Do you let others help you (write)?

Reading time: About 3 minutes

My husband and I recently returned from a three-week trip to Europe. Here is part 3 of a three-part series on each of the cities we visited. Today I focus on Vienna with a piece on the importance of accepting help from others. (Part 1, on Amsterdam, and part 2 on Prague are both still available for those who missed them.)

I’m not the kind of person who’s found it easy to let others help me. When I was younger and found myself lost, I walked blocks out of my way rather than ask someone for directions.

If I was in a store looking for something, I combed the aisles mercilessly before daring to trouble a clerk.

If I needed help in the library, I spent hours trolling through the card catalogue before asking a librarian — someone whose very job it was to help me — for assistance.

My attitude was born out of shyness. I was painfully reserved as a child — and it’s fortunate that when I had my own children, they were triplets. Nothing like a tsunami to force you to ask for help. But as I’ve aged, I’ve become more comfortable with the idea of letting friends, and even strangers lend a hand.

In fact, that’s exactly how we ended up in Vienna.

When my husband and I planned to go to the Czech Republic this summer — to see our son perform in an opera —  we knew we couldn’t travel all that distance for only one or two cities. We wanted a week in another European hub. Someplace interesting and not too hot, we thought. For a long time, Ireland sat at the top of our list.

Then, one workday I went out for a writing break. As I sat in a restaurant, reading my book and sipping my tea, I heard someone call my name. It was a family friend. Dave and I sat together and talked amiably about our plans for the summer. And when he heard about our trip to Europe he spoke up. “Please, stay at my apartment in Vienna,” he said.

I was gobsmacked. How did Dave have an apartment in Vienna? Turns out he’d inherited it from his grandmother, a Hungarian baroness who’d immigrated to North America in 1956. The story as to how Dave and his sister finally acquired the place is as complex as a Rubic’s cube. It involves the terrible treatment of Jews, greedy land managers and admirable chutzpah on Dave’s part.

I felt predictably uncomfortable accepting his generosity but the chance to see a world class city like Vienna was too tempting to pass up. Score 1 for accepting help from friends.

As our departure day approached I surveyed colleagues and clients to see if anyone could refer us to someone who lived in Vienna. Sure enough, one of my clients could. So on August 1 we headed to the Vienna University of Music and the Performing Arts and met with Katharina and Gerda, both employees there.

Kindly they spent the entire day with us, walking us around the city, showing the sights. They even arranged for a tour of the Musikverein (home of the Vienna Philharmonic) and the Vienna State Opera (pictured above), both breathtakingly beautiful. At dinnertime they took us to a local heuriger.  This is a bar, usually found in a garden, where local wine and a simple buffet are served. And as we wrapped up our fabulous day by walking us by the city hall so we could see the 24th annual film festival. This amazing event runs every summer evening showing opera, ballet, pop and jazz on a gigantic screen. No charge! We estimated 5,000 people there each of the two nights we dropped by.  Improbably, we suddenly felt like locals. Score 1 for the kindness of strangers.

When I speak with clients of mine, I often notice they’re reluctant to call on the kindness of family — never mind friends or strangers — for the time to do their writing. Here’s what I say: Don’t ask and you won’t get. Make a request, however, and you’ll have a chance of getting the time you need.

If you have a deeply held desire to write share that wish with your family and ask for their help. If you’re upfront, respectful — and equally giving yourself — they’re likely to support you.

Don’t hesitate to give back, of course. For example, we bought Dave a nice expensive gift and left it in the apartment. And when Katharine and Gerda come to Vancouver next summer we’ll show them around and host a dinner party for them.

But also welcome the help you receive. It’s not a sign of weakness. It’s just part of the back-and-forth that makes the world a better place.

Are you able to ask others for the time you need to write? We can all help each other so please share your thoughts with my readers and me, below. If you comment by August 31, 2014 I’ll put your name in a draw for a copy of the insightful book 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People by Susan M. Weinschenk. If you don’t see the comments box, click here and then scroll to the end.

Photo by Eric Watts

Scroll to Top