While growing up, I learned not to ask for what I wanted. Asking would open me up to charges of being some sort of moron, because what I wanted was usually considered, well, stupid, whether it was a present (“What do you want for Christmas?” is a trick question designed to elicit an answer everyone can mock) or a goal: “You want to go to college? Are you out of your mind?”
Well, yes, obviously. There’s never been much doubt about that. So I learned not to ask for what I want. It took years to undo this training, and I’m still working on it.
I was on a business/pleasure trip to Seattle the other day. It’s a three hour drive from here to there, and so the plan was to drive up, see a couple of clients, see a friend for lunch in between clients, and then, on my way out of town, I was going to stop in Bellevue to have dinner with my husband. He’s in Seattle every Friday and Saturday, and he hadn’t seen me since, oh, Friday morning when we both left for Seattle, so by Friday evening he was missing me terribly.
I was very tired by then, and in a bit of pain. I have constant pain lately, not that it’s anything worth mentioning, but it’s annoying as hell, and a day of driving doesn’t help it. And I still had a good three hours driving, at least, before I would be home.
Have you ever been to Bellevue? I think Microsoft’s on a campaign to take it over, and many of the new buildings have Microsoft signs. Bellevue has money. And people with money. I cruise around in my old car and it doesn’t bother me in the least because I don’t have a car payment.
On the off ramp to turn onto a main street in Bellevue was a man with a sign. An older man, with a grin on his wizened face, and his sign said, “Have chocolate chip cookies? Coffee? Anything would help.”
I see people with signs everywhere I go, which is one of the reasons I don’t carry cash with me. It wouldn’t last long because I’d be compelled to hand it out. People say I shouldn’t because “they’ll just spend it on booze or something,” but I say, “so what?” What do I care what they spend it on? It’s not a government grant with strict requirements as to how it’s to be spent. It’s a gift. The person who receives a gift can do whatever they want with it. I’m not their mommy, I’m not here to tell them how to spend what money they do get.
Anyway. So I don’t travel with cash. I can’t afford to.
But here was this man asking for something besides cash. Chocolate chip cookies. And sitting there in traffic, I realized I had chocolate chip cookies. The really good ones, from the specialty cookie place, that my charming husband had put in a ziplock bag for me that morning in case I got hungry on the road, which I always do. But so far, I hadn’t touched the cookies.
The light was going to change soon, so I rolled down the passenger side window and said, “Hey, I’ve got cookies!”
He came over to the window and I handed the bag to him, and he was happy that someone in that long line of cars had something he was asking for. He gave me a fabulous smile, and it’s quite a good payment for a few cookies. Where else can you get that kind of return?
And me, I can get myself more cookies any time I want. I can get myself most things I want any time I want, at least most food items. No hardship for me.
But here’s the thing. The man on the corner would never have gotten any cookies if he hadn’t asked for them. It’s not that most of us don’t want to give others what they want. It’s just that we’re too busy doing our own thing, and we don’t know what people want unless they tell us. If you tell someone what you want, there’s always a chance they’ll say no. But if you don’t ask at all, there’s a really good chance you’ll never get what you want. How can you, if no one knows what it is?
We’re all running around doing our own thing. If you’re anything like me, you have a list of a thousand things in your head that you’re meaning to do, or get around to, or meant to do, and handing out cookies probably doesn’t even enter into the equation unless someone asks for some.
You may have to ask more than once. I’m sure when the man on the corner put out his sign the first car going by didn’t stop and hand him any cookies. He may have had to wait quite a while to get any cookies, and there’s a chance he might not have gotten any at all. But by asking, he greatly increased his odds.
You have to ask. Tell people what you want, and you increase, exponentially, your chances of receiving it.