One of the major reasons we don't ask for what we want or need is the barrier called fear. And its roots can run deep. Sometimes where it all comes from is that we were shamed as children. We asked for something, and we got, "Don't you care about this family? How could you possibly ask for that? Don't you see how much we're struggling?" It goes on. Or we got laughed at or we asked for something in class, and the teacher put us down, and then we thought to ourselves. "I'll never let that happen to me again." "It's not safe." "I'll be hurt." So we stayed inside, and didn't ask.
The biggest fear is the fear of rejection. You can all remember perhaps if you were the boy or the girl in school, and there was a big dance, and you saw this boy walk across the dance floor, and he asked this really beautiful girl to dance. And all of a sudden, she shook her head no, and he walked all the way back across the dance floor. And everyone was kind of laughing at the guy. Boy, he really blew it. Well, how often are you going to do that? Pretty soon you give up. Or asking a girl out on a date. I can remember in college asking a girl out in front of a couple of my friends, and she almost laughed. To this day, I'm not really sure what that was about. But it was a long time before I asked anyone out again, especially in front of others.
There's a research study that was done by Mutual of Omaha in which they sent leads to salespeople. They were actually bogus leads that were prepared by the company to find out whether or not these people would ask for the order. Now some of these people would drive an hour across Iowa to this farmhouse out in the middle of nowhere, make this great presentation for the insurance, and then they wouldn't ask for any action from the customer. As they did this study, they were shocked when they found out only about 3% of the people were asking for the order. They were waiting for the person to say, "Okay, I'll buy it."
So they brought in all these great sales trainers that taught them all the 35 ways to close the sale. Then they sent them back out. And what happened was the number of people who actually asked for the order, you'd think it would go up to something like 99%! But it stayed relatively low. They realized it wasn't because people didn't know how to ask for the order, rather people are afraid to hear the word "no."
I was working at a company that makes half of the world's eyeglass lenses. And that was the first time they had ever brought in an outside trainer. I got there a day early, and I started hanging out with the salespeople at this conference, golfing, and so forth. I kept asking them, "How many of you know who the top three or four salespeople in the company are?" They knew and said, "Oh, yeah, Joe, Margie, Bob," etc. I asked everybody, and it was the same three people over and over.
So when I gave my speech that night, I went up and I said, "How many of you know who the top three salespeople are?" Almost everyone raised his or her hand. Then I said, "How many of you have ever gone up to them and said, 'Hey, can I take you to lunch or dinner? Would you teach me some of the things you do that are different, because obviously you're doing it better than I'm doing it and you've got something you can teach me.' " Out of 300 salespeople — now this is a very successful company — only three people raised their hands. Three! And I said, "Well, why don't you do that?" And everyone said, "Well, why would they want to talk to me? They'd probably say no. Maybe they wouldn't share their secrets with me."
Then I asked the three salespeople, I said, "How many of you would be willing to share what you do?" And they all said something like, "We'd be absolutely willing to share it. I mean, we love to talk about our success. In a way it's kind of bragging, but it's teaching, and we like to do that." We are killing ourselves because we won't ask, because we're so afraid we're going to get rejected.
Another barrier to asking for what we want is low self-esteem. Most people don't know this, but two out of three American's have low self-esteem; only one out of three have high self-esteem. We often say at our seminars, "Look to your right; look to your left. One of you is okay; two of you are in trouble." When you think about that, it's pretty amazing. And what happens when you have low self-esteem is you don't feel worthy of asking; you don't feel worthy of receiving.
I remember doing a workshop in Florida for the St. Leo Abbey; it was a group of Benedictine monks. And we were talking about why they had joined the monastery. Many of them were there because they really wanted to develop their spiritual life. But one guy wasn't there for that at all. He was there out of guilt and unworthiness.
Turns out during World War II he had taken a whole troop up the Rhine River, and as they got up the river, they were attacked. He was the only survivor out of several hundred men. Because he felt so guilty that he had been responsible for this troop and he was the only survivor, when he got out of the war, he went on a two-week drinking binge in Miami and then joined the monastery. He'd been there for almost 40 years when I worked with him in the 1980s. And he was there because he didn't believe he deserved to have any happiness in his life.
Many of us are running that same game. I don't deserve, and therefore, why would I ask for something I don't believe I deserve? A lot of people believe their needs aren't important. Never got what they wanted; therefore, they never felt that they were validated in their importance.
Another aspect of that is having the sense of "I'm not worth it." I remember when my son came to me, and he wanted to be in the Boy Scouts' Pinewood Derby. It's a race where you have to carve pieces of wood for racers, and that is not my thing. I am not good with my hands; I'm mostly good with my mouth and my head. And so I'm sitting there and I'm working with him on this thing, and I spent a couple nights with it and I thought I've been a really good father.
Then I got this story that we included in one of our Chicken Soup for the Soul books, in which it says that as a parent you're supposed to create great memories for your child. Do something that they'll look back on and never forget. I remember one of our authors from a Chicken Soup book, Hanoch McCarty, took his children and drove them all across the country, and they stopped at every body of water from Cleveland to the Pacific Ocean. Any body of water they saw, they swam in it, if it was a lake, a pond, a river, whatever it was. Now these children will surely remember that for life.
So the story that we put in the book was about this father who spent the entire summer, every free moment, every night, every weekend, helping his child build a race car that they would then have in one of these derby races. And later the child said, "Knowing that my dad would do that made me realize that I was important enough to spend time with. Therefore, I realized I was important to have anything I wanted in life. I was worthy of it."
And I sat there thinking about the two evenings I had spent on our Pinewood Derby car, and I started to feel, oh, a little bit guilty that maybe I hadn't done that. Here I was perhaps passing on my own neurosis to my own kids. As a result, I spent a whole lot more time with him. But I think it's important that we realize many of us are walking around with low self-esteem because we never got what we wanted; therefore, we don't think we deserve what we want.
Another barrier to asking for what you want is pride, and it's that we're afraid that we're going to appear helpless, weak, needy. And our friend Marty Jeffers says there's a threefold model of most people's evolution. We start a need, "I need this. I need that." Then you go into greed, and you start getting it, and you become a little avaricious. And one of the wealthiest men in Australia, Peter J. Daniels, once told me, you cannot be greedy if you're tithing 10%, and even then you've still got to be giving away.
But the third thing that Marty Jefferies taught me is that when you get your consciousness right, when you really know how to ask for yourself and you really know how to balance your life, then you're freed. And the whole goal here is to go from being needy, greedy, to being freed. Because once you're freed, you can go out and free other people.
I can give an example of where pride in my own life stopped me and how I really began to see it. When I went to a 10-day meditation retreat up in Barre, Massachusetts, once, we weren't allowed to talk; we weren't allowed to read anything for 10 days. We weren't allowed to interact with anybody, no eye contact, etc. And after about five days, I was starting to lose it. I was starting to question everything I'd ever believed in. And it was very difficult to go through that as an intellectual meltdown was occurring inside of me.
And I went to see the instructor of the course — they have an interview halfway through, and I think it's to make sure you're not flipping out, which I felt I was. So I went in to see the instructor, and he said, "Are you okay?" And I said, "No, I don't think so. I think everything I ever believed in is dissolving." He said, "Oh, that's good." I thought he was going to say eat more meat, leave the seminar, do something, yet he didn't. So I walked out of there and began to cry. I realized I was just scared.
So I went outside and saw a big Georgian mansion, and I started hugging a big pillar. I was holding on to it as if I were trying to hold on to some kind of reality. And I started to realize that for my whole life I felt that it wasn't okay not to know. I had to know everything perfectly. As my dad would say, "Where's the hammer?" that I had had an hour earlier. I didn't know. And I should know because I had taken it. Then I would be teaching school, and someone would say, "You know, Mr. Canfield, what are the five causes of this? Or, what about this?" And I couldn't say "I don't know," because it wasn't okay to admit it. And so I'd say, "Well, I think that's a really good question. Why don't you read chapter five and report back to us tomorrow?" A nice little teacher trick. But the truth was I started to realize all these things I didn't know, and I started to get in touch with why it was never okay for me to ask.
And I was sitting there — I was probably about 38 years old — and I was just hugging this thing, crying away. And I started to realize all of my defenses were dissolving, all of my fears were letting go. So I could start to ask for what I wanted. Because I had that male macho thing that we all have: Men don't ask. We're supposed to know.
We saw a cartoon recently. It showed a man, and his wife asked him the question, "Why don't you stop and ask for directions?" And he says, "Because my genetic program prevents me from stopping to ask for directions, that's why." We men have to look as if we have it all together. We have to look as if we're totally self-sufficient at all times.
And so the reality is there's a whole deal of programming for men that it's not okay, so our pride as men is at stake; it stops us from asking.
Our friend Jane Bluestein is not only an extraordinary speaker but a terrific writer. She says, "I remember the first time I asked for $500 as my speaking fee. I literally had to take a drink of water because I couldn't get the words out of my mouth. The woman who hired me said, 'Yeah, that's fine.' I just stared at her and she said, 'You didn't think we were going to say okay, did you?' I was thinking, Am I that transparent? She said, 'You're worth $500' " It seems as if every one of us has an issue asking for money.
When I decided to become a public speaker, I was a high school teacher. And I was extremely shy. The reason I became a speaker was not because I had this love for the platform but because I felt a need to share something I thought was very important that I'd been learning about self-esteem. I remember the big problem was trying to figure out what my fee was going to be. So I looked around, and most people back then were doing it for very little. Because if you were in education, my belief was if you cared about children, you couldn't possibly ask for a lot of money because that would mean you were only in it for the money and not for the children's benefit.
So my first talk was for $25. I drove through a huge snowstorm. I got into Connecticut from Massachusetts, gave my two-hour talk to the teachers, and then drove two hours back through the snowstorm and was excited that I had a check for $25.
Well, over the years, my fee went up to $300. I mentioned Hanoch McCarty before. Hanoch was in graduate school with me, and we've been lifelong friends. So I asked him, "Hanoch, what do you charge for a speech?" He said, "I get $800." I said, "$800! How do you get $800?" Because here I'm getting $300, and I think I'm equally as good as he is, and he's getting more than twice what I make. He said, "I ask for it."
Now this was a revelation to me. How could you ask for that much money? And he said, "Well, I just do because it's available." Well, I couldn't believe it. So I said, "Okay, I'm certainly worth it. I'm going to ask for that."
So I practiced for a whole week, $800, $800. What's your fee? $800. And I was totally nervous to ask for this, because I thought that they were just going to think I'm a rip-off capitalist person who doesn't care about kids. But I practiced.
So now I got a call from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It was the head of the mental health consortium out there. He said, "Jack, we'd like to hire you to do a one-day seminar for us on a Saturday." I said, "Great. The dates work." He said, "What's your fee?" So I stammered and finally said, "$600." I couldn't get the word eight out. He said, "$600?! No sweat!" And I said, "John, what would have been sweat?" He said, "We had $1,200 in the budget." I said, "John, I told you I'd do it for six; I'll do it for six. That was the deal."
Now the next guy who called me, he said, "What's your fee?" And I went, "$1,200." And he said, "Well, that's a little steep. We only have $800 in our budget." And I said, "Well, for you, special deal. We'll work it out."
But it was amazing. I was so afraid to ask for that kind of money because I was afraid of how I'd look. I was afraid of this image that I was trying to maintain for the public. And I figured it was costing me, let's say, if I gave 100 talks, it would be $30,000 versus $80,000 if I was charging $800. It's amazing to me how we stop ourselves because we simply don't ask.
My pride was kind of a false humility-type pride, where I was trying to look as if I were more caring of people than perhaps I really felt inside. Even though I was doing it for the children, I was more wrapped up in my image of looking good.
Remember — all you have to do is ask!