Sunday, June 12, 2011
On Asking For What You Want
"A rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success."
Earlier this evening, I had the opportunity to ask a spiritual leader whom I follow for assistance with some retreats that I will be helping our Young Adult Dharma Council organize during the upcoming year. We are hoping he can introduce us to some younger teachers in the area to speak at retreats and possibly help us host a few retreats at his new spiritual center.
This was the first time that I’ve really reached out to this teacher outside of the more formal “lecture” environment (i.e. raising my hand and asking a question during the discussion portion of the evening), so I didn’t (and still don’t) really know the protocol for approaching him individually. Still, my motives are good and I could swear that I’ve seen other people approach him before, so I went up to speak with him during our break.
He seemed receptive to the idea of helping us but quickly interrupted me as I was describing what we were trying to do and said that now was not a good time or setting to discuss our request. I gracefully said not a problem, I understand – and we exchanged numbers with the understanding that I will follow up with him later this week to discuss things in more detail. All in all, a perfectly good outcome – and very reasonable considering that he appeared to be preparing for his upcoming talk. He was in no obligation to give me his phone number which is not listed on our sangha group’s website – so you’d think I’d feel pretty pleased with myself and proud of myself for having the guts to approach him with our request.
Instead, as he shared with me that “this was not a good time to talk,” I felt myself fighting back tears and getting emotional. I’m pretty sure that I hid it outwardly, but I had to make my way to the restroom shortly after I spoke with him to compose myself before rejoining the larger group.
As my initial desire to cry started to ebb, I observed a second inclination to shut down and run away from him – basically aversion to the sadness that I was feeling. A wave of thoughts ran through my head - thoughts about what a mean teacher he is (which he’s not)…how I’d show him by switching to a different group (which would be stupid)…how that’s the last time I’d try to organize a sangha event (which would be a real loss)…you get the idea. Basically, I wanted to do anything I could to show that I was boss of the situation, and I was going "show him" and avoid feeling that sort of discomfort in the future.
So, not a very good dynamic, right? Where’s the learning – why am I sharing this story on this blog?
Well...this evening, as I wrestled with all of these emotions, it occurred to me in a brief moment of wisdom to examine these feelings and sensations in my body with curiosity and mindfulness. That was the first gem from the experience - and how I was able to remember so many details about these emotions that I experienced this evening. The mindfulness that I cultivated also helped me to avoid taking actions as a result of my feelings that I would have later regretted – like storming out of the sangha group or something silly like that.
Also, by taking the time to notice with curiosity what was going on in my mind and body, I connected feeling these same sensations and having these same instinctual reactions at other times in my life when I’ve asked for something that I have wanted and either been refused or had an awkward response to my request.
Alright, so that's interesting…why do I have such marked reactions to these situations?
For one thing, these feelings arise when I have made myself vulnerable – i.e. when I have put myself out there – and feel any sense of rejection or dismissal from the person to whom I have opened myself up.
Second, these types of interactions cue up my inner child – who is hyper vigilant about wanting to meet others' expectations. She desperately wants to be a good little girl and not break the rules or wander into places where I am not supposed to go. Deep inside of me, my inner child experiences distress when I am even gently chastised for coloring outside the lines or doing something societally unacceptable – for not acting in a way that I “should” have.
Finally, these types of situations are particularly hard for me if I sense even a hint of pity from the other person – particularly if I’ve made a request of them that they cannot meet, and I project that they are trying to let me down easily or feel uncomfortable having to respond to my request. The people pleaser in me feels guilty for bothering them and regrets introducing awkwardness into their life.
While I am not proud of having these reactions and creating all of these story lines in my head, I am glad that I took the time to notice them this evening because it made me realize another skill that I ought to strengthen.
Currently, I have been focusing much attention in my personal growth process on becoming more comfortable speaking up about my truth and letting other people down more directly – basically doing exactly what my spiritual teacher did in this situation – i.e. he took care of his needs directly while still approaching me with a spirit of loving-kindness and giving what he felt that he could in the moment.
That is definitely an important skill for me to develop, but equally important is learning to break through these barriers that I have created that are holding me back from asking for what I want. Because if I don’t ask for what I want, I am not very likely to get it!
On the career front, I do a slightly better job asking for what I want; still, there are definitely times that I hold back from asking for a raise, avoid requesting permission to attend a conference – or ask for only half of what I want rather than starting with what I really want - all because I am trying to avoid the awkward feelings that I felt tonight when someone tells me “No.”
On the personal front, this hesitancy has played a significant role in my relationships over the years - and is a key area of opportunity for me. Looking back over previous occasions that I had to ask a guy to a formal dance in high school and college, I always went with the “safe” choice rather than actually asking the guys whom I actually had crushes on – i.e. I asked the guys whom I was sure would say “Yes” just to avoid the awkwardness of hearing the dreaded “No.” I neglected to ask the guys with whom I felt a spark of natural chemistry - for all I know, they could have had a thing for me as well and have been equally shy about it!
As an adult, I’ve yet to really allow myself the luxury of considering who I want to be with and then going after guys who fit that profile or guys for whom I feel a real attraction. A common thread among guys whom I have dated for a long amount of time (with one exception) is that they are persistent – i.e. they pursued me, and I felt enough initial attraction back to go along for the ride. My lack of assertiveness and lack of discernment combined has so far made me a pretty passive participant in the dating pool.
The only time in my life that I can recall feeling an attraction to someone and going after him, I had a wonderful experience – full of ups and downs and nights wondering if he would call – but also a great deal of excitement and passion. And that was the result of only one shot - those are pretty good odds! Who hasn’t heard stories of famous inventors or actors who experienced years of rejections and refusals and failures before finally attaining a great deal of success in their field?
Who knows what would be possible – in career and in love – if I just asked for what I wanted – and kept on asking for what I wanted until I got it? If wasn’t afraid to put myself out there every now and then – even if sometimes the response is no?
I have a hunch that a LOT would be possible – and I intend to find out – no matter what feelings I have to experience along the way!