Dear Better Dead Than Indebted,
I'm so glad you asked! Some version of this question comes up every time I teach.
One of my missions at The Academy is to crack the myth of the independent woman. The desire to be totally independent can be a bittersweet thing that translates into isolation in the real world. Isolation is not the same thing as independence, and it's certainly not a prerequisite!
Particularly in America, we cling to this pervasive myth that true heroes go it alone.
It's so damaging. Nothing good ever happens alone. Nothing truly new, brilliant, or beautiful happens alone. Nothing happens alone!
Even our romantic image of the artist–working away in their studio, creating brilliant masterpieces completely on their own–is not really accurate. Renoir, Manet, and Monet all hung out in the same café! Scientists, inventors, business people, families, people do things together! Great things are accomplished because people have built systems of support.
Now, one thing that I've noticed is that the systems currently in place tend to serve the advantage of men. Much of the time, men don't even have to make asks like the ones I teach my students to make, because these systems allow them to receive all the support they need in order to do what they want.
If we're going to create new ways for women to get cooperation and collaboration because there are not structures already in place for us to get what we need, we're going to need some crucial tools: asking, commanding, inviting, requesting and other forms of clear and actionable communication.
So, what is the insidious and persistent reason a woman won't ask for what she needs? It's the fear of being in debt or feeling like she'll owe something to anyone she asks for help.
There are many different reasons for this: the first one is the completely invented, self-imposed limitation of feeling like there will be a debt. I've met women who won't even ask a man to come over and help them put up bookshelves, because they feel like if they make that request, they're going to have to sleep with him... maybe even marry him!
And yes, there can be times when if you ask someone for help, they will feel like you owe them something. In fact, sometimes they'll actually feel that you owe them something totally out of proportion.
Now, this becomes very problematic if you don't know how to play with somebody else's expectations of you. In my classes, we cover this type of play in great detail. But for now, I'll give you a quick overview:
You ask somebody to do something for you. They do it, and in return they expect something.
What do you do? How can you play with that?
Of course, you can always say "no." Saying no, knowing how to say no, knowing how to have fun saying no, are all crucially important. But that's just one option.
The fear of having to say no, of disappointing someone, can be a huge reason why women are unwilling to even risk asking for certain things.
Now, I want to slow down for a second. Dealing with the expectations of men, of other people, and of the patriarchal world is something every woman I've is constantly dealing with.
Feeling disempowered by those expectations is one of the most powerful blockages to a woman's influence, communication, persuasion, and full self-expression. And I want to honor that.
As we grow, develop and change, it's critical that we free ourselves up to invite people to participate in our lives in new ways. Every time we take a step forward in our lives, we're going to want to take our people with us, or attract new people that we can have play with us in this new place.
It's incredibly limiting to not be able to ask. When we feel we can't ask because we're sacrificing the independence that women have been fighting for for generations, we are falling prey to a superstition.
In my classes, I have students do an exercise called an "asking practice." The asking practice is exceptionally simple, and I recommend you try it.
Simply write down a list of things you could ask of the people in your life.
That's it. Write "I could ask __________ for ___________" over and over and over, until you run out of steam.
Make your asks big, make them audacious, make them wild. YOU DON'T ACTUALLY HAVE TO ASK FOR THESE THINGS!
It's going to be much, much harder than you think. And this is why it matters so much. Making these asks, even though they're imaginary, are a way of clearing all the ghosts out of the attic.
Let me know how it goes.
Yours in power,