Lesson 1: Help is not always helpful

“Relax, don’t help,” the woman doing my manicure said, referring to the fact that I kept tensing my hand up in an unconscious effort to assist her. She went on to tell me I should use my free hand to look at something on my phone to distract myself. “It’s better for both of us; you’re only making it harder.” I couldn’t help but think this was the same life lesson the Universe has repeatedly brought to my attention – my help is not always helpful.  

I first came to this realization a few years ago when I came across Anne Lamott’s TED Talk 12 Truths I Learned from Life and Writing. In number three of her twelve truths she says, “Our help is usually not very helpful. Our help is often toxic. And help is the sunny side of control. Stop helping so much. Don’t get your help and goodness all over everybody.” The very night before I watched this TED talk, I had approached my husband with my take on why I should unleash my help and goodness on a loved one in the form of some unsolicited advice. He was beginning to agree with me – I’m very persuasive, but then there was Anne just waiting for me the next morning in my Facebook feed. Dammit, Anne – but I really like getting my help and goodness all over everyone.

The moment I heard Lamott speak those words I knew they were meant for me. She was my messenger, ever so eloquently yet forcefully telling me what I’d known to be true about myself for a very long time – when it comes to my loved ones, I have often been helpful as a form of control. My desire to help comes less from a conscious place of wanting to control their lives but rather from a need for me to feel like everything will be okay. What I wasn’t considering was that my version of “okay” is not necessarily what’s best for the person I’m trying to help. “We can’t arrange peace or lasting improvement for the people we love most in the world,” Lamott goes on to say. “They have to find their own ways, their own answers.” Well crap, Anne – that really sucks.  

I don’t mean to say we should never help those we love. There are definitely times when help is needed and should be offered, but for me when the urge to help strikes, it’s important that I ask myself: Am I really trying to help or am I just trying to orchestrate an outcome that will make ME feel better? I’m not going to lie; I’m often knee deep in spreading my help and goodness all over someone before I realize I need to ask myself this question.

To add insult to injury, Lamott says, “You can’t run alongside your grown children with sunscreen and chapstick on their hero’s journey. You have to release them. It’s disrespectful not to.” Are you speaking directly to me, Anne? Because my son is VERY fair skinned and his lips are frequently chapped. I may or may not be known to slather Aquaphor on his lips as he jumps out of the car for school.

I have no doubt I will continue to be in need of regular reminders to stifle my urge to help, especially as my son grows and I feel the need to help him navigate all of life’s decisions and difficulties. For now though, a sticky note on my dresser with the words “RELAX, DON’T HELP!” will have to do.  

Lesson 2: It’s okay to ask for what I want

As if the first lesson wasn’t enough for one visit to the nail salon. Apparently, on this particular day, I was in need of more than one reminder.  

I like my nails short – really short, like barely any white showing. When I sat down for the manicure, the manicurist asked me if I wanted them clipped shorter or just filed. I told her I like them short. She made her first round of clippings and I told her I’d like them shorter, to which she replied they would be shorter upon filing. She did the filing, applied some product and asked me if they were short enough. They weren’t. But instead of saying no, could you please cut them a bit shorter, I said, “Yes, looks good.” As soon as the words left my mouth I thought, Why the hell did I just say that?!

The answer is because somehow asking for what I want makes me feel as if I’m being rude or annoying, difficult to please...bitchy. I have a habit of not asking for what I want and then being resentful or frustrated that I don’t get what I want, which isn’t fair to anyone involved. As I sat there feeling frustrated with myself, a woman sat down at the station next to me and told her manicurist in detail how she wanted her nails done. A few minutes later her manicurist asked her if they were okay, the woman replied with further instructions for them to be done precisely how she wanted. She didn’t seem rude or demanding. If only I had done the same, but there I sat dissatisfied and frustrated when a simple request would have likely garnered exactly what I wanted.

I walked out of there with my longer-than-hoped-for-nails serving as a reminder that I need to communicate what I want and need in all facets of my life, whether it’s shorter nails, help with the dishes, time for myself, or being paid more for my work. It really is okay to ask.

My Favorite Nail Polish Color

I don’t get manicures often because I don’t like spending the money and I don’t like the feeling of nail polish on my fingernails, but during fall and winter I make an exception because it’s a great time to wear my favorite nail polish color, OPI’s Lincoln Park After Dark. Some may remember this as a favorite nail polish color of MTV’s The Hill’s star, Lauren Conrad. I’m pretty sure I was too old to be watching this show at the time, but there was just something I couldn't resist about following the trials and tribulations of rich teenagers living in Southern California. Since the show ran from 2006 to 2010, I wondered if, a good ten years later, I might be holding on to a trend I shouldn’t, but a quick Google search brought good news – the color is still on-trend! Looks best on short nails and great on toes, too!

P.S. I would have continued wearing it even if it weren’t on-trend because I like it. Wear whatever nail polish you want, ladies (and gentlemen)!