If there’s one habit of mine that annoys my wife more than any other, it’s the near constant use of movie quotes in everyday conversation. What annoys her the most is that I remember things from some obscure movie but not to mail the letter or buy paper towels. It’s just how my mind works: I remember conversations whether real or produced. Sometimes, though, there’s a benefit when I remember a great piece of advice that by all accounts I should have forgotten.

The summer I turned 16, I worked for the construction company where my dad spent 30 years as a finish carpenter. I had the job of working with Jack the painter. He was then about five years from retirement and he lived for two things; Pall Malls and Blackjack. Every weekend he was headed somewhere to play cards and smoke. He was laid back, fun and full of worldly wisdom that he loved to share with anyone that would listen.

One day during one of our many breaks, I overheard him talking to one of the dry wallers about how to gamble. The guy Jack was talking to didn’t know how to play Blackjack. Jack told him that his lack of knowledge was a strength and he gave him great advice on how to use it, and it’s advice that works for almost every other life situation.

Jack said that if you sit down at an empty table and tell the dealer that you’ve never played before, the dealer will go out of her way to help you. He said that they want you to have a good time so that you hang around and play, and that it’s in their best interest to help you. He said it works every time.

Twenty years later, I can tell you that he was right. I’ve never played Blackjack, but I’ve used his advice everywhere else and it has worked nearly every time. Airline clerks, hotel managers, restaurant servers and almost anyone else will go out of their way to help you if you admit your ignorance and ask for help. People have a deep-seated need to feel important. When we admit that someone knows something we don’t, they become eager to help.

It has been my experience that the words “excuse me, I have no idea what I’m doing, can you help me?” are golden words that can turn anyone into a helpful friend. It requires some vulnerability on our part, but it’s worth it. Not everyone can admit that they don’t know how to do something, it takes strength, but when we do, we can get all of the help we need. 

The next time you visit a new city, eat in a new restaurant or need the help of a store clerk, follow Jack’s gambling advice and give them the power we all crave. When we admit they can help us, it’s almost a sure bet that they will.

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