I don’t know if it’s because I grew up when I did, or that I grew up in a small town in Texas, but my school seemed to have hundreds of anti-something guest speakers each year. There was the recovering alcoholic with the shakes who went on and on about Judy Garland. He told us he’d mail our fourth-grade class stickers that said “I Choose No Booze,” but they never came. (Until then, I’m imbibing.)
There was the abstinence-only sex educator who compared our virginity to a pristine boxed toothbrush. Then he brandished a filthy hunk of brown bristles, saying, “This toothbrush didn’t save itself. Would you use this toothbrush?” (Actually, yes?)
The most useful guest speaker I remember was a local policeman, Officer Nunez, who came to talk to us about drugs. And no, I’m not about to warn you about the horrendous dangers of marijuana, which is a gateway drug and smoked entirely by losers who destroy dreams. We had this icebreaker once in which Office Nunez asked each of us to say our name and what we were going to be when we grew up.
Since we were really young, there was some uncertainty. Most kids weren’t sure if they wanted to be a famous actress or a famous singer. Decisions. When it was my turn, I said, “I want to be a doctor.”
“No, Amanda,” Office Nunez corrected me. “Say you’re going to be a doctor. You will make it happen.”
So I did. And I’m not a doctor. Turns out, marijuana isn’t the worst thing ever, either.
The lesson is that if you want to do something, you need to just go for it. Maybe not when you’re in fourth grade. But while you’re in your twenties or thirties? Yes! What are you waiting for?
Actually, I know exactly what most of us are waiting for: to be noticed by someone else.
It doesn’t work that way. If you want to get ahead in your career, you have to ask for what you want. If you don’t know what you want, it’s time to figure it out.
One of my permalance gigs — one that’s landed my writing and research on CNN, Gizmodo, The Wall Street Journal, and more — is a startup that knew absolutely nothing about me. I saw they had no job openings I could fill, but I emailed them anyway. They hired interns, after all. I was overqualified for that, but I had to be good for something. I included links to my Twitter account and blog and used a bad pun in the subject line (and apologized for it in the body of the message).
I got a phone call from the Director of Marketing a few days later. He said I was smart and funny, and he had a proposal for me. When I visited the office, I left with a spiffy freelancing gig at a cool company.
Of course, it’s not always that easy. But if you don’t ask, the answer’s always no.
Don’t settle for being another resume in the pile. You have to work it. And yes, this is the same lecture I intend to give a fourth-grade class in rural Texas someday when I’m older, in need of cash, and possibly intoxicated.
Have you ever asked and received?