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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. So much of this resonates with me…

  2. ramblingsofaperforatedmind

    You are worthy. Your voice matters.

  3. I get this. I hope to finish my life knowing my song did not remain silent in my heart, too.

  4. Therapy can help. And people grow in different ways.
    You are ahead of me. I can’t get a query letter written and mailed. Two books written.
    I self published one on kindle. That made me feel good to see the title and my name there on the kindle and amazon index.

  5. Rachel, I hope you will find your strong voice. I had the same problems when I was younger. It took working for some bosses who way my potential and challenged me to ask for what I wanted. Don’t worry…you will get there. Take a leap of faith.

  6. If you have a novel manuscript, take it to an agent. Especially if you can sit down with one at a conference after sending material in advance to that specific agent. That is what helped in my case…

  7. I’ll go out on a limb here and guess that a career in politics is unlikely. 😁

  8. Go for it, you are so worth it and you have no need to resort to puppy dog eyes.

  9. Rachel – I have been following you for quite some time now and I eagerly look forward to every post you write. I can relate to so many of your thoughts and emotions even though we may have different experiences bringing those on … and I believe that is the sign of a wonderful writer, someone who can make those heartfelt connections with people living different lives. And then there are the actual similarities between our lives that make me laugh out loud – literally! I will be amongst the first to pay real money for any book you publish in any format. I believe in you … and I know I am not the only one. You will find your strength soon enough – maybe a pair of sparkly red shoes 👠 like Dorothy had in the Wizard of Oz could be a good reminder for you that you’ve had the power in you all along? It’s worth a try … besides, who doesn’t like sparkly shoes ? 🤷‍♀️

  10. Go for it, Rachel, You have a good talent for writing. Margaret Mitchell was turned down 30 + times before anyone accepted it. The saddest words of tongue or pen are what might have been.

  11. “n 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.”

    me too girl. wow we were lucky to get ONE positive comment much less four. I don’t have any advice except when you figure it out please tell me what you figured out lol!!! I struggle with same thing. And have been working at it for decades. I’ve improved. You can too.

    It’s hard though and especially when you make an effort to try it out and you don’t get heard or the response is negative…. you have to keep telling yourself that you do deserve to communicate your needs, and that YOU are not the problem when your requests aren’t received in a loving way. And just keep trying. Make like actual homework for yourself to do, like ask for something at least once a day, etc. I haven’t done this but I think that’s how Life Coaches approach things. This is something that will take practice because it’s a new habit that will have to be born and an old habit that will have to be broken.

    If it will help any you can email or text me every day asking for something simple that i can give you from a distance … that would be a safe practice exercise for you if you want. Because it’s hard to get over that hump omg.

      • welcome!

        as an example, one of my managers was getting a lot of laundry soap for practically free using some coupons and she offered me one since I had helped her get one of the coupons… my first instinct was to say no i’m fine. and i did say that. Then I thought about it and realized I was still refusing help that i can use and I texted her back and said yes, I would love a small thing of tide and thanks!

        it just takes catching yourself doing it for one thing, and then practicing making yourself do the opposite of what you want to do lol You can do this. I know you can. You deserve it.

  12. that’s wild about cricket and ellie! My god but you would make an awesome human mom! Poor cricket. tell her we love her!

  13. neurological reprogramming IS possible. You can do this.

  14. This tendency is far more common among women than men. There have been a number of recent articles in The NYT about woman’s reticence in asking for raises.

    On another note, I think you’re an excellent writer and should self-publish. It’s really the only chance a new writer has.
    You’ll never know unless you try, will you?

  15. I can really relate to this.

  16. Perhaps start with the four agreements?

    1) Be impeccable with your word.- this is a clear invitation to encourage you to ask for what you want and to say what you need.

    2) Don’t take anything personally. – this is a reminder that people might say no and it could really have NOTHING (NOT A THING!) to do with you. It could be that they just said no. Sometimes people say yes/no based on their own personal goings on, but then again, if you are not taking things personally who cares? Just take the no and move on.

    3) Don’t make assumptions. – this is a reminder that a person can say no and it has NOTHING (NOT A THING) to do with you. It could be that they just said no. Sometimes people say yes/no based on their own personal going ons, but then again, if you are not making assumptions then you will just take the no and move on. (See what I did there?)

    4) Always do your best. – this can go so many places. If you are always doing your best, no one can fault you for anything — because you are doing your best. If you are doing your best and that includes speaking with impeccability, then your golden. If your best includes not taking anything personal – wahooo! Look at you! If you best includes not making any assumptions – you will possibly be much happier.

    Ok, I am sure you have heard of these, but for me, I can always use reminding. And . . . this is just an idea of how to teach yourself to ask for what I want . . . . maybe. 🙂 It might be a start. Just putting ideas out there.

  17. This is going to be difficult, but I think Dave Ramsey or it could have been Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen that Re-Framed Rejection for me: I think the was the latter two. Paraphrasing: There is no such thing as rejection. You didn’t have a date to the dance before you asked the girl out. If she says ‘No.’ You haven’t been rejected. You still don’t have a date to the dance is all.” I like that framing. Also, I’ve been lucky enough to learn to ask. I could likely have gotten through my senior year of college if I would have asked my college for assistance the first time I ran out of money and student loans. I didn’t, but when opportunities opened up to me, I took them. I sought opportunities that worked for me and asked for what I needed to continue. My college has been paying for my senior year of school for nearly two years (I usually attend part time). I will be finishing school in May 2019 with a bachelor of arts in Psychology and two minors, one in my beloved English. If I had not asked for what I needed, I may have had to drop out again. I don’t want to be a black jack dealer for life. There’s so much more to me. I have to ask for help to get through graduate school. I will ask for it, because I know I need it. I’m willing to work my butt off for that help, but re-framing the request…that this is for a need, a goal, really helps me to gain that confidence I need to succeed. Now I have to submit pieces for publishing, and that will be a bit tougher…But I’ve submitted some and will continue to do so. I was not published before I submitted. So, it won’t be rejection, but maybe a small disappointment that they don’t see what I have to share. I’ll keep looking.

  18. Angela@eatlivehappy

    You are so worthy! Just remember that Walt Disney was fired from a job because they said he had no imagination. The key is to never give up. I struggle with this everyday as well. But refuse to give up.

  19. irrespective of the success or otherwise of your self-publishing venture, you deserve to be heard, and you write very well. Traditional publishers often fail to recognise what is commercially very valuable. One author I know has had great success – way beyond my wildest dreams – though self publishing a novel rejected by countless publishers. Best of luck!

  20. I think many people can relate to this – myself included. The fear of rejection and failure can be paralyzing, but sometimes we just have to ignore those voices in our heads that hold us back and ask for what we want or try to realise our dreams and aspirations before we feel ready. I think when we’re focused on something that seems out of reach, we tend to forget how capable we already are and how much we’ve already achieved: Your blog is one example of that, you’re already a writer and one that people can relate to. Keep going, you’ll get there.

  21. Pingback: How do I teach myself to ask for what I want? — rachelmankowitz – The Spinsta Life

  22. I’ve learned to tell my inner critic to STFU. Seriously, I’ve named her Samantha (apologies to any Samanthas out there) and I say, “Samantha, I’ve heard enough from you today. I can do this without your help. Go play with your toys.” ( I call my GPS “Stephanie” and I tell her to shut up frequently, too.) It may sound ridiculous, but it helps.

  23. You are doing a great job. Keep following Ellie’s example. And remember that any comment/reaction from anyone is only their opinion and could be being made for any number of reasons.

  24. I suspect that everyone feels like that, albeit at different levels. The fact that you can express those feelings on your blog tells me that you are almost there.
    Best wishes, Pete.

  25. I once bought bright, lime-green sneakers because that was the only available color. A friend said, “You can’t be invisible in those.” I so relate to your struggle for visibility and self-actualization. I did not start living into myself until I was 50, and the past 17 years have been a wonderful adventure of asking for what I want and making decisions based on what is best for me. Some of us are just late-bloomers, but once we find our voices, I believe we are the most powerful of forces.

  26. You’re not alone. I’ve had assertiveness issues throughout my life, too.

  27. “I want to believe that my voice has value to other people and is worth hearing.”

    Believe it! You’re a good writer. A thoughtful writer.

    Neil S.

  28. Publish that book ! You deserve to have your book published! You also deserve an awesome kick ass job ! God has got you and He will guide and protect you. Place your faith in Him ! Can’t wait to read the book ! #JustDoIt

  29. A humorous suggestion. Get hold of Carole King’s Kid musical CD “Really Rosie.” Listen to it a lot. Identify with Rosie! It seriously has helped me as it starts humming in my brain when I needed courage!

  30. Love Ellie and Cricket Rachel, so glad they have bonded in their own doggy way.

  31. Negative feedback comes in many flavors. At one extreme end is from someone who is just plain mean and gets enjoyment from tearing something apart. At the other end is someone who knows the subject and is honestly trying to help you improve. Learn to tell the difference because some of the mean ones present themselves as coming from the other end, get your trust and THEN let you have it.

  32. “I have things I want to say, that I think other people might want or need to hear.”

    Everyone may not appreciate your perspective, but if your words touch or help one person, it’s well worth the effort.

    Self publish.

  33. Your voice does matter, Rachel. Know this in your heart and mind and don’t let go of it. How sweet is Ellie? She’s right after all. Make your requests known, but don’t let No shatter you. Very good advice! 🙂

  34. This is going to sound mad, but have you ever tried playacting your way through lack of self-confidence? Now and again literally acting out a part, pretending to be what and who you want to be, to acheive a specific goal? I’m not advocating it as a lifestyle! But I’ve found it quite surprisingly helpful. Liberating too, and it can be a big laugh. Maybe worth a try!

    • I’ve done it, but it leaves me feeling like a stranger to myself.

      • Yes, I can understand that. It’s really hard. There’s no obvious answer – but take heart because those thought patterns and behaviour are not irrevocably stuck. Neuroplasticiry! I’ve just been listening to a fascinating interview with James Doty. ‘Brain surgeon James Doty is on the cutting edge of our knowledge of the brain and the heart: how they talk to each other; what compassion means in the body and in action; and how we can reshape our lives and perhaps our species through the scientific and human understanding we are now gaining. ‘ If you’re tempted to listen or read the transcript it’s here

  35. While puppy dog eyes may work (not) I went with the “fake it til you make it” philosophy for self-confidence. And guess what? It worked! (mostly) I have found that the more I act or behave like I have self-confidence, the more it grew until it just became a part of who I am.And part of that was making myself do the uncomfortable things that you just wrote about. You can do this, Rachel!

  36. I was in one of the big chain bookstores up here recently. They had a huge amount of real estate, giant displays, a coffee shop. It was beautiful. They also had a remarkably poor selection of books. They were the AM top 40 radio of bookstores. They sold the hits, and the prize-winners, or at least some of the prize winners because there were gaping holes. In my town there are hardly any independent bookstores anymore. The book industry doesn’t know what to do with itself and has defaulted to promoting a very narrow selection. Never get down about not being accepted by that crowd. The fact is with the advent of print on demand, you can have a book available for sale with almost no upfront costs. Don’t stop writing because you don’t fit into some agent’s or publishing exec’s idea about what is good or interesting or what can make them some coin. Print on demand means there is nobody out there marketing for you, but there are so few authors who achieve that kind of elite success, it’s hardly worth worrying about. Get your book available online. With Amazon’s KDP Publishing, for instance, you can order up all the author copes you want at pretty low cost and you can sell them any way you want. And if one person reads it and likes it and tells a friend, that friend might tell two more friends and so on and suddenly you’re moving some books. You can hold a book launch and invite everyone you know. You might even find someone along the way who is super-excited about what you’ve written and will write a little review.

    You have a big network already with this blog. As I type this, your current post has had over 100 likes and over 60 comments. You may not realize how enviable that is. I’ve been blogging for a decade and if one of my posts gets 6 or 7 likes and a comment or two, I’m over the moon. When your book is available, show it off here and write about your adventure writing it and trying to get it published, and you watch your network come through for you. I want to encourage you to have faith in yourself. You have a lot to offer and a unique and personal perspective.

    I’ll buy your book at the earliest opportunity and I’m looking forward to reading it!

  37. basilisazambrano

    Perfect read for an aspiring new blogger. I myself have been waiting for that important someone to tell me that I deserve to be a blogger. Invisible no more!!! Thank you for your authenticity and empowering words.

  38. The childhood trauma of growing up in somebody’s shadow can be a hard burden to carry, especially if you’ve learnt to retreat into your shell every time you are facing a new social challenge.
    Never fear how some may interpret you, but learn to accept risks. Risk whatever extra effort it may take to develop into the person that you are meant to be. You’ll be happy you did it.
    Keep up the good work and be brave. That’s what life is all about.

  39. Go for it! All the best to you.

  40. Writing a novel is a huge achievement, Rachel, and self publishing is a great way to get it out into the world. I had many doubts and reservations before I self-published my first novel, and even though I didn’t sell many copies, I keep writing and publishing books for the few people who do read them and enjoy them because I love to write and have so many stories to tell. Your talent for writing shines through in your blog and I, along with so many others, am looking forward to reading your novel. Never stop believing in yourself and your amazing abilities!

    • I agree, especially because the publishing industry is so complicated anymore. I got stalled out trying to just find an agent! ALL of my writer friends have self published, I think it is the most amazing thing. Cuts through and bypasses all the bureaucratic /political/ bullcrap!

      I was thinking the other day, that if Laura Ingalls Wilder had to go through what writers have to today – we NEVER would have had LIttle House on the Prairie! Never. Those manuscripts would be sitting in someone’s attic right now. Because we can’t just walk through a publisher’s door anymore like she could.

  41. Such cute pictures and Good luck on your book.

  42. Never doubt that you are worthy of writing what others want to read. I also lacked any self confidence as a child and never put myself forward. I was always the last chosen for games etc. It has taken me years to know that I have value. Never doubt that you do too. Someone said to me if dogs love you you are worth loving. I believe it!

  43. My first sales job was selling life insurance – which is recognized as one of the most difficult products to sell. I was 43 years old, and my first boss gave me the most important advice I’ve ever had: “Everybody will buy from you sometime – you just don’t know when.”
    That wasn’t exactly true, but it made my rejection letters more palatable.
    Keep at it, Rachel. You have something important to tell.

  44. Where you are right now in your book life is already an achievement. Congrats on that.

    For encouragement, there’s a Debbie Macomber story that I love. When she was very early in her writing career, she got lost in a hospital and a doctor told her how to get where she needed to go — by walking through the door marked, “absolutely no admittance.” She took that as a whole-life message. You can, too! Blessings!!

  45. Steven James Humphreys

    Well written. I get it.

  46. This is definitely a challenge for me, too – in both professional and private spheres. I think I am going to embrace the “4 nice things” and start making a point of saying more loving and complementary things to the people around me.


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