other people won’t be as generous and forgiving when you’re the one seeking help? The Golden Rule, by definition, works both ways, never more so than when help is on the table. 

Marshall Goldsmith Meme

An even more meaningful question: How have you felt when you have helped others? I think we can agree that’s one of the great feelings, right? Why would you deprive others of the same feeling? 

Here is an exercise in recovered memory and humility:

DO THIS: Make a list of your five to 10 proudest achievements, particularly the ones where the accomplishment felt well deserved. Now imagine you were invited to receive an award for each achievement, and you were expected to give a thank-you speech in front of all your relatives, colleagues, and friends. 

Who would you thank? 

And why?

I suspect you’ll find in each case that you did not succeed without help. I’m not talking merely about instances of unexpected luck and serendipity, but rather the gifts of other people’s wisdom and influence that helped advance a project or avoid a catastrophic misjudgment. Without this trip down memory lane, I suspect you will always be underestimating how much assistance you have received in your life. 

Once you appreciate all the help you’ve either forgotten or failed to credit in your life, you are finally ready for the alarming payoff of this exercise. 

You can imagine—and kick yourself with regret— how much more you could have achieved if you had asked for help more often. 

Now extend your imagination forward: Where do you need help in the future? 

And who are the first people you would ask to help you? 

Marshall Goldsmith Meme

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