by Jeff Hittner
If You Don’t Ask, The Answer Is Always No.
While building Project X, I’ve often had moments when I felt as stuck as Congress trying to pass gun reform. I knew I needed a different way of looking at the situation, but I couldn’t find that perspective by myself.
That feeling of being ‘stuck’ was my cue: I had to reach out to my network. Sometimes it took more than a half dozen conversations before the advice helped me pierce the stubborn vision I needed to pivot on.
I’m not unique in having a network of people I can reach to. We all have people in our lives that inspire us, but more often than not, we do not turn to these people for support when we feel stuck.
What’s holding us back? It may be as much about the fear of receiving a response as it is about receiving none at all.
“Is my challenge worthy of their time?”
“Will they think I have failed?”
“They won’t respond which means I’m unimportant.”
How do you overcome these fears?
Here’s the secret: Your potential mentors are not as unapproachable as you think they are. More often than not, the people you look up to enjoy feeling helpful and giving advice. Generosity feels good! (We once emailed Arianna Huffington and received a response within 24 hours!). Neuroscience has found that giving actually reduces activity in the anxiety and stress areas of your brain.
At Project X, we regularly reach out to folks who never cease to amaze us with their generosity. (Take a look at our mentors here). So whether you’re reaching out to a VP at your company, a leader in another career field you’re curious about, or someone like Seth Godin, all you need to do is take that (thoughtful) first step.
1. Consider your platform of communication.
How many emails do you think your potential mentor gets a day? 100? 300? 500? Decide if this is the best way to reach out. Recently we received a phone call from a former participant in our program. She thought reaching out by phone would elicit a faster response. It did!
If you do go the email route, revert back to the data point above. Many of us receive hundreds of emails a day. So try again and again. A generous leader isn’t angered by this. She appreciates the reminder.
2. Authenticity leads the way.
Don’t feign knowledge in a certain subject matter if you’re looking for support in understanding it in the first place. Be vulnerable. Ask for what you want, but also think about what value your request is to the person you’re contacting. Reaching out is always a two-way street.
3. The subject line.
This is your first impression. Be transparent and authentic.
For example: ‘Willing to give career advice to a kindred spirit?’ or ‘I’m stuck trying to build my community, moment for advice?’ or ‘Totally in love with you, call me!’ (ok, not this last one — ever.)
4. The content.
Put yourself in their shoes. They’re not ready for your life story yet. Brevity and authenticity rule the day here. We like to start with a short sentence on something that they made that resonated with us, then move in with our ask.
5. Make your ask small.
Do you have 15 minutes to talk this through with me? Can we have a 10-minute Skype chat?
6. Don’t limit yourself to one person.
Try to send out three to five requests. This is your way to experiment and see what works best (hint: don’t do it the same way each time).
Reach out, be thoughtful, and you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised. If not, reach out to us — we’ll absolutely follow up with you.