In her charming memoir, D.V., legendary fashion editor Diana Vreeland recounts how she was awarded Franceís highest honor. "This is how I got the Legion díHonneur. I asked for it. I was told by someone quite reliable that you only get it if you ask for it, so I asked." (Reading this paragraph ten years ago stopped me in my tracks. This wasnít chutzpah, this was brilliance!)
A friend of mine whoís directing a documentary film about Afghanistan needed office space. If you know anything about documentaries, you know thereís very little money to spare. So this clever lady called Columbia University in New York and asked if they would give her company office space so they could edit the film. They gave it to her. (Again, brilliance!)
Dear readers, we know the moral to these two stories: Ask for things! Feel entitled! Be courageous! But for many of us, advocating for ourselves is a challenge.
Before asking someone for help, we first need to do a little self-scrutiny. We need to weigh the risks and decide if theyíre worth it. Are you asking the right person? Do you have enough capital to make the request? Are you crossing a boundary line?
My formula for asking is this: If they say yes will my life be enhanced and if they say no, will my ego be crushed to smithereens? Now we all know there are very few requests that could crush our egos to smithereens so I try to err on the side of asking too much rather than asking too little. Once you get the hang of it, itís quite freeing.
And why do I feel that most of us should ask more? Because I know that most people give more than they take. We give advice, support, connections, recommendations, strategic thinking and then, when we need something in return, we worry and drag our feet rather than pick up the phone and say "I need or I want or can you please arrange?"
Permitting ourselves to ask for things is no small skill. In fact, I think itís the most critical and undervalued component to the job search, to widening your social network, to moving ahead in your career. Everyone youíre meeting with, having lunch with, working with knows at least ten other people. And those ten people might be helpful to you if you ask for what you want.
For those of us who have spent our lives cowering rather than asking for the Legion díHonneur, some tips:
Never ask a favor from someone who doesnít have the power or the wherewithal to dispense it.
Asking is not to be confused with impertinence.
No one has unlimited capital so donít presume that you can ask without giving back.
Actors have auditions; athletes have tryouts. If youíre stuck in a job search, identify a target company and ask to do a demonstration.
Determine how much you want something Ė a new job, an introduction to a well-connected colleague or someone wonderful. Then decide if itís worth the risk of rejection to ask.
Power is never given; you have to ask for it.
Asking takes practice. Start with small favors and work your way up to big ones.
Some people are afraid to ask because itís beneath them. MaybeÖbut it wasnít beneath Diana Vreeland who wanted the red ribbon in her buttonhole.