Unlike many traditional graduate programs, my program required a 14-day backpacking trip into Utah’s
most grueling terrain. My peers and I spent two weeks hiking along the bottom of White Canyon, a deep
canyon marked by labyrinth-like side canyons, thick underbrush, arches, and pictographs. Throughout
these weeks, my peers and I took turns facilitating therapeutic group activities designed to provoke self-
reflection. What I discovered about myself during one activity changed the way I saw myself forever.
As the sun disappeared behind the canyon wall to the West, I shifted my heavy pack off my back and sat
in the sand to listen to the activity instructions my peer was giving. Here is what she said:
“I will be setting up a maze with rope. With one of your hands on the rope, your job is to find the way out
of the maze. You will be blindfolded, so this task will be difficult. You can raise your hand as many times
as you want to ask questions or to ask for help.”
“Okay, pretty straightforward,” I thought as I tied a bandana around my eyes and placed my hand on the
I slowly worked my way around the maze, making a mental map in my head. I could hear my peers
laughing and huffing in frustration as we quickly discovered the exit wasn’t going to be easy to find.
After a while, a few peers excitedly proclaimed their success and exited the maze. As fewer and fewer
people circled the maze with me, I grew frustrated and determined to find the exit.
“Do you need help, Jess?”
“No, I can do it! I don’t need any help.”
“Okay, let me know if you need help, I’m right here.”
Slowly but surely, I was the last one in the maze, circling around in the sand and swearing at my inability
to figure out the game. Finally, in a fit of frustration and anger, I pulled off my blindfold and begged my
peer to tell me the secret for getting out of the maze.
“All you needed to do was ask for help.”
If you relate to this story, it’s possible that at some point in your life, you learned that other people
couldn’t be trusted or relied on. To compensate for this lack of trust in others, you developed a
rebellious streak of independence to cope. Now, don’t get me wrong, independence can be a wonderful
strength, but at what point does it isolate you and leave you feeling alone and helpless?
As we’ve seen from the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s difficult for humans to thrive in isolation. As difficult as
it may be, learning to be vulnerable and ask for help when you need it will improve your relationships
and your mental wellbeing. I’ll save you the hassle of backpacking into the Utah wilderness and blindly
following a rope in circles in order to unlearn hyper-independence. Here are a few skills to try to begin
learning how to trust others:
- Check your ego: Use a beginner’s mindset to view tasks with “fresh” eyes instead of assuming
you know all the answers.
- Delegate tasks: Ask your co-workers or family members to help you with something small or
inconsequential to build your trust in their ability to help you in the future.
- Allow for imperfection: If you’ve delegated a task, and it’s not done exactly how you would have
done it, ask yourself if that’s okay?
- Trust: Think of someone you trust completely. Make a list of qualities which make it easy for you
to trust them. Work to extend trust to others who hold those qualities
Next time you find yourself saying “I don’t need any help,” challenge yourself by adding: “Actually, I could use a hand.” Remember, this doesn’t make you weak or needy, this makes you brave.
Reach out if you need me,