How to Ask for What You Want in Life and Work


A handful of cloudy years ago, those carefree-ish mid-20s I’ll never get back, all my days were consumed with a never-ending breakup with a boyfriend. We brought out the worst in each other and we couldn’t stay away from each other.  

“You know I wanted to have kids with you, right?” he said a little too confidently near the final, for real this time breakup.

I almost laughed. Maybe I did laugh. “What? You never told me that.”

The thought of us, two good people in a truly disastrous relationship, bringing children into our I-love-you-but-mostly-I-love-you-not madness was ridiculous to me. His delusion almost came off as sweet.

“That wasn’t the deal. That was never the deal,” I said.

Of course I didn’t know that. Why? Because he never told me. And if there’s one lesson I keep learning over and over and over, it’s that you need to ask for what you want—in love, in work, in every nook and cranny of life. Perhaps a raise, a ride to the airport, extra responsibility at work, a bite of your date’s entrée, more foreplay before getting down and dirty. I hope my ex has learned this necessary nugget of life advice by now, too.

Turns out, oftentimes, opportunities don’t just fall into your lap or inbox. And it’s too bad most people can’t read minds either, huh? So that means it’s up to us. Getting what you want takes tenacity, bravery, clear communication, sensibility, and a little bit of luck. And though I’m continuing to learn this lesson every day, I’m slowly getting the hang of it. So here, step by step, let’s get what we want together, shall we?

First, know exactly what you want.

Identify your problem, then recognize your need. Say housework is hogging all your free time. Do you need to ask your partner to participate more? (And not by spitting under your breath, “Unload the dishwasher once in a while, why dontcha?” in his or her direction. Resentment doesn’t resolve.) Or perhaps work is uninspiring these days. Should you ask your boss to schedule a meeting so you can consider next steps? Or ask friends in your field to put feelers out there for you? Once you break down what you need, you’ll have a better idea of who, how, and when to ask for it.

You know you deserve what you want, right?

If you don’t think you’re worthy of what you’re asking for, then whoever you’re asking isn’t going to think so, either. What’s the basis of that fear? That you’re inadequate, not educated enough, not deserving of nice things? Do you think you’re too young, too old, too timid, too poor, too something? That pool of reasons ain’t pretty, but it’s best to dive in head first to figure out your insecurities.

If you don’t think you’re worthy of what you’re asking for, then whoever you’re asking isn’t going to think so, either.

Recognize the difference between having needs and being needy.

Welcome to my therapy session from three weeks ago! Turns out, for a myriad of midwestern/Catholic/Irish/child of divorce guilt-ridden reasons, I’ve been blurring the lines between having needs and feeling needy. Maybe you are, too. We all have basic needs: to have a sense of purpose, to feel loved, to care for and protect ourselves. If what you’re asking for falls into a basic need category for you, then you aren’t being needy. So let’s get this straight: you can be a strong, capable, independent person with needs. You can have needs without being needy. You asking the woman in the produce department to scoot her cart over so you can pass by isn’t needy.

Get to the point.

No need to write a soliloquy. Be clear, concise, kind, and convincing. Subject, predicate, verb, manners. Edit out the “maybes” and “justs”; wishy-washy words water down your request.

Be reasonable.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I want to move to Amsterdam and find loving homes for all the world’s orphans and have affordable healthcare and trip on a treasure chest of gold, too. But that’s a titch unreasonable, isn’t it? (…Or is it?) So maybe instead of marching into your manager’s office and demanding a more flexible schedule, you can negotiate a work from home deal for once a week. Then check in a few months from now to see if it’s working for both of you. Perhaps instead of asking your first grade teacher friend for a giant donation to your charity event, see if she could help you assemble the seating chart. Chances are, if you aren’t asking someone to lasso the moon for you, they’ll be happy to help.

Consider the other person.

Oftentimes your ask is another person’s give. Be thoughtful of their bandwidth for what you want. And, like everything in life, timing is key. No, 4:55 p.m., when your boss is frantically packing up, trying to get to her daughter’s soccer tournament when you know she’s missed the last three games really isn’t the time.

Keep your chin up.

“Every rejection is God’s protection.” Or so says my friend’s mother. Oh well, that magazine politely declined my pitch. Maybe they’ll love my next batch of ideas. So that law firm isn’t hiring right now—doesn’t mean the one down the block isn’t, or that they won’t be next month. And that date who never called you back? You don’t need me to tell you he’s not worth your time. If at first you don’t succeed, reassess your approach, trust the universe, then try, try again.

So tell me, what are you asking for these days?


BY Megan McCarty - May 8, 2019

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Miles Smith
May 8, 2019 12:06 pm

dsfvsdgv sdfgbrbrf dfvsdfvbsdfrgewdv Thanks for sharing.I found a lot of interesting information here. A really good post, very thankful and hopeful that you will write many more posts like this one.

May 9, 2019 5:56 pm

I’m asking for a significant raise at a startup that has no idea how to set salary brackets or raises. :/

May 10, 2019 9:55 am

This article is spot on. I recently asked for a raise, and had spent over a month thinking about how I wanted to go about it. I found it helpful to consider the communication style of the person I would be making the request to, what kind of questions they might pose in response. —Basically training myself to think about all the things I do that bring value to my company so that I wouldn’t blank on the spot. I did a fair amount of salary research, and knew what a 5, 10 and 15% raise equated in dollars, etc.… Read more »

May 12, 2019 3:56 am

Can i just say that i do really enjoy wit and delight. I always look forward to finding some inspiring reads. Thanks so much !!
Kirsten x

May 29, 2019 3:54 am

Love this post on “How to Ask for What You Want in Life and Work”.

Tracy Hoggard
January 25, 2020 12:22 am

I like this way of thinking

September 30, 2020 10:13 am

Megan, you’re so right! “If you don’t think you’re worthy of what you’re asking for, then whoever you’re asking isn’t going to think so, either.” This is so true! Confidence is key. If I’m not confident of my own ideas, no one else will believe in me or my ideas either!

September 30, 2020 10:16 am

“Every rejection is God’s protection.” I never understood the meaning of this phrase until a few years ago I couldn’t get into the college of my choice but it turned out to be the best decision of my life!

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