Have you ever asked for something you didn’t think you would get?
Of course you have.
Have you ever been surprised that the answer was “yes?”
Probably you have, and I bet it’s happened more than once.
Yet most of us (me included) are a little afraid of asking, and it’s holding us back. If we can set this fear aside, we’ll be rewarded.
So how does this work? Let’s explore asking.
Ask for Help
No one likes asking for help. There are at least two reasons:
- Being vulnerable makes us uncomfortable.
- We don’t want to burden others.
The first reason is strictly ego-based. We like to look smart, and we’re afraid that asking for help makes us look, well, dumb.
What we don’t realize is that the smartest among us have gotten past this handicap. No one knows everything, and it’s not worth trying to pretend. Asking for help saves time and energy. In fact, the most effective leaders surround themselves with people who are smarter than they are. That requires setting ego aside.
The second reason is no better. We’re not burdening others by asking for help, because most people want to help us.
Think of a subject you know a lot about and care a lot about. This could be your career or just a beloved hobby:
Now imagine getting an email from a friend of a friend who’s interested in that topic. They’re fired up, and they’ve got a couple of questions for you.
Do you want to help them?
Of course! You love this subject and want to spread the word.
Others feel the same way. Expertise and passion beg to be shared.
Ask for Responsibility
It’s best to just take responsibility. But sometimes, you have to ask for it.
One of my colleagues has become an expert at this. He’s a young faculty member without a Ph.D, but every time a new initiative is announced, he seems to be involved. He’s on committees, task forces, and action teams. He’s constantly asking for more responsibility, and because he delivers, he’s getting it. He’s making a name for himself.
Asking for responsibility has helped me, too. In fact, I jump-started my career this way.
One day during graduate school, I was chatting with my faculty advisor about the upcoming semester. He was lamenting the fact that me might be asked to add another class to his teaching load: a first-year ear-training class for freshman music majors. He was a busy guy, and he didn’t really have time to teach an additional class. But someone had to do it, and it looked like the lot might fall to him.
“I’ll do it,” I said.
I taught that course for three years, first as a TA (for free) and later as an adjunct faculty member (not for free).
I learned as much as the students did (maybe more), and I gained something very precious: classroom teaching experience. That teaching experience helped get me an interview for my current job as an academic advisor.
Don’t ask for power, and don’t ask for special privileges. Ask for responsibility.
How to Ask
Think of an area of life where you need to improve, and remember two things:
- People want to share their knowledge. They want to help you. Take someone out to coffee and let them help.
- If you want to grow, you need more responsibility. Take it when you can, and ask for it when you must.
And when you ask, ask boldly.