I grew up with the idea that asking for what I want meant potentially taking away from others. As a result, that risk of taking away from others making me inherently selfish. This is all an old belief system that I’ve since, thankfully, changed the story of but for a long time it served as a detriment to my own life, my personal relationships, and actually honouring the life I knew I wanted (and deserved!)
There is a concept of ‘responsibility to and for’ that I learned through this – still ongoing – journey of growth. For so long I felt like I was responsible for how others would respond to whatever I asked for. I felt responsible for how they may perceive it, and tried to mitigate that as much as I could.
There are a couple of things completely unhelpful about this approach. Firstly, it is impossible for me to control how another might react to or view me asking. They are a whole other human being and even though I generally had the best of intentions in this approach, I cannot be responsible for their experience of my request. Secondly, in trying to control it by not asking as all, I was not privileging them with the experience of responding how they would want to. I was holding back in a way that denied them the opportunity to express how they then felt about it. This puts a stop to either of us growing and moving forward, and stagnation comes into play.
Consider when you feel you’ve been doing a genuinely good job at work, it comes to yearly review time and you want to ask for a pay rise. Except, you also feel like you’re being selfish for asking too much, or you don’t bother because you already assume the answer is going to be no. What you’re taking away from yourself and your boss is the ability to have a deeper conversation about worth. You’re removing their opportunity to let you know where they feel you could grow more or even their chance to understand and recognise where you already are achieving. You’re removing the opportunity for a conversation around what value in that situation looks like for them, which in turn would have given you a chance to step into that if it aligned. But instead, you keep yourself small by not asking at all, maybe due to fear, not wanting to seem demanding, or because you’ve assumed the answer already.
And you stay exactly where you are. No growth, no open communication, but maybe a little resentment starting to build.
Once resentment creeps in, it can be challenging to stop that toxicity from spiralling.
Instead, next time you wonder if it’s selfish to ask for what you want or need in any situation whether work or personal, consider how you will feel if you don’t ask. Then consider how asking, privileging the other with the opportunity to respond in their truth, and creating a space between you where you’ve given each other permission to show up a little more wholly, will feel. You also won’t get your big, fat ‘YES’ without asking the question either.