Helping others is something I care a great deal about, but it’s also one of the things that quickly grows to frustrate me. It’s disappointing to see that people seem so willing to exploit the generousity of others rather than improve themselves by attempting to accomplish things themselves first.
It is easy to sit idle, and count upon others to accomplish your goals for you. It is much harder to attempt to complete these goals yourself, and failure can be difficult, but if you never try you can never succeed and, as a result, you can never become more that you are now.
Beating a Dead Horse?
Sadly, this isn’t a new topic for me. I always try and push those that I know to try things before they ask for help. If they need help after that, it makes life easier for everyone involved. Having attempted to solve a problem, you understand it better, and you can communicate it better.
I’m a studies advisor at the University of Ulster, currently helping first year students to build a solid foundation for their practice going forward. I also know students in the other years of the course, and am frequently approached by students looking for me to tell them how to do their work.
My frustration with this approach eventually reached a boiling point, which lead to me posting the following on Facebook1:
I’m probably going to end up posting this nearer the start of the second semester of IMD, but I want say this before then. If you want help with a design or development related problem, please make the effort to ensure that you need help with it.
If it is blatantly obvious that you haven’t tried to solve the problem yourself, then I don’t see a reason that I should do your work for you. I’ll guide you in how to do the work yourself but, if you persist in laziness, then I will stop helping you altogether.
There are many tools out there that can help you identify problems in the work you’re doing. Web Inspector for Chrome and Safari. Dragonfly for Opera. If you’re using Firefox to build websites, and don’t have Firebug installed, then you are both foolish and really missing out.
I don’t mind people asking for help when they’ve run into a dead end and simply cannot work it out. I’m tired of people who come to me and clearly haven’t tried to work things out themselves.
If you don’t try and work things out yourself, you will be continually dependant upon the help of others. If you’re dependant upon others, how can you ever hope to do anything yourself?
Learning Through Doing
There are many ways to learn new things. My personal favourite is to learn through doing. This approach can be pretty stressful but, in my experience, also results in a more rapid development of skills. It also leads to a better understanding of problems.
In my time as a studend I have developed several skills, many of which are code related. I have also developed skills that relate to my writing and my presenting. Whilst some of this has been through seeing how others approach these problems, much of it comes through throwing myself at the things I wanted to learn, and people have seen my progress in these various areas.
It is easy to see when someone hasn’t attempted to learn something, as their requests for help quickly devolve into a game of 20 questions… where you try and work out what the actual problem is by asking questions until you either work it out or you simply give up on trying to help.
If you are asking for help it is your job to make it easy for people to help you.
Why? If you want someone to help you, you want to make it easy for the person you ask to help you. You don’t want it to be a chore for them. They are doing you a favour, something that they don’t need to be doing. Asking someone to help you repeatedly, and making it a laborious task, will cause them to stop helping you.
Personally, I dislike using Facebook. However, it is currently being used as a means of communication with students from all years of the course. As such the platform was the best, and most convenient, method to communicate with the group I wanted to target with the original message. Also, it was well outside of twitter’s 140 character limit. ↩