You Don't Get What You Don't Ask For
Ask and you shall receive; seek and you shall find.
No, this is not a sermon. Ok, maybe it is but not in the strict Biblical sense. If there’s one thing that I wish I did more of earlier in my career, it is to ask - for promotions, for opportunities, for collaborations, for favours….for a lot of things. While I did gather my courage on a few occasions and asked, it wasn’t without a fair share of sweating, overthinking, and self-flagellation. What if they said no? What if I was punished or sidelined for asking? Had I put a target on my back? … There were so many questions that occupied my mind that served as enough incentive to tone down some of my ambitions. And it’s a great shame that I am the one that did that to myself.
As a young and impressionable intern who was terrified of my boss, I remember one time coming from a meeting with her and having to ride in her car on the way back to the office. It was evident that I held her in such high esteem that I was tongue-tied for most of the ride. One thing she did say, though, has stuck with me over the years. She said “Always ask! What’s the worst that could happen?” And really, if you think about it, the worst thing that you can get is a ‘no’ which isn’t really bad as it leaves you in the same spot or situation that you were in prior to asking. So technically, you have little or nothing to lose by asking.
I got two promotions in my career because I gathered the courage to make a solid presentation of the things I had done and why I deserved the promotion. It was definitely easier to sit and hope that my hard work would be seen, but in a competitive and busy world, sometimes you just need to blow your own horn. For careers, this is super important as moving to the next role as quickly as you can expands not just your career prospects, but also your income.
It took me over five years of endless scholarship applications before I finally found one. And the one that I did eventually get, at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), practically changed my life. I wrote so many application essays and personal statements that I lost count. I similarly wrote so many emails for registration fee exemptions because there was no way I could afford to pay all that money for all the universities that I applied to. At one point, I was so obsessed with getting a Msc in Carbon Management that after I got admission, I literally wrote an email to almost every member of parliament asking for financial help. I really, really, really, really wanted to do that course and it broke my heart that my parents’ and my own financial status meant that it couldn’t happen. I literally scoured the internet until I found emails of members of parliament and people who I thought could help. Over 200 emails in the span of 2 days and only one got back. Needless to say, that dream died. However, one day a couple of years later, I got a fully-funded scholarship to the LSE, complete with a monthly stipend.
What I’m trying to say, really, is that the path is never easy. But if you don’t take an active role to seek opportunities or be courageous to ask for opportunities, nothing will come to you on a silver platter. With life, you have to go out and get things and sometimes fight for your own share. The faster you realize this, the faster you’ll see how your own future depends on you asking and seeking in the present. It’s uncomfortable sometimes, it may feel like a burden or it may put you in a position where you feel indebted. But as we say in Swahili, mtu ni watu, which loosely translates to ‘a person is people’. Meaning, you are not an island. Nobody is. To succeed in this life, you need other people. That is how we as humans are configured. And with this in mind, your success is inevitably based on others lending you a hand, and you doing the same for others.
So whatever you’ve been targeting to achieve, go forth and ask people for help or for opportunities. If you get a ‘no’, don’t take it personally. See it as the process of life leading you to a different person or a different path. But keep going!