The Balance Between Self-Sufficiency and Realizing When to Ask for Help



Visiting the robotics lounge in our building

Students always hear the importance of self sufficiency during work. I’ve heard this about part-time jobs, internships, and full time jobs. Your boss does not have time to hold your hand and tell you what to do on an hourly, even daily basis. I learned this during my first job as a waitress. Even when it was slow and I felt like there was not much to do, I stilled tried to make myself productive by refilling the ice bin, sweeping a corner, or checking up on customers.

My current boss sometimes is in the office only a few hours a week. I send her an email in the morning and evening to update her on my progress, but usually she gives no instruction until our weekly meetings. Even then, her guidance is open ended and brief so I’m left making weekly and even daily to-do lists for myself, to aid in delivering tangible, weekly goals.

So on the occasion my boss does ask me to complete a task, I do it without hesitation. Even if I’m not as familiar with the program or task, then I utilize the vast internet to help complete it. I had always heard that this is how it should be…one must be self sufficient and be able to learn quickly and complete tasks efficiently. So when the intern I’m working with started getting involved with the project, it was very interesting to see how our working dynamic complimented or adjusted to each other’s.

One thing is for sure; we work well together. I have the ideas, both realistic and ridiculous, yet I am very indecisive. She on the other hand, makes firm and logical decisions and calls me out when something I suggest is flawed. We are a match made in workplace heaven. In addition, whereas I will say yes to task even if I am not completely sure of how to first approach it, she is willing to admit when she doesn’t know something and will ask for necessary help.

For example, our current project consists of building a robotic machine. We’re both mechanical engineering students. Our strength is looking up parts, materials, and coming up with a design that could make the machine perform the task and movements. However, we have little experience on electrical wiring, coding, and software. I suggested we research and try to figure it out. She said to just tell our boss straight that we need a resource for help because we don’t even know where to start.

Initially, I was reluctant to tell our boss that we didn’t know something or at least that we didn’t know how to teach it to teach ourselves. But the other intern  brought up a good point, that especially if research gets us nowhere, asking for help is totally normal and okay! So after telling our boss this, she connected us to a person with more background knowledge and we set up a meeting to address our questions and concerns.

The meeting covered so many things I didn’t know and didn’t even think of considering. There it hit me how imperative it is to have an instructor, resource, or guidance to help us on the more difficult tasks of our project. Of any project. Otherwise, it would be a waste of hours of researching in vain and a waste of money on incorrect parts that would both delay our timeline.

Finding the balance between knowing when to ask for help and being independent and self resourceful is such a learning process that I don’t think I would have understood until I worked. It is completely situational and sometimes intuition based, but a necessary professional workplace skill to have.

Although work can at times be stressful, we still have fun at their social gatherings