The Space Between

Does ‘asking’ make you vulnerable or does asking make you visible?

Inspired by Amanda Palmer and The Art of Asking
I am not good at asking for help, and in my family, we call it the ‘I DO IT’ syndrome.

Large families are notorious for assigning nicknames and coining phrases and ours is no different. When my mother once observed her two year old, strong-willed granddaughter trying to singlehandedly wrestle her tricycle up the stairs, of course she offered to help. “I DO IT!” was the emphatic and in no uncertain terms response.

My husband loves this story and finds it particularly enlightening vis a vis our own relationship. Anytime I refuse an offer of help from him, even the smallest gesture of help, he says ‘I DO IT’. Sometimes I give him my iciest glare but most often, I laugh at myself and let him help me wrestle my tricycle up the stairs.

I DO IT served me well in life. Or so I thought. I always went after what I wanted, became an entrepreneur at an early age, and made, what I perceived to be at least, some pretty fearless decisions. Believe it or not, one of the most fearless decisions I ever made was to ask for help.

It was February 9, 2006, I was 48 years old and I had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Wisely, I had asked my friend to come with me to the clinic where I was to receive some test results. I asked her to come because my spidey sense told me all was not well. I asked her to come because I knew she would be able to handle whatever news we were to be given. When the doctor uttered those crushing words, my friend stepped in and took over my life for the next 2 hours. She took the notes, drove me to a safe haven, and made all the calls.

You would think that positive experience of asking for help would have stayed with me but no—if you’ve been a lifelong I DO IT, old patterns die hard. A week later, I was still telling myself I could get through this, that I didn’t need to bother my best friend and sister who lived 700 miles away. She had her own life, her own family, her own troubles. It would be too much to ask her to come to me.

What an idiot I was.

I spent a whole week mired in fear and sadness, sadness and fear, before finally realizing that asking for help is not a shameful act. It is an act of the utmost vulnerability—the emotional equivalent of dreaming yourself stark naked on a stage in front of thousands.

So I stripped myself bare, picked up the phone and told my sister I needed her. She came as soon as she could get a plane ticket and for the next week, I turned my life over to her. She researched everything and made me a binder of all the things she thought I needed to read. She looked at photos on the internet of what a woman post-mastectomy looks like and she didn’t cry. She only told me it wasn’t so awful and there were all kinds of options.

She made endless cups of tea and consoled my partner in life. It was during her stay Ric asked if he could take a portrait of the two of us. He set up the camera in his studio and captured what to me, is one of the most raw and real portraits he has ever made.

Sometimes when I look at that photograph, I don’t recognize myself—there is no guard, no defense, no wall. What I see is one human being softly asking,  “Is anyone there? Do you see me?” and another responding, “I am here, and I have you”.

And that, is the power of asking.

Sisters ©Ric Kokotovich

In October 2012, I drove 6,800 kms with my artist husband, Ric Kokotovich (, and my dog Iggy, to spend 6 months in our adopted city of Merida. Leaving the fast paced world of Calgary behind, I packed my books, art and entrepreneurial spirit, and set off to explore what lay beyond the borders that had become my life. In October 2013 we hit the road south again, hoping to find out what ‘living the dream’ really means. This is my adventure.

16 comments on “Does ‘asking’ make you vulnerable or does asking make you visible?

  1. Mary Paston

    You made me weep….what a beautiful tribute to two beautiful women…I am so very proud to know and love you..thank you for writing is important.

    Sent from my iPad


    • Sometimes I do the same when I look at that photograph. But mostly it’s because I am so grateful for what and who I have. I am surrounded by such strong and beautiful women and when they are feeling fragile, I want them to know that I am here. Goes for the men in my life too, although they can be even less inclined to ask for help…I DO IT! lol xo

  2. Jessie mead

    Stunning photo and beautifully written, thank you Al.

    • I have to say, and it’s not just because he’s my partner in life, that Ric has a way of ‘capturar el alma’ (capturing the soul) with his photography…it is a real gift. Thanks for your note 🙂

  3. Such a beautiful picture and story. My sisters and I are this close. One problem…we have small hands and BIG breasts. Lets see what magic Ric can make with us.

  4. Wonderful sharing and a stunning shot. ;-D

  5. Alison you are an amazing women, please continue the writing I love reading your stories, they hit so close to home.

  6. So very, very beautiful, Alison. Beautiful writing, beautiful photography. Ric absolutely did capture the soul in this, the love, the determination, the strength. I feel so grateful that you shared this. Thank-you.

  7. So beautifully written. And a beautiful image of two incredibly strong women. You can change your I Do It to I Did It.

  8. I feel very fortunate to have both you and Ric in my world and was utterly speechless when Ric shared this photo with me a while back when working in Calgary. Not only is the photo riveting, but Ali your courage, wisdom and vulnerability is an inspiration to us all. Thanks for sharing because you know I think I always have to ‘I do it…’ but maybe, just maybe I don’t have to always do it by myself. Hugs T

  9. Her gutsiest blog yet. What a woman. Feel free to pass any of these on if they resonate with you too. Love ya. Heather

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