Signing off an email, I began to type, “Thanks for all your help with this.” But then I backpedaled, changing “help” to “support.” I’ve been doing this for a while. Thanking people for their support. And Lord knows I get a lot of support from the people in my life.
But just today it clicked as to why. When I first started working in the nonprofit sector after graduating college and when I was still learning that it was okay to call colleagues by their first name (even when they were my parents’ age), I read an article about the language we use at work.
As someone who spends a lot of time with words, I was excited to read this “business-y” take on how my casual 21-year-old self could sound more professional or polite or whatever in the workplace. I don’t remember much of the article and I probably couldn’t find it if I tried. (I did just try; it must be lost to time.) But I very clearly remember one point: don’t thank people for their help.
The point of that section was that when you thank someone for their help, you are putting it into their brain that you need help with your job, almost that you aren’t capable. Instead, you should thank someone for their support, which somehow implies that you totally know what you’re doing and that this was a collaborative effort, rather than a test to prove whether or not you picked the right career.
And it made sense to me. Enough sense that, since then, I find myself signing emails and thanking people for their support constantly. But when I wrote it just now, I realized that it wasn’t support they gave me. It was help. They helped me do something I didn’t know how to do and couldn’t do on my own.
And is there something so bad about needing help sometimes?
I’m the first person to dive into the dictionary and send language trivia to the group chat. I know why I clung to “support.” But now, some years down the road, I find myself realizing that every well-meaning piece of advice (especially business advice) must be taken lightly.
I’ve been very fortunate to work with people who inspire me to be better and who push me to think critically and adaptively every single day. Sometimes, these are people I collaborate with and we support each other in various tasks and projects. Sometimes, these are people I consult with after realizing I have no idea what I’m doing or where to begin or even what questions to ask.
And that’s when I lean. I lean on the people who might have a bit more knowledge in that area… I lean on the people who can help me.
I believe the best workplace is the kind that allows for this kind of growth, for humbling, for collaboration, for teamwork. I also believe the best kind of relationships look like this too.
Support generously—of your time, your energy, and your experiences. And let others help you just the same.
The best help I’ve ever received has turned me into the kind of person who can support. So allow yourself to be both. And thank you, in the meantime, for helping a work in progress.