I quote my grandfather on this all the time:
Hidden in that phrase is a secret formula for success (and avoiding getting punched in the mouth). I use it all the time. It's such an ingrained part of my life that I do it on reflex. And the best opportunities, experiences, and relationships in my life have all come to me because of what I learned from my PaPa.
If you want something, ask for it.
True (very true), you won't always get for what you ask for. Every time I'm checking out at a register, I ask if I can pay for everything with five American dollars. "That's American dollars, by the way." I get smiles and laughs and eye rolls (those are from my wife), but so far no one's taken me up on the deal. American dollars just don't hold as much sway as they used to, I guess.
But that's ok. Because there's always that chance that it will work, someday. That alone is enough to keep me asking!
Most people tend to be afraid to ask, out of fear that they're breaking some sort of social taboo.
"I can't ask for a raise or a promotion—I've only been with the company for six months."
"I can't ask her out. She's a ten! At best, I'm a five."
"I can't ask strangers to fund my project. It might not be interesting to them."
So they don't ask, and they don't get the raise, the girl, or the funding. How'd that work out?
People are surprisingly approachable
The reality is, we tend not to ask for what we want because we're afraid. We worry that the person we're asking is going to flat out reject us. But not just reject us—obliterate us somehow, with a sharp, scoffing retort.
That could happen. Some people don't like being approached. They want to control their interactions. Nod, smile, and move on—let them live whatever life they're wanting to live. The odds are you can find what you want or need elsewhere, without their help.
But more often, in my experience and in the experience of many of my friends and clients, people turn out to be surprisingly approachable. Most people will help, if they can. It depends largely on what you're asking, and how you ask it. Technique and substance are important, as is context.
I have made it a long-standing habit to approach people I find influential and inspiring, and try to engage them in conversation. This has worked out really well for me—it's led me to opportunities I never would have gotten otherwise. I've built relationships with people who are, frankly, just amazing. I've experienced kindness and guidance in a grand scale.
I'm particularly fond of approaching authors.
I read a lot, as any author should. And when I find that a book is really hitting home with me, I feel the overwhelming compulsion to reach out to the person who created it.
Writing is such an intimate communication, if you think about it. As you read, you're giving someone else direct access to your brain—a sort of telepathy that spans time and space. An author in Australia can bring you to tears as you sit in a Starbucks in Houston. It's amazing.
When things like that happen, I immediately get online and start looking for ways to connect. I try to make this a two-way conversation—one that benefits both me and the writer. And there, my friends, is the secret.
Focus on the benefit you offer
When I approach a writer (or anyone else), and attempt to build a relationship (or ask for anything else I want), my goal is to make some sort of offer to them. I aim to create a benefit. What can I give them or do for them that will encourage them to connect with me?
In the past, the benefit I offered was mostly encouragement. I'd aim to make them laugh, bring a little light to their day. That's good enough, in most cases. It may not land you a spot in their Favorite Five, but it can sometimes be enough to spark a continuing conversation for a time.
These days, I have a bit more to offer. When I talk to an author, I often ask if they want to appear on my podcast. The Wordslinger Podcast is all about story—how it impacts our culture, our careers, and our lives. As you might imagine, authors dig that.
Being on the podcast has some benefits. It helps promote their work. It gives them a platform for engaging with their audience, or a whole new audience. It's one more channel they can use to communicate whatever's inside of them.
Some people see that as a huge benefit, and others don't. Your offer, whatever it is—a podcast, a blog, a book, or just a series of social media posts—may not be of any value to them. When that happens, take a breath and move on. Don't push it. Maybe later you'll come up with an offer that's a bit more appealing.
It's not all about you
One of the hangups we have (I've had it, too), when it comes to asking for what we want, is the idea that because we want it, then it should happen. That attitude comes from the simple fact that everyone is the hero of their own story.
As the hero, we feel like we should always be the one who, in the end, emerges victorious! We should win friends and influence people with ease. We should have others folding themselves like origami to give us whatever will make us happy!
I know I feel that way.
But that's a trick, and you're playing it on yourself. You're building yourself up for a punchline that you won't like. Stop it. Bad human! Smack yourself on the nose with a rolled up newspaper and learn a lesson.
And that lesson: It's not all about you.
No one owes you anything. If you want something, it's just that—a want. It might feel like a need, at the time. But let's face it ... all your actual needs are probably being met.
If you've never heard of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, you should check it out. Everything starts with your basic physiological needs—food, water, rest, etc. Even as you go up the scale (or the pyramid), you find that most of your actual needs are pretty much within your reach at all times, here in the modern world.
Everything outside of that spectrum is a want. And "wants" are optional.
That's yet another key to success—realizing that your wants are optional, and that it's not all about you. It's part of the thought process for creating benefit for the other person. Stop thinking in terms of "I want," and start thinking in terms of "what can I do for them?"
My favorite quote, and the one that guides me in everything I do, is from Zig Ziglar:
That's a pretty significant statement, in the end. If the aim of every interaction and conversation you have with another human being is: "How can I help this person?" Wow. Think of the kind of impact that story can have.
What it all means
So here are the big lessons, learned from my PaPa and from Zig Ziglar—
- If you got a result, you asked for it.
- If you don't like the result, figure out how to ask better next time.
- Have the courage to ask for what you want, because that improves your odds of getting it.
- Ask yourself what benefit you can offer to the other person, in exchange for what you want.
- Ask yourself how you can help the other person get what they want.
Follow those five steps, and you're going to see amazing things start to happen.
Develop friendships with famous people—from authors to politicians to movie stars.
Get more of what you want from life—from raises and promotions to free trips and fun experiences.
Make more friends, who genuinely care for your welfare (because you genuinely care for theirs).
That's it. That's the secret. Now go put it to work, and have fun! That's what I want. I'm askin' ya.
One more thing
Here's something I really want, and I think you can help with it!
I recently released a new book—Citadel: Omnibus.
This is the collected Citadel trilogy, together in one place for the very first time! It's about 655 pages of non-stop science fiction action and adventure, and I loved writing every word of it!
I would be very, very grateful if you would pick up a copy of this book, and review it on Amazon. Right now it's set at a very low introductory price of just $4.99—that's about half the price of buying all three ebooks!
I'd also love it if you'd spread the word! Pass this post along to a friend (I'm hoping you found it inspiring and helpful), and encourage them to pick up one of my books and give it a review. They can even get a book for FREE when they sign up for my mailing list!
And THANK YOU!
I love connecting with you, providing content like this, and writing books that (I hope) you love. I want to keep doing that, again and again. Your help in promoting this work will make it possible for me to keep doing it. So thank you!