Not long ago, I found myself feeling pretty frustrated. I was putting a lot of effort into a particular part of my business and not seeing much in the way of results. I was convinced I was doing the right things, but they just weren’t paying off in the way I’d hoped.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been in that position – working hard to climb the ladder or take the next step, only to get a lackluster response from clients, co-workers or supervisors. And, if you’ve been there, you know the downward spiral those disappointing results can trigger.

Maybe I’m not cut out for this after all.

What if I never get it right? I’ll never get ahead.

I knew this wouldn’t work. I don’t know why I tried.

Luckily, I know better than to listen to those thoughts. I understand that the doubts and fears circling in my head aren’t based in reality, and that I can’t be objective about my own situation. So, when I find myself in this place, I always reach out to someone else for some perspective.

Are You Asking for What You Really Want?

This time, I called someone I trust who has a lot of experience in the area I was finding difficult. I laid out to him what was troubling me and all the ways my efforts were falling short. He listened patiently, and then posed a question that stopped me in my tracks.

“Leslie, when you’re doing all these things, are asking for what you really want?”

He must have sensed my confusion, because he went on to explain that sometime we don’t get the result we want because that’s not what we’re asking for. Instead, we hedge our bets by asking for a result that stops short of our real goal. Or, we avoid asking for anything at all.

We want to be assigned to the team working on the big project, but we only make passing hints to our boss about our interest.

We’d love to be introduced a decision maker at a prospect company, but we don’t reach out to the acquaintance we know could connect us.

What’s Really Going On

Why do we avoid asking for what we want? So we don’t have to really put ourselves out there and risk being disappointed.

We set our sights on a lower target, secretly hoping to be surprised on the upside. We hide out, hoping that people will magically know what our goals are. Then, we’re frustrated when we don’t get our secret wish.

I’ve taken the advice I got, and made a very small shift in the way I was doing things. Instead of asking for only part of what I wanted, I’m going all in, facing my fear and making the ask. And you know what? My results are improving.

I can’t help but wonder how many other times in my life I’ve missed out on what I really wanted because I was afraid to ask for it. How many times have I caused my own disappointment by playing small? I’m afraid the number is much larger than I’d like to admit.

But, I know I’m not alone. In my work, I see clients doing the same thing every day. They’re afraid to really pursue their biggest dreams because of what someone else might think, because of the time it might take away from their families, or because they are afraid they’ll come up short. Sometimes playing small is obvious. But, sometimes it sneaks up on you, just like it had been doing with me recently.

So, if you find yourself working hard and not getting the results you want, ask yourself what you really want. What’s your real goal? And then, ask yourself if that’s what you’re asking for through your words, your thoughts and your actions? Are you honestly pursuing your real goal, all out? Or, are you playing it safe and asking for something else instead?

Let Me Know

I’d love to hear from you. Have you ever found yourself playing small? Why? Was it fear or failing? Fear of making others uncomfortable?