One morning in 1993, I walked into the offices of a famous magazine in New York City and asked for a job as a writer. I had no appointment, no experience, and not a single published article to my name. But I'd had an epiphany: Nobody was ever going to knock on my door and say, "We understand a talented writer lives here and we'd like to help her with her career!" No. I would have to go knocking on doors.
So I did. I just walked in off the street and asked to be hired as a reporter. And guess what? It didn't work! (Of course it didn't work; they weren't dummies, and I was totally unqualified—jeez, how do you think the world operates, people?) But I still think of it as one of the most important moments of my life because it was the boldest. When I went home that day, I was still broke and obscure, but at least I knew I was brave. I wouldn't have to suffer the pain of knowing I hadn't tried.
Nearly 800 years ago, the Persian mystic poet Rumi wrote, "You must ask for what you really want." He saw asking as a sacred duty, and I think he was right—not because your wishes will be granted automatically (they won't), but because the mere act of saying aloud "This is who I am and what I've come for" seems to awaken a powerful force within. By articulating your wish, you're making an announcement that you're serious about bringing forth the next great thing in your life.
The hurdle, however, is that asking for what you really want—whether it's a job as a writer or a discount on tires—can be difficult. Especially for women. First of all, you must know what you really want, which can be hard if you were raised to please others. Secondly, you must believe that what you want is worthy—again, a tricky prospect for women long trained in the dark arts of self-deprecation. Thirdly, you must face the possibility of rejection. That's the worst of it. Women don't like being turned down (we get enough of that in our personal lives), and so, like trial lawyers, we often ask only questions to which we already know the answers. Which means: no risk. Which further means: no reward.
The funny thing is that rejection is not so bad, really. This is something I think men have always understood—that a glorious failure can sometimes be more life affirming than a cautious win. This is why men are constantly asking for stuff they might not even deserve or aren't totally qualified to handle. I don't say this as an insult to men, either; I wish more women would do the same. Because sometimes you get a yes, and even if you weren't prepared for that yes, you rise to the occasion. You aren't ready, and then you are. It's irrational, but it's magical.
I can't instruct you in exactly how to ask for things—it's not my area of expertise, and there are too many variables to account for. Sometimes you have to be gracious and charming, and other times you have to be brash and bold. But generally speaking, it's a surprisingly simple formula: Just freaking ask. Because the essential fact is that asking is the best way—the only way, really—to what you want.
Elizabeth Gilbert will be participating in Oprah's The Life You Want Weekend, headlined by Oprah telling her inspiring story. See where the tour is heading, get tickets and find out which other experts will be speaking.