The One Tiny Thing You Can Do Today to Succeed Faster
Children are good at asking. They have to be. They cannot reach the toy. They cannot clamber up into the fridge to get more juice. Before having a need skews into being “needy,” kids must reside in this lovely space of dependence.
They ask often, with gusto, for applesauce and ponies, for five more minutes of television and five more hours in the pool.
So what happens to our uninhibited capacity for asking?
When does asking begin to embarrass us and tie our stomachs in knots? At what point do we start glazing our needs and desires with apologies to make them more palatable for others?
Our needs and desires make us human. Should we also apologize for being mammals or requiring oxygen?
Yet, those words, “I hate to ask, but…” tumble out of our mouths.
Why? Why do we hate to ask?
When I was in the second grade, the Green Hills Little League, of which my team, the Pirates, was a part, sponsored a contest.
Whoever sold the most chocolate bars got a prize.
Time has erased most of the details, but the chocolate bars I remember clearly. They had the shape of gold ingots and came sheathed in foil and paper. A promising start, yet appearances can be deceiving—especially in confections and politics.
The naked chocolate had a waxy pallor, a peculiar grayish tint.
My older sister Elizabeth gobbled them up like Augustus Gloop in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, but I couldn’t finish a single bar. You only have to eat one brown crayon before you’ve had your fill.
Even so, my coaches made the promise that unlocks any kid’s ambition:
“There will be prizes.”
Mind you, this content went down in the early nineties, so we still had a butter-colored rotary phone mounted to the kitchen wall.
Beneath it was a small wooden desk, the kind that acts like a magnet for AA batteries, receipts, and half-used packs of birthday candles.
Now we reach the crux of the story. That enterprising boy with mousy hair, hazel eyes, and an extra helping of stubborn sat down at the desk.
He pulled out the Harpeth Hills Church of Christ membership directory.
He opened it to the A’s, and he dialed the first number.
I called my way from A to Z.
My parents tell me that they didn’t recommend I call people from church. I arrived at the idea on my own. Knowing Karen and Bruce Church, paragons of respectability, I imagine that my sudden zeal for selling waxy chocolate made them uneasy.
“Okay, Bud,” I can hear them saying. “That’s probably enough calls for today.”
Not that my parents would have sabotaged my one-man candy-hawking campaign. Far from it. They were always supportive, always ready to assist.
But this was to become a motif of my childhood: My parents’ reluctance… then wonder… then pride… as their little guy hatched new schemes then actually made money.
Sometimes, they were able to talk me out of my worst ideas — most notably, a fur trapping business.
My optimism could blind me to obstacles.
For example, no fur-bearing animal of any species that lives in the moderate climate of Tennessee grows a pelt thick enough to have any value whatsoever.
Still, the deal-breaker for me was startup costs.
My parents wouldn’t float me the $250 I needed to buy traps, skinning boards, and accoutrements.
But low-quality chocolate for a good cause?
That was a different animal.
Soon enough, my parents did what good parents do: They threw up their hands in defeat and pitched in to help.
I certainly wasn’t going to deliver all those boxes of chocolate-coated carnauba wax.
The thing is, I won.
I got to walk out on the field at the Nashville Sounds stadium. During the National Anthem, I stood next to the third baseman.
What a funny little guy!
It’s not like I cared much about baseball at the time, or later.
As a Little League player on the Pirates, I distinguished myself with various unofficial superlatives:
- Most Likely to Put Down His Glove and Chase Butterflies in Right Field
- Most Likely to Sit Down in the Grass and Hunt for Four-Leaf Clovers During Gameplay
- Most Likely to Win the Game by Being Hit by the Ball
No one questioned my wavering commitment to the game of baseball.
My parents tell this story about my game-winning walk:
- My team needed one run to win the game.
- I was up to bat.
- Due to my batting average, no one expected a real hit.
- My parents knew that I wanted to help my team and that, if I struck out, I would be disappointed and embarrassed.
- My parents didn’t want me to be disappointed and embarrassed.
- The pitcher hit me in the head.
- Because I was wearing a helmet, I wasn’t actually hurt.
- Because I wasn’t hurt, my parents were relieved.
- Because getting hit resulted in an automatic walk, I got on base.
- Because I got on base, I drove in the winning run.
- Because I drove in the winning run, I wouldn’t be disappointed and embarrassed.
- Because I wasn’t hurt, disappointed, or embarrassed, my parents were doubly relieved.
I became an accidental hero, and getting hit in the head was the crowning achievement of my brief career in baseball.
For whatever reason, I still wanted to be out on that baseball diamond with professional baseball players. I was willing to forget my bug collection and put down my fishing rod long enough to make a couple hundred phone calls.
Hopefully, the money from my juggernaut sales operation helped to fund the league’s most worthy projects.
I take comfort in the fact that, food wax, in large quantities, can have cleansing effects on the human body. I’m confident that some of my customers were rewarded for their generosity with diarrhea.
Wins all around.
“Good things go to people who ask.”
My friend Benjamin Kohlmann shared this lesson he learned at the Stanford Graduate School of Business:
“Good things go to people who ask for things, time and again.”
A younger version of Austin understood and practiced this. He felt no shame in asking. He hadn’t faced much rejection, true, but “What if people say no?” wasn’t the first thing thought that occurred to me.
In fact, I had a beautiful ignorance of “how the world works.”
I assumed that people would want to help me. Optimism defined my outlook: “Some people will say yes, and if enough people say yes, I will win the prize.”
And why wouldn’t they? Who wants to say no to a nice little boy selling chocolate?
Eight-year-old Austin just picked up the phone and asked people to buy crappy chocolate. Eight-year-old Austin has something to teach me.
Maybe he has something to teach you too.
If you want to succeed, ask for help.
The lesson is clear as spring water: If you want to succeed, ask for help.
Act like a child. Be fast to ask. Worry less about what people might think, and instead dream about how they might just dazzle you with generosity.
Go ask for help today. You’ll succeed faster.
Are you as successful as you want to be?
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