Rachel Hollis: Ladies, Learn to Advocate for Yourself

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Girl, Stop Apologizing" by Rachel Hollis. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are the two best ways to advocate for yourself? Why do people find it so difficult to ask for help?

In her book Girl, Stop Apologizing, Rachel Hollis highlights that it is especially difficult for women to stick up for themselves. The two best ways to advocate for yourself are to ask for help and to say “no.” But many women see asking for help as a sign of weakness and struggle to say “no” when asked to do something.

Here is how to advocate for yourself, according to Hollis.

Stand Your Ground

After building healthy habits and trusting your own authority, Hollis wants you to advocate for yourself. Speak up—unapologetically—because while your “village” wants to help, they can’t read your mind.

Hollis says the two best ways to advocate for yourself (and move more quickly toward your goal) is to ask for help when you need it and say no to requests that will hinder your progress. 

Ask For Help

Nobody is self-made. Hollis dispels the myth that it is possible to be a self-made millionaire, or a self-made anything for that matter. Everybody needs help, and the more successful a person is, the more help they’re utilizing.

Before Hollis ran a multimedia company, she was a party planner for the Hollywood elite. This experience gave her a unique view into the lives of the uber rich and famous. As she explains, in her experience, the more prominent the person is, the more help they have in their life. Nannies, maids, personal chefs, personal trainers, dieticians, and even house managers, all help run their households. Professionally, these people use publicists, managers, social media specialists, and more.

Hollis says she gets angry when celebrities claim during interviews that they’re able to “do it all” by being really organized, or a hard worker. It bothers her because it perpetuates the myth that if you were more organized, or a harder worker, you too could have success plus a healthy home life. This mentality causes shame because you will blame yourself for not accomplishing as much as others, when the truth is, successful people have lots of help.

How Important Is Luck?

People who succeed not only have help from others but from luck as well.

According to Scientific American, luck and opportunity play a large role in successful life outcomes. Certain studies led researchers to this hypothesis, including one that showed correlations between your birth month and your likelihood of becoming a CEO. Italian researchers then created a highly complex 40-year life simulation, in which all “participants” were given equal talent but differing levels of luck. The outcomes showed that those who were luckier at the start became more and more fortunate throughout their life and fared better in the end.

Researchers concluded that you must have talent and luck to be successful. Talent allowed the fortunate to make the most out of their lucky opportunities, which supports Thomas Jefferson’s famous quote: 
“I am a great believer in luck. And I find that the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

What Does Asking for Help Look Like?

Hollis reminds us that we each have an entire village that we can turn to when we need help. This help can come in different forms:

  • Emotional support from your loved ones when you feel like quitting
  • Financial support to help you get that college degree
  • Child care, help around the house, and so on

Hollis explains that help can come from a variety of sources. If you have the means, as previously noted, you can hire people to help you, but having money isn’t necessary to receive support. She suggests turning to a friend, family member, or your partner and asking for what you need—that is, advocating for yourself. Hollis adds that when we show gratitude and offer support in return, people are usually happy to help.

(Shortform note: One method of giving and receiving help simultaneously is bartering. Bartering has its roots in ancient culture, but after the Great Recession, it made a comeback. Some people live the bartering lifestyle to make their lives easier, for example by swapping eye exams for home renovations.)

Why Do We Struggle With Asking for Help?

Hollis acknowledges that asking for help isn’t easy. Women in particular tend to feel guilty for inconveniencing anybody else, and she is no exception. However, as she says, this guilt must be overcome.

Hollis suggests you combat this guilt by showing true appreciation and trading favors. For example, if a friend is helping watch your kids a few afternoons a week, offer to bring them dinner or pet sit when they go on vacation. Find a way that you can return the favor, and show your appreciation verbally and through your actions

(Shortform note: If you’re able to return the favor soon after you receive yours, this is a great practice. However, it should be acknowledged that relationships (friendships included) are rarely 50/50 (see Behavior 4: Stand Your Ground), so you might be returning the favor weeks or months later, and this is okay. For example, if a friend house sits for you in January, you can offer to house sit for them when they go on vacation in July.)

Hollis says another reason women struggle with asking for help is that they feel weak if they cannot “do it all” (see Excuse 6: “I Can’t Have It All”). She believes that women attach self-judgment to asking for help.

Remember, though, that work-life balance is a myth. As Hollis recommends, aim to be centered rather than balanced. The primary method of becoming centered is letting go of guilt over how you prioritize your time.

The Connection Between Help and Judgment

Brené Brown (shame expert and author of Daring Greatly) discusses in a 2013 interview with Oprah the connection between help and judgment. According to Brown, if you judge yourself when you ask for help, then you’re also judging others when you offer help. This can cause a bit of cognitive dissonance, as you’re likely thinking: I don’t judge others when they ask for help! However, consider this alternative viewpoint:

Try instead to view the need for help as a transaction. Acknowledge that you will help when somebody else needs it, and you will receive help when you need it. Taking this perspective will release any shame that you might otherwise feel when asking for help.

When to Ask for Help

According to Hollis, there will be specific times when you need to ask for help

1. When you have conflicting demands on your time, you might need help covering one part of your life while you focus on another. For example, if you have an important meeting to attend but your daughter also needs to be taken to her dentist appointment, you will need help. This might mean asking your partner, a family member, or friend for help, or hiring someone to take care of a task that is lower on your list of priorities.

(Shortform note: If you’re consistently finding that you don’t have enough time for your responsibilities, you should take a hard look at your priorities and eliminate what isn’t important. Asking for help because of a time crunch is okay in moderation, but others will grow tired of helping if they believe you’re chronically ill-scheduled. Consider embracing a minimalist mindset as a strategy. Minimalism isn’t just about physical possessions—fewer commitments means less mental clutter and more time.)

2. If it involves promotion or engagement, you will need to reach out to your social media followers, friends, and family. For example, if your dream is to be a successful singer, you will get there a lot faster if you ask your friends and family to help get the word out about your shows, new albums, and so on. 

(Shortform note: Promoting yourself (particularly through social media) can be awkward and intimidating for many people. Luckily, there are people who thrive in this arena. Look into hiring a social media specialist to help you with your marketing. A social media manager can create a unique voice for your business and connect you to the right audience. If money is tight, a high school or college student with their finger on the pulse is often an excellent and economically responsible choice.)

3. When you have a knowledge gap, you might need to find a teacher or mentor. This could also mean taking a class to expand your knowledge or skills.

Filling Your Knowledge Gap

Hollis has an anecdote in her book about enrolling in a Harvard business course to help her learn finances. She took the class, passed it, and retained nothing. Her takeaway was that college courses aren’t how she learns best, and that we need to choose a learning method that matches our personal style. Luckily, there are dozens of learning avenues to choose from:

Take an online course through sites like Udemy or LinkedIn Learning. These sites are excellent for learning a specific skill in detail, such as Microsoft Excel or portrait drawing.

Search for YouTube tutorials. These are free and are useful when looking for shortcuts and quick tips. YouTube is also a great source for learning hands-on activities in which you need visual instruction.

Enroll in a college course. Community colleges will let you sign up for individual classes without paying bulk tuition, and in some universities you can audit a class if you want the learning but don’t care about having credit on a transcript.

Find a mentor. If you know somebody who is working in the field you want to be in, offer to assist them for free in exchange for training and insight. 

Read books, online articles, interviews—whatever you can get your hands on that will help you learn your subject.

Attend seminars and other group gatherings if you learn best through social experiences. Online seminars have also become quite popular.

Say No

Beyond asking for help when you need it, Hollis’s second way of advocating for yourself is saying “no.” She recognizes that it is difficult for most people, but insists that once you master it, you will discover how freeing it is. As she explains, declining requests without guilt allows you to reserve your energies for the areas of your life that are most important to you.

How do you know when to say no? To help you decide, Hollis recommends you start by making a simple list of your priorities (example: your health, your marriage, your children, your career, and so on.). Every request made of you will either support one of these priorities or take away from it. 

If the request isn’t going to serve your priorities, Hollis says you should politely decline. She notes two exceptions, however. First, if it brings you joy for the sake of joy. We all need laughter and stress relief. In these cases, she says your answer will feel like an immediate “yes!”. Second, if you’re helping someone in a bind. Hollis points out that it is noble to take one for the team in a pinch, but make sure this isn’t your regular role.

When you’ve decided to say no, Hollis recommends doing it in the following way:

  • As soon as possible: She says that if you wait too long, you will either end up doing the request (cue the bitter resentment) or you will say no too late and put the other person in a difficult position.
  • Be polite but honest: Don’t make up a reason for why you can’t meet the request, because they’ll likely find a solution for you. Rather, be honest with kindness. If you’re unsure how to decline, Hollis suggests you tell the other person that you’re unable to make any new commitments right now because it will take away time from your family. 
  • Be firm: Hollis advises against saying “maybe” or “probably” unless you truly are undecided and need to check your schedule or move something around. As she points out, if you use maybe/probably as a way to avoid saying no, the person will follow up with you and drag out the whole process, making it even more painful for both of you.

By asking for help and getting comfortable with saying no, you will be advocating for your own needs with clear communication and boundaries. Hollis strongly believes that this will take you further in all of your endeavors.

Reframing Your Thinking: A No Is a Yes

In Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown argues that for every “no” you deliver, you’re really saying “yes” to something else

For example, if your friends invite you to dinner and it would mean missing family game night, instead of thinking, “I’m saying no to my friends,” reframe your thinking into, “I’m saying yes to my family.” 

In this same chapter, he also offers some creative ways to decline an invitation for those who feel the word “no” is too harsh or daunting. Here are some examples:

Pause: After the request, pause for a moment before answering. Often, the requestor will make an adjustment that benefits you because they feel awkward. For example, if your boss asks you to stay late, and you pause before answering, she might follow up with an offer to let you leave early the next day (or some other way to sweeten the deal). 

Offer an alternative: If you are uncomfortable completing the request, try offering what you are willing to do. For example, if a friend asks to borrow your car to take to the airport, try saying, “I can’t do that, but I will take you to the airport if you’d like.” It shows that you want to help, but you still keep your boundary.

Ask them to prioritize: For example, let’s say a friend asks you to dinner but you already have plans to go to the movies with them later that week. Say, “I only have time for one outing this week—would you rather go to the movies or dinner? I’m down for either one.” This doesn’t feel like rejection to the other person, so the “no” is less likely to be challenged.
Rachel Hollis: Ladies, Learn to Advocate for Yourself

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Rachel Hollis's "Girl, Stop Apologizing" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Girl, Stop Apologizing summary :

  • Rachel Hollis's lessons she learned while building a multimillion-dollar company
  • Why "having it all" isn't something you should aspire to
  • Why women need to stop trying to fit society's idea of a "good woman"

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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