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Credit: Ben Joergens

I recently had a realization: I don’t have to do everything by myself. I know what you’re thinking. Either "duh," or "Really, drop the martyr act." But I’m serious. I’ve sent out 23 job applications in the hopes of finding a good summer job and I’ve heard back from approximately two. Rather, I’ve been rejected from approximately two. But the other day my friend asked, “Have you asked your professors for any recommendations?” My head shot up and the tips of my ears began to burn. “No, I hadn’t thought of that,” I replied, shocked and a little demoralized by own words. 

Part of the appeal of Penn is forging the connections we would otherwise not have at smaller, less prestigious schools. So why hadn't I capitalized on the opportunity to ask my professors for job suggestions? Professors have built their lives and careers into mountains others can only wish to scale. But, the bigger issue is something many of us can relate to and something I grapple with everyday: the issue of asking others for help.

Penn’s competitive culture is a fantastic motivator. It’s also a fantastic reason to feel an awful trepidation when asking for help, whether that help be in reference to a simple homework question or a major search for a post-grad job. This competitive atmosphere can trick you into thinking no one else is struggling or confused or a little bit lost, deterring you from reaching out and asking for the guidance that you need. Balancing the competition with the motivation it simultaneously instills is part of being a productive Penn student. It’s difficult, and something many have yet to master. Recognizing that maximizing on your connections does not sacrifice your independence is a good place to begin this balancing act. 

I like to do things by myself. My first reaction when faced with a crisis is a flurry of thoughts concerning what I can personally do to solve the problem. Bringing someone else into the mix isn’t my first thought — it isn’t even my tenth thought. But being at Penn has taught me that it’s not a bad thing to reach out and ask for assistance from someone who not only knows more about something than you do, but is happy and willing to help. 

A fear of asking for help is, in part, a fear of rejection. Though competition may run thick among Penn students, our professors don’t fall within this rat race. Independence does not always equate to strength, and sometimes the stronger thing to do is recognizing a gap in your own knowledge and leaning on someone else who has what you lack. 

Credit: Jean Chapiro

To a certain extent, pride is also at fault for this phenomenon. I am stubbornly unwilling to admit when I need help because my ego doesn’t like to be bruised. But I have to ask myself which feels worse: not getting something when I could have easily asked for help, or getting something and thanking the person who helped me? 

Penn has a remarkable network of alumni and professors. As Penn students, we would be wasting the gift of a Penn education if we weren’t using these resources to the best of our ability. There is honor in recognizing when you need help, and there are constant sources of help and knowledge at your disposal here at Penn. Don’t let its competitive culture dishearten you from acknowledging when someone knows more about something. I like doing things by myself, and I can still do things by myself … after I’ve asked my professors for a nudge in the right direction. 

SOPHIA DUROSE is a College sophomore from Orlando, Fla. studying English. Her email is sdurose@sas.upenn.edu. 

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