Seeking Help

When exactly do you know when you’ve crossed the line from a problem you can handle yourself to a problem you need assistance with?

That question comes up over and over again in so many avenues of life.

When is a plumbing problem severe enough that it’s time to call in a plumber?
When is a medical situation bad enough that we go to a doctor?
When is an investment situation complex enough that we seek out a financial advisor?
When is a psychological condition problematic enough that we seek professional help?

Whenever you ask questions like these, you’re going to get answers that vary all over the spectrum. Some people go to the doctor for a cough, while others won’t go until they’re calling an ambulance. Some people call the plumber when their toilet handle doesn’t work right, while others won’t call until the basement is flooded. Some people get ahold of a psychologist when they feel a bit nervous, while others won’t go until they’re unable to function in their daily lives.

I tend to lean towards the self-sufficient side of the spectrum. This means I usually try to solve problems myself, even when the solutions go a bit beyond what I’m currently capable of, until I’m convinced that the solution is truly outside of my grasp. Doing this – and sometimes succeeding – gives me the self-confidence to regularly do things for myself, which helps during those times when seeking help from others is not an option. For example, I believe I’ll be fine if I break my leg in a forest alone and out of cell phone range because I know I can overcome obstacles.

I usually follow an intuitive series of steps before making my decision to call for help.

First, is the problem urgent? If I don’t get it solved right now, will this problem lead to significant other problems? Severe pain is urgent; mild discomfort is not. A flooded basement is urgent; a leaky faucet or a broken handle is not. The inability to get out of bed due to fear is urgent; a nervousness talking to others is not. An urgent problem usually results in a call for help; a non-urgent problem might eventually result in a call, but not without proceeding forward. I rarely call for help quickly on a non-urgent problem.

Next, can I clearly describe the problem? Where is the ache? What situations cause the ache? What situations lead me to be nervous talking to others? What happens when I jiggle the handle? Is anything out of place when I peek under the lid that I can notice? The more details I have about a problem, the more I can learn about what it actually is and what solutions I can use to solve it.

After that, what can I learn about a solution to the problem? This means research. I try to stick to references from sources that I trust, such as widely-respected home maintenance handbooks, nurse hotlines, and other sources that are peer-reviewed and have a strong reputation. In a non-urgent situation, a person has time to do a bit of research to find out what kind of solutions are out there.

Once I’ve found a potential solution, what are the possible negative outcomes for that solution? More importantly, are those negative outcomes fixable if they occur? The worst outcome from a toilet repair, for example, is that call to the plumber that you’d be making anyway. The worst outcome from treating some ailments, though, can be even worse damage to yourself.

If the outcome from my own attempts has little chance of making the situation significantly worse, I’ll usually try to fix it myself. Almost always, I’ll learn something useful from the process, even if I don’t explicitly solve the problem.

Because of this, if people ask me for a solution to a non-urgent problem, I usually suggest that they seek safe solutions themselves first. I apply that basic principle to everything, from public nervousness to investment choices. If you seek a solution yourself, you will always learn something useful from that process, even if you didn’t directly solve the problem.

The time to turn to professional help comes when a problem is urgent or if the consequences from trying a potential solution are severe.

If you walk yourself through those questions when you’re facing a choice between asking for help and solving it yourself, you’re more likely to find yourself at a resolution that works well for you, protecting your safety and interests while also helping you to develop a healthy level of self-sufficiency.

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