The Asking Muscle

I got a free iPhone today, just for asking.

Really. My son’s iPhone actually, which had been glitching out (his words!). After two rounds of tech support and part replacements at the Apple store, I finally just called Apple today and politely but firmly explained why we needed a free replacement phone. Moments later, I was granted one.

It turns out that knowing what you want and asking for it are skills not only of benefit in relationships, but in life. Imagine if girls and young women took every opportunity to ask for what they wanted in matters big and small, gaining confidence and insight along the way, storing it up for when it really mattered.

When it really mattered:

In her freshman year of high school, my daughter Claire had a new teacher for Biology, a woman who was unclear with assignments and expectations despite our frequent meetings with her. In the Spring, the teacher suddenly departed on an extended leave, only to be replaced by a young student of education, still training to be a teacher. Claire concluded the school year with a very disappointing grade, frustrated that her frequent attempts to get help had not paid off.

It wasn’t until well into her sophomore year that I found how she handled it. Unbeknownst to me, she requested a meeting with a school administrator and calmly explained her situation, asking that her final grade please be raised a letter grade higher. After deliberation, the administrator told her that in 25 years in the job he had only raised grades a few times at a student’s request. This was one of them.

Asking for what you want doesn’t always work.

We know that full well. But just as the muscles in our body need consistent exercise to stay strong, our voices do too. The more we practice asking, the more comfortable it becomes. With each victory, we gain confidence. With each disappointment, we learn something.

As the mother of a college-bound rising senior, I worry over sending her off into the world. And I have to ask myself: have I done all I can to teach her to advocate for herself? Because it’s important to me as a person, I suppose it’s always been inherent in my parenting, both modeling it and trying to teach it. Before she could speak, I taught her baby signs so that she could ask for what she wanted rather than crying in frustration. From the time she could talk, I had her look adults in the eye and use her words. Once she started attending school, I encouraged her to speak with her teachers when faced with a problem, to try to resolve it herself without my stepping in.

In fact, in her first week of first grade, Claire requested a meeting with her teacher. Seated at a table in an empty classroom, Claire told Ms. Riley:

“This all-day school thing isn’t working out for me.”

The Kindergarten day ended at 11:30am. She was having a hard time adjusting the school day ending at 2:30pm. It wasn’t working out for her. Needless to say, Claire’s school day wasn’t shortened, and she managed to survive first grade. But she was already in the habit of getting that voice muscle working for her.

Knowing who we are and what we believe is an incredibly important first step in gaining leadership in our own lives. Expressing it, and consequently changing the world, comes more slowly. It takes practice, whether it’s asking for fair treatment at school or asking for more whip on the hot chocolate. It’s just important to start somewhere.

Read more from Girls Leadership:

on Leadership     by Stacy Pena

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