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Something I learned the hard way: Asking for what you want

I was raised to believe that life is a meritocracy: if I worked hard, and got stellar grades, and was a Good Girl with a capital G, the world would notice me and shower me with all the good things.

So I busted my butt in high school and got straight A’s, my report card so shiny it blinded people for miles. Bling! I pulled together an impressive art portfolio and got into the college of my choice, hoping to nab a career in advertising. I busted my ass even harder, doing homework all night to graduate, sometimes collapsing into bed at 4 a.m., only to get up a couple of hours later and go to school, then my night job, then home to do it all over again.

Soon, I became a young art director in Boston’s ad agency scene. I was doing good work, but wanted to do great work, which only happens if you get into an agency where creative is king, as in, Numero Uno. When an opportunity came to study with a world-renowned ad studio, I jumped. This was my chance to impress the creative directors, and if they noticed me, maybe they’d even offer me a job. Then, maybe, I could be one of the best art directors in the whole entire world. Eeeeeeee!

In that class, I soon met my match. Another student was my creative equal; he was as talented as I was, and our work was on par every week, both garnering great comments from the teachers, two of Boston’s finest ad people. Several weeks later, the class ended. I finished with an outstanding portfolio, and prayed and prayed and prayed the creative directors would trip and fall all over themselves to offer me a position. They didn’t, and I simply accepted it, like a naive chump. We all left the class and went our separate ways.

A year later, it was advertising award season. I was perusing the award books, and saw a familiar name winning almost all the accolades that year. Recognition smacked me in the face—it was the other student from that class. His name appeared in the award books alongside the teachers, who had obviously hired him. I was stunned—he had gotten my dream job. Huh? What the—?

What was the difference between him and me?

He had simply made the ask.

I learned the hard way, right then and there, that life is not a meritocracy. You can sit forever, until your butt fuses to your Aeron chair, and do all the hard work you want, but in the end, the harsh truth is this: there’s a chance no one will notice. Repeat after me: No one. Working hard is only half the battle. You have to ask to ask for what you want.

This happened fifteen years ago, but it’s still fresh in my mind. As I move closer to being a published author—and I’m this close—I’ll need help in order to reach some pretty big goals. In the coming months that follow, I’ll be screwing up the courage to ask friends help spread the word. I’ll be digging through my network to see who they know, and asking for book blurbs and reviews, which can make the difference between success and commercial failure.

But I know my friends won’t let me fail. And I’ll repay kindnesses with anything I can offer, like cookies, home-cooked meals, bottles of vino, reciprocal Twitter-love, and high-fives.

If you need extra inspiration to ask for what you want, here’s a video by Amanda Palmer. Now go out there, and get ‘em, kids! LOVE YA!

2 comments on “Something I learned the hard way: Asking for what you want

  1. Hits where we live, and simply, without posture or show-off— I had seen the TED talk and was happy to see it again–I know a singer-songwriter who fits this perfectly and told her–now you do it for us writers, and all of us who find it hard to ask. Super post!

    • Dear Kay,
      I am SO happy this resonated, and thank you for sharing it with your friend. I have to remind myself to ask for help every day. Looking forward to all of us getting better at it!


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