For Your Consideration: Asking for Directions

for your consideration

Welcome to For Your Consideration, a series about things we love and love to do — and we’d like to give you permission to embrace your authentic self and love them too.


I don’t know who needs to hear this, but it is perfectly fine and legal to ask someone for directions when you are lost. I promise! Even in New York City, even in any big city. Even if you’re a tourist, even if you’re a local. No one is actually annoyed by someone asking them for directions, unless they are a miserable person who wants everyone to think they’re so busy that they couldn’t possibly be bothered to extend some directional knowledge. And that’s on them, not you!

I have always had an abysmal sense of direction, and I used to hate it. The boys I hung out with in my church youth group made me think my lack of directional logic was because I was a girl, as if boys were born with compasses in their brains. Later, I figured out they were just too proud to admit when they were lost, better at faking confidence in where they were headed than I’ll ever be.

Maps never helped. I convinced my parents I was allergic to them if they ever asked me to look at a map in a car. “I have a headache,” I’d say, tossing it back between them in our red minivan. During the age of MapQuest, I painstakingly printed out directions and read them over four or five times before getting in the car. When smartphones made GPS technology readily available at the palm of my hand, I did not calm down. To this day, I’ll look up directions on Google Maps long before I have to be somewhere. I’ll screenshot them for fear of losing internet connection en route. I’ll triple check to be sure where I’m going, to have a backup plan in place in the event of train or bus issues and redirects.

Even then, I still have to ask for directions sometimes. Asking for directions should be so simple, and yet it isn’t, because it’s so easy to feel like a burden on strangers, a burden on the world. And it’s so easy to mistake stubborn self-reliance for empowering independence. I never know where I’m going, and I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. Of course I’m talking about so much more than asking for directions when you’re lost on the way to a new bookstore or a first date or a professional lunch meeting. Asking for directions is but a tiny, low-stakes microcosm of the larger issue: Relying on others is hard.

It’s fucking hard to ask for help. It’s fucking hard to admit you don’t know where the hell you’re going—literally or figuratively. I had to essentially completely lose my sense of self before I finally started asking people for help in any area of my life. In the aftermath of, say, I don’t know, a breakup (just an example!), people do often talk a lot about self-care. But there’s also only so much we can do when our life is fractured, when we’re lost without a map.

I’ve always been drawn to advice columns, which is perhaps why I launched this series as my own sort of twisted, anti- version of one (though this week’s in particular is more straightforwardly advice-driven than usual). Autostraddle is an incredible resource for advice of all kinds, but especially when it comes to the heart. Brandy Jensen gives phenomenal, gutting advice at The Outline, and this one—on ghosting and sudden breakups—wrecked me for at least 48 hours. I’ve never written into an advice column myself, instead just passively lurking on the deepest confessions and questions of others, peering into what it is they seek and then almost always agreeing with whatever the advice giver presents them with. That’s one of my flaws: If someone positions themselves as an arbiter of advice, I just assume their advice is good, even if there’s a little pinch of hesitation in my gut. I always assume everyone knows how to get somewhere better than I do. I’ve never been good with directions.

Advice columns are, of course, much different than asking for directions. Therapy is much different than asking for directions. They’re less prescriptive, more open-ended answers to the information you seek. Asking for directions results in a list, a set of step-by-step instructions to follow. And yet, it still feels bizarrely vulnerable to ask. Maybe smartphones made it even harder. More than ever before, we have the technological ability to navigate places previously unknown. And yet, why did I still get fucking lost on my way to a dance party a few months ago to the point where I almost just gave up and went home? And why didn’t I just ask someone for help? Why was I afraid this tiny uncertainty would convey weakness?

There are some people who revel in feeling lost, who encourage it. Get lost in wilderness, they say. Explore a new place without a plan; follow the stars. Sure, that sounds lovely and freeing to some people, maybe, but to me it sounds like an actual nightmare. Don’t let the chaos journaling fool you; I’ve always been a planner. I had a plan for my life, but I made the mistake of building it around someone who couldn’t stick to a plan in more ways than one. That’s one of the many destabilizing things that happens during a breakup: Plans dissipate. Uncertainty settles in. Future-planning becomes manic. For a while, it’s hard to know where you’re going even one day out.

So maybe just start with asking for directions when you’re lost. Again, it seems like the smallest, most inconsequential piece of guidance I can give you. But it’s silly not to do, and it’s also a real time-saver, I’ve learned. It beats feeling lost, that’s for sure. Ask for a little, and then maybe ask for more.

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is a Brooklyn-based writer, television critic, and comedian who spends most of her time over-analyzing queer subtext on television, singing "Take Me Or Leave Me" in public places, and assembling cheese platters. She has a cat named after Piper Halliwell from Charmed, and her go-to karaoke song is "Everywhere" by Michelle Branch. Her writing can also be found at The A.V. Club and The Hollywood Reporter, and she wrote the webseries Sidetrack. You can catch her screaming in all-caps about Kalinda Sharma, Jennifer Lopez, and oysters on Twitter and Instagram.

Kayla has written 177 articles for us.

12 Comments

  1. I’ve always been horrible at directions, even living in NYC, which is laid out like a dream. But I have never understood the hesitancy to ask for directions. I always ask and I feel no fear. It honestly makes the person you are asking feel really good.

      • I always get asked for directions, even (especially?) when I’m in an unfamiliar place.
        My first time on a college campus? Asked for directions. Visiting a relative in a town I’m in once a year? Asked for directions. In a metro station in a foreign country? Asked for directions.
        I wish I were as competent as I apparently appear to be!

  2. Thank you for this great commentary. I have “generational trauma” surrounding maps, directions and getting lost… Basically our road trips were always somewhat ruined by my (driving) dad expecting my mom to navigate from a musty ol’ map book, and blowing up whenever she doesn’t get it right. To this day he won’t ask for directions or use a GPS. He says, “If we plan well enough in advance and we work together, we shouldn’t need one of those things.” That’s just code for “I don’t understand that and I’d rather you just protect me so I don’t look stupid.” Anyway, because I was so afraid, it took me until about five years ago to realize that I really do have a pretty good sense of direction. I can tell which way we’re egoing by where the sun is. Happy mapping y’all, and never be afraid to ask for help!

    • Good point. I must look like I know where I’m going because I’m vaguely often asked for directions and I never mind. I often don’t know anywhere apart from exactly where I’m going, but it’s still flattering to be asked and between me, the lost person and Google we can work it out.

  3. I feel this on so many levels. Literally, on the the directions and map and no thank you, I do not want to be the navigator. And also on the level of, asking for help is hella hard.

    Thank you for this.

  4. I really, really love this; I completely relate to never knowing the way to anything, planning in advance and having folders of screenshots. And actually I think asking for directions can be a lovely thing as you get the information in the form of a human connection, and the person giving the directions gets to feel good about themself.

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