When I was in college, someone I considered a friend suddenly blurted out to me, “Do you know why I hate you?” Typically, not something a friend would say unless he was joking. And he wasn’t joking. So I mentally downgraded our relationship status to acquaintances and calmly asked him to tell me more.
John replied by saying, “See! That’s exactly what I’m talking about! It doesn’t even phase you when someone says they hate you.” The blank stare on my face led John to explain further. “It’s very annoying that when you want something, you just ask. No matter what you’re asking for, you ask shamelessly. If they turn you down, it’s like you don’t even remember asking them. They could get totally pissed off with you asking, and you don’t even care. But what’s worse is when it works.”
I didn’t see this as a bad thing. John gave me some examples: The time I asked Dr. Woo (a computer science professor who’s class I was in) if he would like to work for me part time at my computer consulting company. The time I asked campus administration for a faculty parking sticker for my sports car (which happened to be registered in my stepfather’s name, who was a professor on campus). The time I asked Ammie out on a date (even though I knew she had a boyfriend).
As he was turning slightly red from aggravation, he added, “The first two you’ve already succeeded at, and I saw Ammie smiling at you in the cafeteria yesterday. You should be ashamed of yourself!”
I didn’t see what I should be ashamed of. My view has always been that I have the freedom to ask anyone for anything and they have the freedom to say yes or no. I never feel strange if they say no, but I would feel like an idiot for not asking if there is even the smallest chance they may say yes. I guess I’ve lived my life in a way that I’ve heard “no” enough to not be phased by it, and I’ve heard “yes” enough to make it worth my effort.
It wasn’t until I read about a philological experiment conducted in the New York subways by Dr. Stanley Milgram that I understood how abnormal my views are.
Dr. Milgram was interested in exploring societies’ unwritten rules for behavior. He instructed his students to enter a subway car, walk up to someone who was seated, and ask, “Excuse me. May I please have your seat?” The result was more than half of the people asked willfully giving up their seat. But that’s not the most interesting part. The interesting part was how difficult of a time the students had conducting the experiment. The act of asking for someone’s seat proved to be so traumatic that one of the students named Kathryn Krogh said, “I was afraid I was going to throw up.”
After writing a few books on getting past social anxiety and spending years coaching guys to move past it through my Total Experience Immersion training program, here’s what I can tell you. There’s an old Chinese proverb that says, “Man sit with mouth open long time before roast duck fly in.” In other words, you need to reach for what you want. Never let anyone make you feel ashamed of your desires. If people have the freedom to say “no” you have the freedom to ask without apology. At the end of the day, you won’t get what you deserve… You’ll get what no one else had the balls to reach for.
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