A few weeks ago I received an email from Jack Grapes, my old writing teacher and mentor, who published my poetry book in 2008. Jack is a well-known and beloved literary figure in Los Angeles who has been teaching for over four decades. His email promoted an upcoming writing workshop offered by a former student of his. I wonder if he’d do the same for me? I thought, in the midst of putting together my fall writing classes.
The next day I put “email Jack” on my to-do list. It didn’t get done. The following day I wrote it again. Usually when I carry over an action item from one day to the next, it gets crossed off my list on the second day. Not this time. For a week the directive to “email Jack” appeared on my list—but it wasn’t getting done. Why is this so hard? I wondered. I knew Jack loved me. I knew he respected my work. Still, asking him to do something for me felt monumental, though I wasn’t sure why.
A week later, feeling uneasy, I forced myself to just do it! Ten minutes after I hit the send button I heard back from him. “I’d be happy to do that,” he responded.
A few days later, after sharing this story with Tracey Brown, my life coach, she asked, “So why was it so hard to write that email?”
It took me a while to get to the heart of the matter: shame. I discovered that deep down I felt embarrassed and ashamed to ask for what I wanted. I felt my request might seem needy, or inappropriate somehow. And from there, the sorry, old, “I’m-not-good-enough” voice, a close sibling to I’m-not-worthy-and-therefore-don’t-deserve-this voice, found its toehold and sprang into action, hoping I’d take the bait and fall. Once I realized my reluctance to ask hadn’t sprung from a fear that he’d say no, but rather, from this feeling of unworthiness to even ask, I knew I’d had enough!
How many times had I been reluctant to make a request of someone I perceived to be more established, successful, or powerful than me? How often had I felt like I didn’t have the right to “bother” or “intrude upon” them? How many times had I reproached myself, saying I shouldn’t need to ask for help? How many times had I berated myself, saying “You should have your shit together—and not need anyone else—especially when it comes to your career!” Talk about “shoulding” all over yourself! I was done feeling crappy.
For years I believed that one of the things writers needed most to succeed was chutzpah. Google defines this Yiddish word as “shameless audacity.” Synonyms are nerve, boldness, and temerity. Hispanics use the word “cojones,” or balls. I used to think writers needed balls of steel. Had my dilemma with Jack been a reminder that I needed to grow a pair? Or toughen up the metaphorical ones I had?
And then it hit me: instead of bigger balls, instead of fighting, I needed to drop down into myself, to connect with that place where absolute tenderness and faith in myself and others resides. The key, I realized, was to be shameless in the sense of understanding that we are all worthy and there’s nothing wrong with asking for what we want. There’s no shame in it; in fact, it’s a blessing. None of us lives alone on this planet. We are part of a community, a web of loving, supportive relationships. We all give and take all the time; these are reciprocal energies. Regardless of our professional accomplishments (or perceived lack thereof), no one is inferior or superior to anyone else. Thomas Jefferson once wrote: “Remember that no one is better than you, but that you are better than no one.”
In order to ask for what we want, we have to know what we want. Sometimes this is clear. Other times we have only inklings and intuitions. Either way, it pays to listen and act upon our desires. Listening is right up there with loving. “The only reason to do anything is for love,” Ron Hulnick, my Spiritual Psychology teacher and President of The University of Santa Monica, once told me. And this starts with loving ourselves. And trusting our worthiness.
Have you found it hard to ask for what you want? What stops you? How do you feel about approaching the many people—agents, editors, publishers, colleagues, etc.—you must interact with throughout the course of your writing career and your life? I know there’s a deep well of wisdom out there on this subject! Please share it.