I attended one of those corporate training seminars eons ago in which we were paired off and told we had 30 seconds to get our partner’s highlighter. I don’t remember the exact instructions, but people did all sorts of things — physically, aggressively trying to get the other’s highlighter, threatening and so forth, but no one simply asked, “Could I please have your highlighter?”
It truly is amazing what you can get if you simply ask for it. And I’m a confessed introvert, so asking friends, let alone strangers, for anything is scary, foreign territory to me, but over the last few years my string of successes is making this introvert more brazen on occasion. Of course, being able to be digitally “brazen” helps immensely — none of that actual personal contact.
My most recent success is with Mark Marturello, illustrator and sketch artist for the Des Moines Register. He asks for ideas at the bottom of his Sunday paper sketches and provides his email. As the result of a simple email to him suggesting our Bike Ride to Rippey, we’ll be able to enjoy his BRR sketch in this Sunday’s Register.
This happened a few years ago, too, with best-selling author John Shors, author of “Beneath a Marble Sky” and other best-sellers. He publishes his email address in his books, so I emailed him to see if he’d chat with our book club. To my astonishment, I received a quick reply, and we set up a conference call on speaker phone so he could talk with our monthly Perry Public Library-sponsored book club.
Even more surprising, when I was having problems with the phone set up, he gave me his cell phone number to call. And later when I wanted to send him a token of thanks, he gave me his mailing address.
I’m not sure whether it was my not sounding like a serial-killer or stalker over the phone or if it was just his trusting Iowa nature — his hometown is Des Moines although he now lives in Colorado and lived for years in Asia — but it was still surprising to this schmuck that “famous guy” was freely providing his contact information to me.
He chatted with us for 20 minutes or more, providing some introductory information and then answering questions from our club. Amazing.
Brian Duffy, artist and cartoonist, is the same story. I contacted him a few years ago about displaying his cartoons at the Carnegie Library Museum in Perry. I did feel that I had a bit of an “in” with him since at the time he’d designed several BRR T-shirts for Perry. To my amazement, he brought dozens of his originals to be showcased at the Carnegie and ended up participating in that year’s Art on the Prairie event.
Several years ago, I attended an Annie’s Project event — a farm education program for women — at Iowa State, and Iowa’s poet laureate, Mary Swander, was the keynote for the event, performing snippets of her play “Farmscape.”
This time I did approach Swander in person and then followed up with email communications. The result was Swander’s play “Vang” being performed by two skilled actors at the Carnegie along with a performance of her “Farmscape” performed by local talent and directed by Judy Swift.
My point here is very much not “Look what I did!” but rather “Look what anyone who has a simple request can do.” I came to this very late in life. I’d heard all my life about the power of networking, of schmoozing, of building contact lists and more, but my introvert personality rejected all of that, telling myself I’d have to work harder in other ways to compensation for not being a good salesperson because there was no way I was walking up to a stranger and asking them for something.
It still takes a lot of energy for me to make requests of talented strangers, but my success rate helps nudge me forward. I still don’t do it as frequently as others to whom this comes more easily and who no doubt have a longer string of successes and likely more impressive ones.
Ironically, decades later I’m joining the ranks of all the people who crossed my path and were always touting the benefits of this behavior. It took me too long to try it — learn from my mistake and experience what can open to you with a simple request. The successes that can happen, the contacts that are made, the experiences that you can have.
Like the Nike ads say, “Just do it.” Especially since reaching out can start on the safe platform of social media — a simple email, text or Facebook post.
And these people are not providing their contact information in the hopes that no one ever contacts them. Not every request may result in a success story or even a response, but that’s okay. It’s amazing what will open to you by just asking.
It’s truly worth the energy-zapping, difficult effort — for me anyway — that it takes to achieve the joyful, successful results of a BRR sketch in the Des Moines Register, meeting Iowa’s poet laureate and having a chat with Brian Duffy or John Shors.
Of course, Baryshnikov never responded to my email, so no hope of Misha dancing at the Performing Arts Center soon, but there was no harm in asking.
And I truly did hit “send” on that email.