How to Ask for What You Want

We asked! We asked!

Do you ask for what you want or do you resent what you didn’t get because you didn’t ask for it?
– Powerful Questions

Once when I was a younger I was spending the night with a couple of friends when we decided we wanted to go to a party a few blocks away. It was getting late and my friend’s mom was watching TV in the living room.

So there we sat in the bedroom trying to concoct a plan to get to that party.

We could sneak out through the bedroom window. No…What if someone comes in to check on us?

We could stage a call from another mom then fake like someone was picking us up. No …there was only one phone in the house (this was long before cell phones).

We sat there in silence, racking our brains.

Then I came up with an idea… I knew it was brilliant.

“Why don’t we just tell her the truth!?” I shouted.

My friends sat there in stunned silence. Then slowly started nodding, “it just might work!” we laughed.


All we needed to do was ask.

But why is this so hard?

I have some thoughts on this…

A lot of women don’t even know what they want in the first place.

They worry about being selfish. They’re too busy to have needs. They have a family, responsibilities…!

I think this is black or white thinking. The logic goes something like this – if I acknowledge having needs and start going after what I want, I’ll neglect my responsibilities.

But I think that’s B.S. Unless you’re a sociopath, you came into the world intact with a moral compass, a guidance system that makes you yearn for connection.

By giving priority to what you want, you magnify the vitality of your spirit in a way that allows you to connect, love and nurture infinitely deeper than when your needs are last on your list.

A lot of us don’t even bother asking.

I can see why …. We buy into the idea that it’s not ladylike to ask. In her latest TED talk, Brene Brown quotes research that reveals what women need to do to conform to female norms:

They have to be seen as nice, thin, modest, and use all available resources towards appearance.


Here’s a surefire way to give someone a hellofa inferiority complex — make them aware of a social norm, then show them how they don’t measure up to it.

We gals, consciously or not, want to conform to female norms. We don’t want to risk appearing pushy, selfish, ambitious, unattractive or immodest when we speak up for what we want.

Nor do we like asking for help.

You don’t want to seem incompetent, right? It’s amazing the number of clients I have who struggle asking for even the tiniest amount of help from friends, family or even paid service people because of this fear.

Then there’s that word no. Oh how we fear this word.

What if we offer up our best work and they say no? We use no to confirm our deepest fear about ourselves. The one that goes something like, “See? You were never really good enough. Who do you think you are anyway?” (Trust me, I know you have it.)

So we stay quiet yet inside we seeth….

I used to do this to my husband. I expected him to know what to get me for my birthday, say the right thing to make me feel better, to pick up around the house according to my silent specifications.

I wanted him and everyone else to meet my needs without having to be put in the uncomfortable and highly unladylike position of having to (gasp!) ask for what I wanted.

Knowing all this makes it easier for me to ask for what I want. And now I ask with reckless abandon. I ask for favors, introductions, recommendations, and advice.

And the crazy part is people often say yes. But when they don’t, I’m still proud that I was able to overcome my fears and just ask.

And here’s how you can too:

      1. Eliminate the word selfish from your vocabulary. Seriously. Having needs is not selfish! When you honor them, you are way better parent, friend, wife and citizen then when you don’t.
      2. Don’t buy into the cultural myth that ladies don’t ask. It’s a cultural straightjacket that will keep miserable.
      3. Stop worrying about “putting people out.” Assume no means no and yes means yes.
      4. Stop expecting people to read your mind and start stating what you want openly and clearly.
      5. Stop expecting other people to meet your needs so you don’t have to ask for what you want. Not fair.
      6. Stop worrying about appearing competent and get some help already! The truth is I am competent at some things and hopelessly incompetent at others. And, just like me, you are competent at some things and hopelessly incompetent at others. Take the pressure off.
      7. Don’t make a no mean you are worthless. You can let the word no break you or you can use it as fuel to keep going despite the roadblock. I am double proud when I persevere despite multiple no’s and eventually get to yes.

So now I’m going to ask something of YOU. What is one thing that you can ask for this week? Will you post a comment? Because, I love that!

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9 Responses

  1. Jen says:

    I asked for LOTS of help with end of the school year events I was in charge of… I STOPPED thinking that I can do it all. It is ridiculous for any of us to think we can, should, or even NEED to do it all. I actually think it is selfish of us to NOT include others in things like this. Personally, whenever I have tried to do everything, I failed. Sometimes miserably. Last night I hosted a party that many moms organized … it was so much more fun than if I would have done everything all myself.

    thanks for your posts, Amy! :-)

  2. Emily says:

    Love this! I usually wait until I exhaust all of my own possible resources before asking for help, and it’s, well, exhausting! I’m getting better about asking for help, but thanks for the permission to do so. :-)

  3. Sangeeta says:

    An excellent and useful article. The challenge that will follow the realization that it is okay to ask for what one wants – is dealing with the consequences of stepping out of the image you have created in the past. By being silent on many fronts or pretending otherwise, we have created an impression that others and we ourselves tend to expect of us. So one has to be willing to ‘change your calling card’ as well :) I wrote about this at my blog – Would welcome your comments there.

    Thanks for the article. Will share it.

  4. Dena says:

    Thanks for this, Amy! Yeah, I am definitely afraid of the word “No.” AND I don’t like to ask for help. I’ve always known I struggle with asking for what I want, but I had never thought about these two pieces as the main source of the problem…and they really are for me. I’m going to use your 7 point list in my daily life now and see what happens!

  5. Lily says:

    I just subscribed to Happiness Notes and love the energy you put into your writing. I am noticing myself feeling ready to have help these days, but I feel like I don’t know how to ask. Isn’t that crazy? It seems so simple, and yes, I guess it probably is mostly about hearing the word, “no”. Oy. I was speaking with a client about this in her session this week and I am excited to share your blog post with her. Thanks!

  6. Thank you for this, Amy! I love the idea of eliminating the word ‘selfish’ from my vocabulary.
    And now that I blog, I realise how much nicer it is when people leave a comment – so here I am ;-)

  7. Leigh Ann says:

    I’ve been doing better about this recently, and working hard to get even better. Not too long ago I asked my husband to watch our daughter for a couple of hours every morning after he gets home from work so I can do some things that I need to do. Despite being worried that I am asking too much from someone who already works so hard to take care of us, I asked and he agreed and those couple of hours are the biggest blessing ever, and I’ll fight to keep them now! Lol.

    I have a question. While I understand and agree with the idea behind assuming no means no and yes means yes, and I’m working to get my head into that place, it’s obviously true, at least in my neck of the woods, that that’s not always the case. Mostly I’m referring to people saying yes when they’d rather say no, but for whatever reason, they feel like they have to agree. I’m highly sensitive and always aware when this is the case, and it definitely prevents me from asking for things I need. Even though I know it’s not my responsibility, I still feel their dismay and irritation over it, and I’d rather avoid that, for my own sake, if nothing else. Does anyone have any suggestions or insights about how to handle this?

    Thanks so much! Much Love to all.

  8. Asking my husband to feed me has been life changing.

  9. Hey Amy,
    I just love that picture of us! Yeah I remember that night…LOL!
    First of all you sent me this article at a very perfect time in my life!!
    I love what you have to say about feeling selfish if you have to ask for what you want. This hit home with me because I have noticed lately that by the time I have come out and asked for what is I need I have driven myself nuts with anxiety about it and have set myself up as a martyr (something I picked up from my precious mom…bless her heart). I realize now because my husband/friend/children can’t read my mind I need to give them a fair chance to participate in my journey. One thing is for sure…they sure know when I have had enough of keeping it pinned up inside….BOOM! *** 
    Love Ya Girly!!

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