Asking for Help: My #1 Lesson from 2018

2018 turned out to be the best year of my career so far:

Here's the thing, though. This crazy chain of events from this year wasn't about me or how great I am or some other nonsense like that. Far from it, actually. Everything that happened this year was the result of one very uncomfortable lesson this year: no one can do anything great alone. You have to ask for help.

I'll say it again: no one can do anything great alone.

What (Really) Happened

Let's rewind to January 2018. I had just finished my video course and I was terrified. No, really. I was about to release this thing into the wild and had no idea what kind of response I would get. I had poured hundreds of hours, maybe thousands, into this course. But, frankly, I was a nobody. No one in the Angular community really knew who I was outside of a few conversations at a couple of conferences. My impostor syndrome was through the roof. What if I put this thing out there and the Powers That Be said it was total garbage?

I have a friend who is also my marketing partner for this course. He has way, way more experience with marketing and kept telling me two things:

  • You could build the most amazing thing in the world, but if nobody knows about it, it may as well not exist.
  • Asking for help spreading the word is not about YOU, it's about helping other people.

He told me that I needed to compile a list of everyone I had ever talked to in the Angular community and ask them for help. As an introvert who loves to be "self-sufficient," he may as well have asked me to walk naked through downtown Portland (wait, that's not that weird around here).

Despite my reservations, I listened to him and did it anyway. I sent a zillion messages to people that basically amounted to, "Hi there, I made this course on ngUpgrade and I really want to help people with it, but I can't do it alone. Would you check it out and, if you love it, tweet about it? Also, do you know anyone with a podcast that would be interested in me coming on to talk about ngUpgrade?"

I swear to God every time I sent one of these messages my insides curled up and my hair stood on end. Surely everyone was going to respond with "HOW DARE YOU ASK ME FOR HELP! BE GONE YOU SELF-PROMOTING MONEY GRUBBER!" I had made a truly great course for the sake of saving others the pain and frustration I had gone through, but I was still completely terrified of this.

To my utter shock, the responses were almost all positive. Some were ignored or didn't lead to anything, but most responses were positive and enthusiastic. Some of them were actually life-changing. I couldn't believe it. People were responding better than I ever could have hoped for. Here are just a few examples:

  • I asked Sani Yusuf for help and he gave me his extra ticket to ngAtl. This conference led to a ton of other opportunities that I never could have had without his help.
  • I asked Chris Sevilleja for help and he let me write a three post series on ngUpgrade for his site Scotch.io.
  • I asked Rob Wormald for help and that led to the support of Brad Green and Stephen Fluin. Rob even mentioned my course in his keynote at ng-conf 2018.
  • I asked Tara Manicsic for help and that led to writing for Telerik.
  • I asked Kim Maida for help and that led to becoming a Google Developer Expert and working for Auth0.

There are honestly countless other lovely people in the Angular and .NET communities that helped me. Several folks sat on video calls with me to give me advice on conference proposals, content creation, and running Angular Portland. Others tweeted about the course for me, posted it on Reddit, or recommended it to their friends, coworkers, and clients. And, most importantly, my students of the course gave me feedback about how much it helped them.

I can't thank all of these people enough, truly. They took a chance on me and I'll never forget it.

What I Learned

I took away two lessons from this experience.

First, I drastically underestimated how much people love to help other people. We live in a world that is very disconnected and cynical. I found, though, that people absolutely love helping. It makes them feel special and it gives them a purpose! Heck, I'm the same way, but for some reason the idea of people helping me seemed like it would be a horrible burden. Not true. I tested this in other areas, too — I asked a friend who knits to repair a sweater for my girlfriend and she was THRILLED. I asked another fashion-savvy friend to help me pick out clothes for speaking and he was THRILLED. People love to use their talents to help others. Don't deprive them of that!

Second, I learned that our ego that gets in the way of asking for help. We like to hide behind being shy or anxious, but it's deeper than that. I was on a video chat with someone prominent in the Angular community who said something that really encapsulates this:

"When I'm preparing for a talk, the more I think about me the more stressed I get. 'What will they think of me? What if they don't like me?' But if instead I think about them [the audience] having fun and learning, I relax."

I found this to be true as well. The more I am worrying about me and my ego, the more anxious I get. When I think about producing great content and spreading it with other peoples' help to help other people learn, I get excited and joyful. This could be my writing, my videos, or my conference talks. At the center of it all is the student, not me. I constantly need to think about how other people can get the most from my teaching, not what I risk in creating it.

Ask for Help in 2019

Throughout this year, people have asked me how to get started with content creation, whether writing or video courses. I usually tell them to just get started — overthinking is the author's biggest enemy. I want to add to this advice, though: Don't be afraid to ask for help. That could be help coming up with content ideas, help writing proposals, or help spreading the word about what you've created. I can't speak for all communities, and I know that there always going to be bad apples out there, but in the Angular community, you will find the help you need.

So, again, thank you to everyone who helped me this year. I hope to make you proud in 2019 paying it forward!