Sunday, April 04, 2021

If you need help ask for it

In his poem, “How to Be Perfect,” Ron Padgett writes, “If you need help, ask for it.” Padgett’s poem is full of sage advice, but that line about asking for help when needing it rings quite true now.

In an earlier column, I was clear about my intention to patiently wait my turn to schedule a COVID-19 vaccine based on my state’s vaccine distribution plan. I did sign up for the state’s preregistration system which is designed to alert eligible residents when their time has come and to walk them through the appointment process. But I was reluctant to ask for help trying to find a vaccine appointment out of concern that I might end up taking a spot from someone more in need who was ahead of me in line.

My time came on a recent Monday. I started searching online for available appointments at mass vaccination sites, pharmacies, or other outlets. Given that several hundred thousand more people became eligible the same day as I did, it was no surprise that I failed.

I tried again on Tuesday right as I woke up to start the day at 4:30 a.m. Failure. Throughout the rest of the day, failure. My family and friends sent helpful suggestions. None worked. No word ever came from the preregistration system.

Late on Tuesday afternoon, in between Zoom meetings and other work, it crossed my mind to call my city’s helpline to see if I might be able to book something over the phone. It’s the same line I call when my trash is missed on pickup day. The answerer patiently told me the line didn’t do this, but then asked me how old I was.

“64,” I told her.

“You should try Age Strong, which provides services to senior citizens in the city,” she said. She gave me the number.

It had never crossed my mind to look to services for older citizens for help. But I am one and I called the next morning to give Age Strong my information. About four hours later, a woman from Age Strong called back and helped me book an appointment for the next day. She kept me on the phone long enough to make sure I received a confirmation text. “Be kind to old people, even when they are obnoxious,” Padgett writes in his poem. “When you become old, be kind to young people.”

I received my first vaccination the next day from a young woman just out of nursing school. She was kind, although I don’t believe I was obnoxious. By the time I went to sit in the area set aside for the 15-minute observation post vaccination, I received a text confirming the appointment for my second vaccination three weeks later.

It took far less time than many people face trying to book a vaccine, but I had found myself growing frustrated. I am guilty of not always asking for help when I need it. But as soon as I embraced the idea that it’s the right thing to ask for help when needed, my fortunes turned.

“Calm down,” Padgett writes in his poem. I am calmer now and I am hopeful that others find success in navigating the vaccine process and embracing the idea that they should ask for help when they need it.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues.

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin. 


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