One of the lessons I preach in scriptwriting class is that all story is about a character taking action towards their want.
If your character wants the mystical treasure, she says, “I want that treasure,” before hopping on a plane, flying to the country, fighting some bad guys, and getting it. If your character wants to date the person of his dream, he says, “I like you,” and asks her out. They go on a date, he gets his heart broken (or breaks hearts), and finally finds true love.
But story can be even more complex. Maybe your character wants her parent’s love. She may not be able to define this, and half the story is about her struggling to figure this out, before she can even say, “This is what I want!”
And I think this is where a lot of us end up in our real lives. And I believe this, because it happened to me.
For most of my life, I’ve never known how to straight-out ask for something.
My strategy has always been hinting at what I wanted, so that when the person offered it to me, they had already said “yes” in their own mind.
But I didn’t realize this was my strategy until I used it on my father-in-law, who never picked up on the suggestion.
When he finally realized what I wanted, he said with his very direct Greek way, “Why didn’t you just ask?”
I didn’t really know.
I think this strategy was a way to avoid rejection.
If you ask for something, you may be told, “No,” and when that happens, it stings. It makes you feel uncomfortable. Maybe a little embarrassed.
A similar strategy I took was to “pick my battles.” I’d ask whether this is something I really cared about and often I would argue myself to a “no.” Or, I would look for a “Win/ Win solution” and unknowingly settle in order to avoid conflict.
Like I said earlier, in story, a character has a want and they take an action.
Most likely, they encounter an obstacle, so they need to take a new action. But if that first action doesn’t work, they do another one, and another, and another…
This is what makes story interesting.
Yet, in my life, I’d avoid the obstacle altogether. And every time I ran away, I didn’t learn. I didn’t get smarter. I didn’t grow.
I think this avoidance of failure is a symptom of what Dr. Carol Dweck calls a fixed mindset. I was so worried that I may look stupid, that people would judge me for asking, or that I would feel bad about myself for making a mistake or failing, so that I wouldn’t expose myself.
Fortunately, the alternative is a growth mindset, where I can better see challenges as opportunities, failure as learning lessons, and the obstacle as the way forward .
As I discover this new path, I’ve come across a few guiding principles:
Define your want: This is a hard one, especially when you don’t know what the hell it is.
But you need to take the time to figure it out and make it clear. Have a goal, a finish line, that you can cross to know that you succeeded. Make it clear and precise and write it down if you need to.
What is your path of action? Now that you know your destination, how are you going to get there? Track the routes. Who do you need to talk to get what you need? Do you have their contact information or access to them? If not, who do you need to talk to get to that next step? Do you need to do some preliminary research to understand the territory? Do it, but don’t use it as an excuse to avoid going for what you want.
Tell the right people what you want: Once you are in front of the person who has what you want, be direct. Say exactly what your want-that perfectly defined version you made in Step #1. If you don’t state what you are looking for, they won’t know. The worst that can happen is they say no and the best is you get what you want.
Don’t stay down: If the answer is “no,” what’s your next step? You can continue moving towards your want until you’ve either exhausted all your possibilities, all your skills, or all your resources…but until then, what’s your next action? Find it, define it, then do it.