My folks had a strange rule when I was being brought up: I was taught that it was rude to ask for things. Now, I’m sure the *idea* was to teach me not to whine about wanting treats and so forth when out in the store, for instance, but it extended to asking for treats anywhere. If we were at someone’s house, I wasn’t to ask for something to eat, but wait to be offered. The result was that as I grew up, I continued to believe it was rude of me to ask for what I wanted.
And of course that is not a good rule. It is certainly not something I passed on to my own children. If you don’t ask for what you want, or advocate for yourself, and just wait for things to fall into your lap, you are going to be a disappointed person.
I remember the first time I broke free of this rule.
At the end of my third year of university—I was 20—I was part of a touring performance group with singer Ann Mortifee as our guest star. In our Canadian performance, before going on tour, Ann sang the John Denver/Julio Iglesias duet, Perhaps Love, with a gentleman whose name I don’t recall. That fellow did not, however, join us on the tour. On the plane the discussion about the song came up between Ann and the Director and Producer of the show. It seemed they hadn’t given any thought to the lack of duet partner for Perhaps Love. Now, I was sitting nearby, overhearing this conversation, and thinking to myself, I can do it. I play the Dove of Peace, so it would even make sense in the show for me to do it. Hey folks! I’m sitting right here! I can sing the song with Ann!
I was thinking those thoughts so loudly I figured they had to hear me. I sat there waiting to be noticed. Waiting for them to think of me. Because I had been taught all my life to wait until a thing was offered.
Then I heard them say, “I guess we’ll have to cut that song.”
It hit me like a bus in that moment that I wanted to sing that duet with Ann, and that nobody was going to think of it. If I didn’t put myself forward, it was not going to happen.
I was nervous and shaking as I got up out of my seat on the plane and approached the small group. They looked up at me, and I said the All Important Words: “I could sing it with her.”
Of course they agreed! “That’s a great idea,” they said. Ann and I had a short rehearsal once we got to our hotel, and then I sang Perhaps Love with her for every other performance.
That was a huge lesson for a shy kid who had never really advocated for myself before. I didn’t become an instant expert at asking for what I want, but I continued to try, and got better at it over the years. I am much better at it now!