Do you ask for what you want in life?

It seems a straightforward enough concept doesn’t it? You want something, you ask for it it, your request is granted or denied. Rinse and repeat…

Well we all know it’s not that easy. When you really think about how you let people know about your wants and needs, it’s usually far more complex and nuanced. For example – if you need help with the housework, do you explain clearly that you are struggling and would like support with particular tasks? Or do you slam around in the kitchen, loudly muttering about how apparently no one else in the house is capable of tidying up after themselves? If there is a promotion you are interested in at work, do you immediately ask to be considered and find out what you need to do to improve your chances of success – or do you sit patiently, diligently getting on with your great work and wait for someone in authority to suggest that you might like to apply? Do you request a sensible flexible working solution that might help you successfully balance your work and family life – or do you wait until someone else in the office is granted one before you consider approaching HR?

In just these few examples, we can see that there are many factors at play which make it difficult for us to ask directly for what we want. Perhaps we expect others to be mind-readers – to intrinsically know and understand things from our perspective – particularly those who are close to us. Perhaps we feel undeserving – it’s our old friend Impostor Syndrome rearing its ugly head again.  Perhaps we lack self-esteem and require external validation to justify our wants and needs? If the boss doesn’t invite you to apply for the promotion – you’re probably not worthy of it, right? And lastly – perhaps we just fear the pain of rejection. If we don’t ask, we can’t be denied, disappointed – and ultimately, we can’t be hurt. 

Whatever the reason for their reticence, many women are reluctant to explicitly express their needs, both at work and at home – and this can cause real problems. Not asking in this way means giving up ownership of your life. It means you become dependent on luck, or on someone else’s generosity or attentiveness. It means waiting for someone else to work out what you want, why you want it and what form it should take. It means you are not authentically being ‘you’ – and this can cause you to feel frustrated, resentful, undervalued, and most importantly, powerless.

In order to take back control over your own future, then, you need to be able to create the kind of life and career you want. You need to be able to decide, or at least heavily influence, how your life and work progress and are balanced. You have to consider the terms on which you are prepared to act, and the boundaries that you set to ensure that you have enough time for your family and get the support you need. You need to make sure you are recognised and rewarded for your contributions  – both personally and professionally.

You do this by asking for what you want.

Here’s how to make asking easier:

1 – Identify what you want.
It sounds like a no-brainer, but really think about identifying your needs. If you are feeling frustrated about the housework – what is it you actually want to achieve? Do you just want acknowledgement of the situation, sympathy and emotional support perhaps – or do you want practical help? If so, what sort of help? Are there specific tasks that your partner/family could take on? Or could you a hire a cleaner? Identify your problems and frustrations and work out the best solutions.

2. Think big.
When you are thinking of solutions to your problems, think big. Think of the boldest way to meet your needs. You may not get all of what you ask, but the bolder the request, the further you are likely to advance in getting your needs met. 

3. Be SMART.
Think of your requests as SMART goals. If people are not really clear about what you want, it is harder for them to successfully fulfil your requests. Do you want people in your household to be more considerate about cleaning up after themselves generally – or would you like your partner to load the dishwasher tonight? Be transparent, specific and time- oriented when you communicate  what you want to others. Know your position and set boundaries.

4. Be considerate and fair.
Asking for what you want in a straightforward manner isn’t rude (though some people from certain backgrounds or cultures may have limiting beliefs about this). It is of course perfectly possible to be polite, considerate of others’ feelings and friendly when making requests. Asking for what you want doesn’t mean demanding it and trampling all over other people’s needs to get it – it just means you are making sure that your needs are on an equal footing with everyone else’s and clearly communicating what they are rather than hinting at them, or suppressing them. You don’t need to use qualifiers and apologetic language like, ‘I’m sorry but’, or ‘would you possibly be able’ –  but a please, a thank you and a smile will always work well!

5. Get rid of the guilt!
Sometimes as women or as mothers we have this innate sense that our needs are less important than those of others around us. It’s time to let go of this belief. It is counterproductive. You cannot function well for the people who depend on you if you are continually neglecting your own wants and needs. Ditch the guilt and remind yourself every day that you deserve to have your needs met just as much as everyone else.

6. Do not conflate rejection of your request with rejection of you.
Just because you ask for something specific and reasonable, clearly and nicely, doesn’t mean you’ll get it. There can be all sorts of reasons why a request may not be possible to fulfil at any particular time. Do not over invest emotionally in these decisions – take them on face value – and ask for feedback if you need more clarification.  These are not personal rejections – they are not an indication of your value or worth, they are most probably based on practical considerations, or have more to do with the other person’s needs at that time. Once you manage to separate your sense of self-worth from the outcome of asking, you will lose the fear.  And when the fear is gone, the sky is the limit!

For more thoughts on the power of asking for what you want, listen out for an episode coming soon on the Babyproof podcast. And email me at caroline@babyproofyourlife.com if you’d like more information about my ‘Having it all’ coaching course.