Asking for Help Is a Sign of Strength
Updated: May 12
In this episode of the Impostor Syndrome Files, we talk about asking for help. Many of us love to help others but we are uncomfortable asking for what we need. But what if not asking for help not only hurts us but also hurts those who would otherwise help us? My guest this week, Emmett Tomkinson, shares their vision of our world as a collective that is designed to share help and that those who give help benefit just as much as those who receive it. We also talk about how you can get more involved in this effort.
About My Guest:
Emmett Tomkinson lives in Seattle with their wife and two kids. They work as a Customer Success Specialist Engineer in the tech space. They have a unique gift of excelling both technically and interpersonally and are driven by a love for helping people. They are originally from Utah – born and raised in a very conservative religious environment. As a member of the LGBTQ community, this religious upbringing has had a big impact on their life. They recently came out as transgender – female to male – and currently use they/them pronouns. Emmett is a musician and they love to sing, play the guitar, and play the piano. They like to spend their free time playing Zelda with their kids or working out in the yard.
Connect with Emmett here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/emmett-tomkinson-%F0%9F%8F%B3%EF%B8%8F%E2%80%8D%E2%9A%A7%EF%B8%8F-08400a67/
About Unified Collective: helping people help each other
Unified Collective is a group dedicated to helping people help each other. Through an online forum, members of the community can reach out for assistance, and other members can respond to those needs. These help requests will come in all shapes and sizes. Some examples might include:
Help talking through a tough situation with your boss or a co-worker
Help getting a second pair of eyes on your resume for typos or formatting errors
Help feeling uplifted on a gloomy day. Maybe there’s someone in another part of the world who can share some sunshine over a video chat.
Help staying accountable to a commitment you’ve made to yourself
Help understanding how to navigate the stock market
This initiative was born out of the belief that we are one collective entity. Each of us is a puzzle piece in a giant picture. We all have parts of our lives that are missing something, and we have parts of our lives that are in excess. And miraculously, where one person is missing something, another person has a puzzle piece that will fit the missing gap perfectly. There is a beautiful balance that occurs when this connection happens because each person has an equal need. The person giving of their time and resources is in need of that opportunity to serve just as much as the person on the receiving end. It is our hope that through this initiative, we will all find meaningful connections that help us reach our goals and bring greater depth and purpose to our lives.
We hope that you will join us over on Slack in the Your Career Success #unified-collective channel.
Connect with Kim and The Impostor Syndrome Files:
Join the free Impostor Syndrome Challenge.
Learn more about the Leading Humans discussion group
Join the Slack channel to learn from, connect with and support other professionals.
Schedule time to speak with Kim Meninger directly about your questions/challenges.
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Kim Meninger Welcome, Emmett. I am so excited to have this conversation with you today, I usually only have the opportunity to, to talk to you in a group setting. So the, the chance to talk with you one on one is such a treat. And I’m thrilled that we’re here today. And I’d love to start by inviting you to introduce yourself.
Emmett Tomkinson Thanks, Kim. Yeah, I’m really looking forward to it as well. I love our you know, our discussions that we have every week, I feel like it’s a great opportunity to get to know other people. And I always find those discussions to be so deep but, but yeah, I am originally from Utah, I now live in Seattle. But I was born and raised in the heart of Utah, in Provo, Utah, which is just about an hour south of Salt Lake City. And I moved to Seattle when I was 33 years old. Kind of jumping off of a cliff, knowing that I was going to be caught on the other side sort of scenario where I, I just really felt compelled to, to move here. And it’s been the best thing I ever did. That’s been fantastic. I have been working in tech for about 1213 years now. I got my start in like tech support, and learned pretty quickly that I was really good at it. And that I really enjoy helping people. And like, that’s what lights me out. That’s what sparks me is if I can help somebody that just makes me so happy. And so I’ve pursued that kind of path. gone around a few different ways I was in like cybersecurity for a short period of time. And then I shifted towards software. So, so I now work for VMware, which is how I became acquainted with, with you through one of their webinars. And I work as I’m like a very high touch, customer success. touchpoint. So it’s my job to help customers ensure that they’re getting value from our, from our products. So, so that’s, that’s me, in a nutshell also, of note is that I do belong to the LGBTQ community. I came out of the closet as lesbian when I was 30 years old. And then I actually came out as trans just earlier this summer. So I am in the process right now of transitioning. So yeah, that’s been a pretty big life change for me. But so far, it’s been going really well.
Kim Meninger And I am so grateful to you for sharing that. And I’m curious because when we think about imposter syndrome, we tend to think about that feeling of being a fraud. But I think that when you think about gender identity, there’s a whole other level of imposter ism when, like I can imagine when you’re thinking about like, not feeling like you’re in the, the gender. I don’t even know what language to use here. But like, can you talk a little bit about what that decision process looked like for you? And like, how has it, how has it been for you and this journey, or particularly over the past year or so?
Emmett Tomkinson Yeah, definitely. It’s interesting because I think I just got there was a lot of conditioning going on, in my brain in regards to being a woman and fitting into that role. Kind of convincing myself that I was comfortable in that body. When in reality I wasn’t. So I never like at a conscious level, I never felt like I was in an imposter. Living, living life as a woman. I did feel at a very young age, like five years old, four years old. Like there was a mistake. I was in the wrong body. Like, like, I and I put it like that plainly, like talking to my mom one day, right? And I was so young and, you know, being in the religious environment that I was raised in. It just wasn’t even acceptable for me to hurt, you know, transitioning just was not, not something that was acceptable. And so, I learned that at a really young age, and I just buried it really, really deeply You know, pretty much as soon as I expressed curiosity about it, I was told that it really wasn’t an option. And, and I was so young, you know, it really was just kind of a curious, curious question and but I buried my, my transgender identity even deeper than I did. My, the fact, the fact that I’m that I was attracted to someone of the same gender, right? So I, you know, it was 12 years, between the time that I came out of the closet, the first time, to the time I came on the second time. And the process of actually coming to the place where I was ready to come out as trans. It all came about because I, over the last year I’ve been, I’ve, I’ve been on a journey of really changing my thoughts. And as a result of changing my thoughts, I’ve been able to change my life. So like, I just, I stopped saying should, and I started saying could instead. And that just opened up this world of possibilities and of listening to myself, like really checking in with my heart, and letting go of all of the pressure and all the expectations that were put on me, and just figuring out what did I want. And, and that helped me get in touch with my body. And as a process of getting in touch with my body, my body was like, Hey, I’m trans. And, and it, and I had thought about it, you know, in the past, but I was just so scared of it. And so scared of, of, of the implications of that of like losing my connection with my family and all sorts of stuff. But, but it’s all worked out. Like it’s just, it’s interesting how it was just kind of a snowball effect. Just by changing my thoughts, I was able to eventually come out of this trance. Really interesting. Yeah.
Kim Meninger So I think so much about psychological safety when I think about everything. And I tend to focus on the workplace because that’s where I do most of my work. But I’m just thinking about your journey and what you’re describing, especially when you talked about the fear of what it would do to your relationships with your family. And we are in a political climate right now that has villainized, the trans community and just really horrific ways. And so how do you think about your own safety as you navigate these different aspects of your life, whether it’s work, whether it’s family, whether it’s the larger community?
Emmett Tomkinson I remember when I was, when I was deciding to come out when I was deciding to tell my family about this. And to tell everybody about this, I just I remember someone saying at some point, somewhere, like you need to do what, what is right for you. Like, like, this is your life to live. And staying, sticking to your truth is what is going to bring you the greatest degree of happiness in your life. And it’s a really simple concept. But it was very important for me to realize like, this is your life to live. And that, in and of itself has helped me be psychologically safe in this decision. Because I knew that I was doing this. For me, like, this is what my soul needed. And I I luckily, I live in Seattle, where it’s so widely accepted, and there are gender-neutral bathrooms all over the place. And it’s, it’s, it’s a very, very accepting part of the world. And I will not deny that and it’s difficult to know that there are so many injustice is happening in other, in other parts of the world, and I’m still in the process of learning about those things and learning about how out I might be able to make a difference. And I don’t know yet but, um, but I do feel for my trans, you know, siblings who are living in places like Florida or Texas or other places where it’s just not safe for them, you know?
Kim Meninger Yeah, absolutely. And I’m so glad that you’re in a, in a safe place, you know, generally speaking. And you know, with one of the things that’s so clear to me from the conversations we have every week in the leading humans group is just how thoughtful you are about humanity and life. And I just wonder, how do you, how do you find time to reflect because so many people are so busy, and there’s just so I find that that often feels either too scary to do to really just kind of have that connection to your thoughts, or we find reasons not to because we’re just so busy, and we’ve got so many other things that we’re thinking about, like do you, do you have a recognizable sort of process for reflecting and for staying so introspective, or just, just kind of happened naturally?
Emmett Tomkinson Honestly, it just kind of happens naturally. I, I think that’s actually something that I can thank my religious upbringing for. Because I was taught from a very young age to pray often, and to follow, like, follow the promptings from a higher power very closely. And so I definitely believe that there are good things that can come from any religion. And so I’m grateful for the for that, because I think it has, it actually did teach me like to take time when you’re making decisions and like, really listen to yourself and, and take, take a moment, and it allowed, it gave me the opportunity to hone that skill.
Kim Meninger And does it? Like how do you manage the, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, because I may just be projecting, I’m thinking, if I gave myself the space to think like that I might overwhelm myself because I have a lot of anxiety. I’m somebody who, if I’m being honest, I probably do things I don’t even realize to quiet my thoughts. Like I am constantly in a state of, like, I’m always listening to podcasts, or even if I walk from one room to the next, I’m like, turning on my podcast, I’m like, never at peace, and never in this quiet space with my thoughts. So is it a peaceful place for you? Like do you feel link?
Emmett Tomkinson Not always. Not always, I overthink things. All the time, I will get lost in my head, I will, I, I have anxiety, sometimes as well. And I, I sometimes I, I go in I, I start to go introspectively. And I just go a little bit too deep. And it can lead to these places of like, depression or hopelessness or things like that. So but, but, but I think one of the things that we’ve talked about before in our group is finding our strengths. Recognizing our strengths, right? And recognizing that every person has different strengths. We’re all part of this giant, collective. And one of the, one of the personality profile types that I ascribe to is called Human Design. And I won’t go into the details during this, during this podcast episode. If people want to look it up, they can, but my personality type in human design is the personality type that relies on their gut for yes or no answers throughout their life. That is a gift that I have been given. And it’s part of my design that I that I’m, I’m able to do that my wife cannot. My wife is she relies on talking things through. So in order for her to know whether something is right or wrong in her life, she needs to talk about it with a handful of people and hear words coming out of her mouth. And then through that process, she’s able to know whether or not so we all have these different personality types and your, you know, your abilities or inabilities to like be quiet or introspective might not be a good thing or a bad thing, right? It’s obviously you are doing amazing things in this world. So I’m not about to tell you that you need to own those skills, right? We all have our strengths. And it’s, it’s important to recognize those strengths.
Kim Meninger I so appreciate that perspective, because as we’ve talked about in those conversations, it’s so easy to beat yourself up over the things that you don’t do or that you think you don’t do well enough. And there’s a place for, for all of it. And I think I definitely identify with the way you described your wife, I’m a verbal processor, I like to go out. And so it’s probably very consistent with what we’re talking about. And so, you know, I think if it for me, one of the things is people always talk about your meditation and quieting your mind. And yes, I have struggled with a lot of anxiety over the years, but I don’t feel like my way of doing things is broken. I don’t feel like it’s disruptive. Maybe it is in ways that I haven’t recognized yet. But I think that’s where I’ve been coming on my journey is to stop trying to fix the things that aren’t broken, you know, just so I’m trying, trying to beat myself up over the things that maybe I do differently, but it works, it works for me so..
Emmett Tomkinson Well, and we’re, we’re we are a giant machine with a lot of different parts, that all do different things, and to say that one person’s ability to meditate and stop and, and think about things in that way, is like the only way to do things. That’s just not true. We all, we all have a, there’s like a value, you find a balance within yourself of like, all of the different things. And if you’re always defaulting to the same mode, every time you have to do something, you’re gonna lose out on other ways of doing things in your life. So it’s important to find that, that balance and build skills, you can always take your primary skill that you’re strong at and figure out how can I use this strength to build strength in another area in my life?
Kim Meninger Well, and I really want to pause on what you just said too, about it being a giant machine, and this, this sort of collective language that you’ve been using, because that is something that I’m so fascinated by whenever you talk about how you see the world and the interconnections among people. And can you share a little bit more about? I know, it’s probably hard to answer in a, just a brief response to this question, but, but what is that vision that you have of humanity as this collective?
Emmett Tomkinson Yeah, so I’m going to tell a really quick story. There’s a spot that my wife and I really like to go to, it’s on an island that’s in the Puget Sound. And it’s just this house that’s surrounded by a forest. And there’s just some great, like healing energy that’s there. And a couple of years ago, with during one of our stays there, I just had this overwhelming realization while he was there, that everything in this world is connected energetically like we all like energy flows in and out of us. And you know, this is m, it’s wielu moments are happening right now. But like, we’re all connected in some way, we’re connected to the nation to nature around us and are connected to each other. And what happens in my life impacts your life so that I had that realization. And then over the last like year, I remember it was several months ago, I, I had this picture in my head where I realized that we are all individual puzzle pieces in this world. And as such, we all have like we have gaps. And we have a little knobs that come off of puzzle pieces, right. And the cool thing is that we all fit together. So in an area in my life where I am lacking, you have access. And if we can find a way to fit those two pieces together, then we can really help each other. And not only is it filling the gap for someone else when that connection happens, but it’s also helping the person with the knob. It’s helping them realize their full potential. Because there’s a reason why they have that there’s like it’s actually a really good thing to be able to bring, bring those two things together because you’re helping both of those people live a more full life.
Kim Meninger I so love and appreciate that perspective. And I think that one of the challenges in this is probably a very American thing. It’s not necessarily true for other cultures is just how much we emphasize individualism and in this country in particular and this sort of pressure that so many of us feel whether it comes from this achievement orientation or perfectionism, whatever the case may be is like I’m not good enough the way I am I You need to do everything myself, I need to do more. And I have to be go broad and deep. And like it’s, it’s a weakness for me to depend on other people in some way. And so, I wonder, here, there’s no easy answer to this question. But I wonder how you think about how do we get more comfortable as pieces in that puzzle, with the idea that it’s not weak to actually be to ask for that support or to take take the excess from somebody else, but that it’s actually feeding the health of the system? That you’re?
Emmett Tomkinson Mm-hmm. Yeah, I mean, asking for help, is, whether it’s coming from a place of insecurity, or a place of pride, it’s hard to do. And, and I agree, I hear you, there’s this like, concept of like, I gotta, I gotta do it all on my own. Especially as, as women, as you know, someone who did live my life as a woman for such a long time. Like, there’s just this concept of like, I gotta go, go, go. And I gotta make sure that, you know, that I’m not reliant on other people in my life in order to get things done. And it’s, I would, I would just, I would go back to that concept that, by you asking for help, you’re helping someone else. And I actually think it’s a sign of weakness if you don’t ask for help because there’s, there’s no way for anybody, anybody in this world to survive if you don’t get help from someone else at some point in your life. Like, it’s literally impossible. We, we cannot function on an island, from, you know, from the moment that we’re, that we’re born. So we really need each other. And it’s, it’s a sign of strength. And I think on your resume, it’s a big sign of strength. If you show I collaborated with this team in order to get this done, and I had teamwork, working with your colleagues, as someone who’s sat in on many interviews, showing that you know how to work with other people in order to get the job done is like really important.
Kim Meninger I think that’s a really good way to think about it too. Because there are ways like you said, we none of us is an island. And so we’re all benefiting from the support of other people. But there are times when we don’t realize that and so there are these moments when we have to deliberately ask for help that feel like a, like a sign of weakness, or, you know, this big, vulnerable moment. I think that just really reorienting our minds towards this notion of teamwork is really helpful. Like I’ll often say, when talking to people about the workplace that work is a team sport. It’s not an individual sport, I think many of us show up as almost an I’ve never played sport. So I’m terrible with sports analogy. But we try to be, you know, the pitcher and the catcher in every, every, every player on the team, as opposed to saying, This is my role on the team, thank God, you’re there. So I don’t have to worry about catching. And really not seeing it as Oh, I’m not good enough, because they don’t have this, but I have this piece and you have this piece. And that makes it stronger because we can all work together.
Emmett Tomkinson And I would just like to acknowledge the impact that COVID and the remote workplace has had on this equation, right? It really requires as someone who has been, I now work from home full time, and it requires a whole new level of learning how to reach outside of yourself in order to get help, like, but this is kind of the new normal. And so I think we’re gonna see a lot of people learning that skill, learning how to ask for help and when to ask for help. When do I know like, Hey, I’ve done everything that I can? And now it’s time Desperate for some assistance, you know?
Kim Meninger Yeah, yeah, that’s a really good point too, because I think there is this absence now of visual cues and sort of the feedback that we would get used to having. And now, it becomes that much more of a high-pressure situation to say, Okay, how is my ask justified? Have I done enough legwork? Like, would someone else ask for help at this point where there’s just so much of this uncertainty that creates this anxiety?
Emmett Tomkinson Yeah, well, one, one rule of thumb that I’ve learned to adopt, which my boss actually helped me with is spend 30 minutes on it. If you’ve spent 30 minutes and you and you’re, you’re not getting anywhere, and you feel like you’re spending your wheels, go ahead and ask for help. You know, that way, you’ve, you’ve done what you could at least, least for the problems I’m, I’m working on, it might be different if you’re in a different role. But find a period of time and then go ahead and follow that as your, as your rule. You know.
Kim Meninger I really liked that, because I’m someone who often advocates for perfectionism timers, too. And it’s kind of similar. And if you have been agonizing over your email for more than 15 minutes, you’re getting no additional return on that investment. That those limits because you’re, you’re just making your own life harder, and you’re not actually increasing the quality of the product.
Emmett Tomkinson I’m glad you said that I needed that lesson for sure.
Kim Meninger So are you in a place where and you can come back again, in the future, if not today, where you’re comfortable sort of sharing your vision for what you’ve been thinking about in terms of how to create a, a, I don’t want to put words in your mouth again. But [yeah] healthy envision that you’ve started to think about?
Emmett Tomkinson Absolutely. So I really felt compelled to start some sort of Initiative, where through online forums or an app or something, we can start helping people help each other. So you know, we might just start out with a Slack channel. But when you need help with something, you reach out on that channel, and say, you know, whatever is you whatever it is you need help with, and then someone can respond and say, I’ve got access, you know, I’ve, I’m ready, I’m your puzzle piece, I’ve got the knob, me ready, ready to go and help you fulfill whatever it is that you need help with. And then just helping connect those two people. I’m the type of person who like, I, I struggle with black-and-white thinking. So when I first had this idea, I was like, gotta go 100% Got to build an app, got to build a website, got to do all these things. And then I was like, maybe I can just start small, just start with a Slack channel. And then, then eventually, I would just love to have an organization, some sort of, you know, being on, on various platforms, connecting people. And at a local level and a global level. I’m just helping people find the help that they need. So I think we’re gonna go ahead and like roll out a Slack channel and then see where we go from, from there on your, on your Slack domain. So anybody who’s part of that domain, keep an eye out for that. But yeah, that was kind of my, my vision. But I’d love any questions that you have to kind of flesh it out a little bit more.
Kim Meninger Yeah, I just, I love, I love the vision. And I think one of the things that you and I started to talk about really briefly to is even just being able to spell out some examples of what help looks like because I think that for some people, they haven’t allowed themselves to ask for help in a long time. They don’t even know what help might look like. And so you know that we have certain ideas about what help might be, but there are a lot of different types of help. And so to just be able to articulate, here’s some, here’s some possibilities that you might want to think about.
Emmett Tomkinson Yeah, definitely. So a few different ideas. Like hey, I’m, I’m trying to work through some interpersonal conflict at work. And I need to talk with this person about some things that they’ve said that really bothered me, but I’m not sure how to have that conversation. Is there someone out there who would be willing to like hop on a zoom call with me and talk through this with me and help me practice? Like that would be an IT Ask. Another ask could be, like in this is at the like the global level, but hey, it’s the middle of the winter here in Seattle, and it’s really dark. And I would love to have a chat with someone in Australia every week, so that you can share some of your sunshine with me, right? Um, something like that. Or, like, eventually, if we were at like a, like a local level, it could be someone saying, I was having trouble getting my car to start this morning. And I’m not sure what’s going on is there, you know, someone in the air and who’s familiar with cars, who could maybe help me take a look, you know, and it really would be a matter of like finding people who are, who wouldn’t take advantage of the system and wouldn’t take advantage of each other. We certainly don’t want people to be losing out on the ability to support their lives and their business because of this community. But so often, people are looking for ways that they can serve other people. You know, and maybe you have a neighbor down the street, who isn’t a professional mechanic that they know about cars, and they’d be happy to come over and help you take a look. But, but as far as like the Slack channel, just kind of kicking things off, I think, you know, interpersonal advice, or, Hey, is there someone out there who would take just a quick glance at my resume, and let me know if you see any typos? Or anybody out there, I’ve got a big interview coming up. And I would love to have a little bit of practice, something like that, you know, just like little asks, here and there. Understanding that there are some people who do these types of services for a career for, you know, for their living. But I think giving a little bit here, and Barris is feasible.
Kim Meninger Absolutely. And one of the things I love about that concept, too, is that it gives visibility to the asking for help process because that’s often a private thing. It’s not we don’t often see somebody asking somebody for help on something. And so we don’t realize how, quote unquote normal that is to do right. So we feel like, oh, everyone else is handling this just fine. Everyone else has it figured out. So it must be my problem that I can’t do this myself, as opposed to being able to normalize that experience and say, Oh, look at how many people are asking for help or offering to help or whatever the case may be. Maybe it isn’t such a bad idea for me to ask.
Emmett Tomkinson Yeah, I love that. Yeah, let’s go. I mean, I will raise my hand right now and say, I will be the first person who asks for help in this forum. Because lately, my ADHD has been like, really, really a big struggle for me. And I would love to connect with someone who also has ADHD and learn about what are some coping techniques and strategies that you use. Like, that’ll be my first ask, hopefully, someone out there will feel comfortable. Maybe they’re not comfortable in the public forum saying like, Hey, me, but they could DM me and say, Hey, let’s chat, you know, so. So yeah.
Kim Meninger Love it. Yeah. And you’re right. That’s the beauty of slack too, is that you can engage publicly or privately so you can protect your own confidentiality if you want to. Yeah, I think that’s so great. And so we’re absolutely going to share more about this as we move forward. And for those of you who are interested in learning more, where can people find you on it?
Emmett Tomkinson Yeah, definitely. So they can find me on LinkedIn, Emmett Tomkinson, you’re welcome to just put my whole name in the podcast description there. And I can, I can give you a link to my LinkedIn as well. But feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn. And then Kim will be sending out some communication as well. About, you know, once we kind of get this ball rolling about, about the initiative, so yep.
Kim Meninger Wow. So thank you so much for having this conversation with me today. Do you have any final thoughts before we wrap up?
Emmett Tomkinson I’m just, we’re all in this together. So let’s, let’s help each other out. Love it.
Kim Meninger I’m excited for the helping revolution.
Emmett Tomkinson Yeah. Thank you so much. Thanks, Kim. It was great chatting with you.