Our Life in The Arts

Questions, reality, and musings on a life of joy and wonder

Vol. 1, No. 8

August 6, 2021

Ask For Help

By Rich Holly

I’m pretty sure that any of you reading this have seen the cartoons and jokes about the trials and tribulations of men who won’t ask for directions. And while there just might be (okay, there probably IS) some truth to that, I also believe that the general issue of not being comfortable asking for help is applicable to all humans.

For those who have yet to read my previous blog post, I encourage you to do so, as I also believe the more you belong to and support others within a village, the more likely you are to ask for help.

I’ve benefitted greatly from my professional organization, through publications and online resources to be sure. But the greatest benefits I’ve received have been through personal interactions (no joke, our annual convention regularly draws 6,000-7,000 percussionists from all over the world) in which we help each other (and share info on which earplugs we like best). Asking for help from peers and international artists is expected and welcomed and is a defining factor in our culture.

And yet I know that when I’m within other villages – or especially in a group where people are unfamiliar – I am extremely hesitant to ask for help if I need it. Too often I’ve felt that the atmosphere contains too much competition, which is not my personal cup of tea.

Why are people hesitant to ask for help? It could be any number of reasons, alone or in combination. Pride – we want to prove we can do things on our own; shyness – we just cannot get up the nerve (courage?) to speak with someone who might know more than we do; embarrassment – we don’t want others to know we don’t already know everything we need to know; relinquishing control – some people believe they’re giving up control if they accept help from others. Some people may not feel safe asking for help, and others just don’t know where to start. And I expect there are several additional reasons, as well.

And what is it we commonly need help with? Getting better at your artistry. Tax returns. Buying or fixing a car. Assistance lifting heavy objects. Understanding and navigating work- and school-related policies and procedures. Relationship advice. It could be literally asking someone for help, or it could be the realization you need additional training in your artistry and you decide to take more classes or workshops to increase your skills and knowledge. The one thing for which I wish more people would realize they need help is emotional well-being and mental health.

Let’s talk artistry first. Here’s a true story that I’ve been unable to forget since it happened, in the late 1970s: A former actor with whom I have a long and close relationship was doing quite well earning parts on major television shows yet was growing tired and upset at the inner workings of the film and television industry. One day this actor received a phone call – and I was there to witness it – from an incredibly well-known and respected actor, who said “I’m casting a new film and there’s a part you’d be perfect for.” My actor friend immediately said “no, thanks” and that was the end of it. In fact, that was the end of this person’s acting career. They said to me, “I want to be able to earn roles on my own, not get roles because of contacts or favors.” I said “but you did get this on your own, they’ve seen your work and want you on this film!” I believe an extreme sense of pride was blocking this actor from believing that. They were being offered help – they didn’t even have to ask for it – and yet they turned it down.

These past two weeks the world watched as superstar gymnast Simone Biles pulled herself out of most of her events at the Olympics. A month prior, tennis champion Naomi Osaka dropped out of the French Open. Regardless of their fame or level of income, they are humans, just like you and me. They have, and are continuing to speak out on mental health issues. While it’s true, as significant public figures in their field they are under intense and near-constant scrutiny, I believe it’s also true that we all experience stress and anxiety from any number of sources, and we need to ask for help.

All humans have had trauma. All humans have had sorrow. All humans have had heartbreak.

In my book, I discuss mental health in more than one place. Knowing how hesitant Americans are to ask for help with their mental health, I describe the need for professional help this way:

When I meet a student who admits they are struggling emotionally but is thus far unwilling to go to a counselor, one of my favorite things to tell them is “Look, your need for a counselor is the same as a home owner’s need for a plumber. You have to have one, you may need to find a second one because you didn’t like the first one, but if you don’t have one you’re ultimately in bigger trouble and it will cost you even more money.”

Some readers know that I’ve been a huge Beatles’ fan since February 9, 1964, when they made their American debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. Here’s a Beatles’ song, and the title song from their second feature film, which sums it up:

So, please, do what you need to in order to be comfortable asking for help. Reach out to a trusted peer or colleague. For students, reach out to a trusted faculty or staff member – we’re here to help, as are arts faculty and staff members everywhere. Ask for help to advance your artistry, to assist with getting through your school or work day. And most of all, ask for help if your health depends upon it.

For NC State University students suffering with mental health issues, please do not delay in contacting our Counseling Center: 919-515-2423.

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Rich Holly serves Arts NC State and the NC State University community as the Executive Director for the Arts.