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How do I teach myself to ask for what I want?


This issue has been coming up a lot lately, as I work towards self-publishing my first novel, and looking for actual jobs. One of my deepest, and most consuming, lifelong beliefs has been that someone else has to tell me that I deserve to be published, preferably someone with their name on book jackets around the world. And someone important has to tell me that I deserve a good job. I don’t believe that I’m supposed to ask for what I want; it has to be offered to me, or else I have no idea if I have a right to it.

This puts some serious limitations on my life, as you can imagine. It takes an enormous amount of work, and days, weeks, and months of self-loathing, to push myself to ask for things despite my underlying concerns. Rejection generally feels like a confirmation of what I already think about myself: that I, fundamentally, don’t deserve to get what I want.

In one of my social work textbooks, it said that, according to research, it takes four positive comments for your brain to process what you’ve heard, compared to a single negative comment. And I grew up with a ratio of closer to one positive comment to ten thousand negative comments, so my self-image makes sense, scientifically. And when I look at the piles of rejections, from agents and publishers and magazines and schools, I can’t escape the belief that all of those negative comments were true.


“Just listen to me, Mommy.”

I want to feel like it’s okay to self-publish my novel, and to ask people to buy it, even without the middle man of a publisher telling them that I’m worth it. And I want to feel confident applying for jobs, or asking for help from friends, or coworkers, or teachers. I want to feel like I can ask for attention from people when I want it, and not always believe that someone else deserves it more than I do. But I don’t know how to get there. I had hoped that three and half years of school, and internships, and facing one fear after another, would change this. But I am still me.

There are people who are kind, compassionate, and generous who are also ambitious and willing to ask for what they want. They are confident enough in their self-worth that, whether they succeed or fail, they continue to believe in themselves and persist. That doesn’t describe me. My inner monologue rips me to pieces as soon as I send out a query letter, or fill in an application, or even look at a listing for a job opportunity.

Part of the problem is that I can only remember the times when what I wanted was ignored or deemed impossible. I can’t remember the successes, even though I’m sure there were many. I can’t remember being offered things that I wanted, even though I’m sure that’s happened too. My brain is pre-programmed with these glitches and I don’t know how to change that.

Asking for attention is scary, because I never know what kind of attention I’ll get in response. I’m not someone who prefers negative attention to no attention. If anything, my default choice is invisibility. I don’t even need an invisibility cloak, I just stop making eye contact. If I can’t see you, you can’t see me. Right?


An invisibility hat?

But I want more attention. I have things I want to say, that I think other people might want or need to hear. But more than that, I’m tired of being invisible. The transition to being more visible has been slow, and painful, but it still seems to be something I want. Especially as a writer.  I want to believe that I deserve to be published, not simply because everyone should have the right to be heard, but, competitively, I want to believe that my voice has value to other people and is worth hearing. But that’s so hard to sit with, for me. Its feels like arrogance, and I automatically cover my face with my hands in anticipation of slings and arrows coming my way.

I still don’t have a thick enough skin to protect me from criticisms and rejections, because I always think I should take them in and take them to heart. I don’t quite know when I’m allowed to ignore the negativity.

Miss Cricket always seemed to be able to ask for what she wanted, until Ellie arrived. Then, suddenly, Cricket was more demure, waiting behind Ellie, not sure if she should come forward and ask for her share of the treats. I’ve had to make a point of creating a space for Cricket, so that she knows that she deserves what she wants. It’s not Ellie’s fault, though. She’s willing to share, but something in Cricket shrinks back. Ellie is a superstar at asking for what she wants, but she’s also able to adapt to a No without losing her spirit. Somehow, I will have to teach Cricket, and myself, how to follow Ellie’s lead.


“Try using puppy dog eyes, they always work for me.”


“Like this?”

This might take a while.

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

123 responses »

  1. I would purchase your novel, absolutely with no puppy eyes required.

  2. The last two photos had me laughing out loud. Glad, through all the wonderings, your divine sense of humor shines through! Let me know if you want any publisher referrals. I have a couple that you might find interesting.

  3. Sticks and stones…? I’m so glad Ellie came into your life — I hope she gives you both more confidence! You’re worth it! I don’t follow many bloggers on wordpress, but yours is the only I subscribe to the daily notification. I want to keep up with your stories and perspective! You have a way of writing that simplifies and clarifies, and in an increasingly complex world, it’s refreshing to read something from a good person who has a grasp of the bigger picture.

  4. I don’t know how I missed this post. I must have been pretty busy last weekend. I can relate to everything you said here.

  5. 1. I can hardly wait for your novel. Sign me up for advance purchase NOW!
    2. If you want a quick reminder of success, look at your blog “likes” and at the number of people who read your blog every day. I am not the only person who looks forward to reading the continuing adventures of Rachel and her family. That kind of readership is success, Rachel. I imagine that publishers have trouble finding a pidgeon hole for you, so they are hesitant, but that’s THEIR problem. You are a wonderful, wonderful writer and a lot of us know it.

  6. I saw this quickly last night and as soon as I spotted the “self-publishing” I knew I’d have to come back today and read more. It piqued my curiosity because I’m in the same place myself. I knew before I even finished my novel that I didn’t want to go the traditional publishing route. Initially because I wasn’t tough enough to take the criticisms, but later because I don’t have the time to spend hunting down someone to read and validate my work. So, I went the self-publishing route (with the literary help of many friends) and just ordered my proof copy a couple of days ago. BUT even though I could relate to the novel part, I kept reading because I understand so much of your post. I used to have a TERRIBLE time with criticism and it would stab me to the quick. And I would reel from it for days. Weeks even, if it was harsh enough. Spiritually I’ve been taught how to overcome this and have made great progress. In a nutshell, I was taught how to use the criticism to see if there was truth to anything that was said, use it to be better, but then let it go. Obviously, it’s a challenging process, but I can relate to your struggle. And I can’t leave without saying this, you DO have something to share, and I can say that with such assurance because everyone has a story to tell. And one is just as beautiful and necessary as the next. So, keep shining. You’ll find your way, after all, as confident as some seem, we’re ALL still picking our way along and figuring things out as we go. And, sorry about this super long comment… you should see my Instagram posts 😉 Have a beautiful day.

  7. Sign me up to purchase your novel! You are a wonderful writer with so many insights, we all have that self critical person inside who is filled with doubt (maybe the exception is the big T). You go for it!

  8. I manage a huge global writing forum and we have several writers experiencing the same self-doubts. I am not going to give the link as I can’t abide spammers.
    A question we always ask is if you are going to self-publish have you had the book professionally edited? You have invested a lot of time and effort into writing the book so make it the best it can be.

  9. It’s my theological belief that condemnation, especially self-condemnation is of the devil. Now before you think I’m off my theological-rocker…I mean it comes from the fall of man. Before the fall, Adam and Eve were not aware of any negative emotions. After they were led to disobey by satan (deliberately not capitalized) they felt self-condemnation for the first time. And we might think, for good reason, boy did they blow it. But that’s the root and that’s why it’s so easy to do. It’s a real serious, daunting root. But as saved people, it’s really not ours. Self-condemnation doesn’t belong to us. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in and follow after Jesus.” Paraphrase.

    It’s my belief, that what Jesus came to do is to return us (as much as is possible in a fallen world) to the original state of man. We live with the Spirit of Jesus inside us in this fallen world, with our flesh (which is not saved and makes mistakes and has hissy fits). That’s why we can and should ask for things that God has put into our hearts. It’s His spirit telling us to go forward.

  10. Your dog is very cute! Keep it up!

  11. Could not agree more about how difficult it is to ask for help or consideration. It’s absolutely easier to self-publish than to deal with rejection worries.

    Just remember that the musician MC Hammer self-published, so you are not alone in trying this route.

    As for needing permission to move forward with your dreams and goals, that’s a aide effect of how many women were raised – to be the desired prey vs. pursuing goals of our own.

    No advice here. Just an endorsement that you move forward with your own goals, despite your anxiety. Hugs to you,

  12. Dear Rachel, I would like to be the person who, in spirit, walks beside you and says that you are definitely worth it. The “committee” in my brain always convinced me that I wasn’t worth anything (probably because my parents always wanted me to be the composite of all good traits of other people; they didn’t want me to be Debbie. And they didn’t give me the Hebrew spelling of my name, Deborah, which, if I could have spoken as a little baby, I would’ve told them!) So, I’m asking you to please don’t believe the lies you may be thinking about yourself. They’re not real. YOU are real, and the one who counts. Oh man, I wish you lived in MN so I could say this all in person — and meet your furry frirends. G-d bless, Debb

  13. I’m having trouble believing that four positive comments versus one negative comment stat. Depends where they come from, I suppose. I’m politically active and any negative comment from an opponent would need to be particularly apposite to hurt at all. My experience is that most people react very well to being praised just once if it seems genuine. As you say, hurtful remarks have a big impact if they hit a sensitive spot. I can’t switch off and regard an unexpected angry reaction from someone else with calm.

    What we all can do is to look at what we have achieved. It’s nearly always impressive. Also a bit of self-doubt helps you avoid falling in big holes!


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