There is an adage, usually attributed to author Nora Roberts, “If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no.”
It’s one I live by. Not just because it sounds right, but because I first tested it – and realized its value – when I was just 9 years old.
I grew up in a rural farm, where we raised every animal possible and grew alfalfa and wheat. Growing up working on the farm, climbing mountains, and playing in the local creeks filled my time in the summer, like most kids who grew up in similar situations – yet I was pretty different in at least one way. Every night at 6:30 pm, I turned on the TV to watch ABC World News Tonight with the late Peter Jennings.
There were no other screens to distract me, no social networks and I couldn’t skip the commercials on the TV. All I had was my yellow, single-lined legal pad and a pen that I used to feverishly write with during the broadcast. I would write down comments on each segment, what I liked, what I didn’t like, ways to improve the story. I was 9 and playing my imaginary role of a producer and creative executive. I wanted to be a news anchor when I grew up and I was determined to learn as much as I could.
My birthday was coming up and I knew the gift I wanted. I wrote a letter to Dan Lewis, who at the time was the lead co-anchor of the local ABC affiliate in Seattle, KOMO News 4 and told him that for my birthday I wanted to come to the station and see how the show was made. I wanted to see the teleprompter, the green screen for weather and all the other behind-the-scenes action.
“If I remember right, my letter wasn’t as much asking to come in, as it was more telling them I should be able to come in since it was my birthday and I was going to be working there one day.”
With the help of my mother, the letter was mailed off and I waited.
About a month later, the phone rang and my mom answered. There was a moment of silence, as she looked directly at me. I wasn’t sure if I was in trouble for something at school again – I did pull the fire alarm once – but that’s another story. She took down some notes and hung up.
She looked at with with a confused smile and said the words I would have never heard if I hadn’t asked:
“That was Dan Lewis from KOMO News 4. He would be happy to host you on your birthday for a live broadcast. He said they usually don’t respond to every request, but there was something special about your letter.”
A few weeks later, on my birthday, we drove three hours from the farm to the station where I met Dan, learned all about how they produce the show, and sat behind the cameras during a live broadcast. It was a moment I will remember forever.
(Dan Lewis and I on set when I went back to visit him during high school. We still keep in touch).
I ultimately decided not to be a news anchor, but I did end up in the media and marketing business, which is pretty much the same things these days.
More importantly, I learned a valuable lesson about taking the first steps toward achieving goals — if you don’t ask, the answer is always no.
I often hear people talk about what they want to do in their personal and professional lives, but then they make excuses on why they “can’t” do it. If you can imagine it, you can create it. If you need help, and you will, don’t be afraid to ask.
Dan also taught me about the other side of the adage:
What you do and what you say to people can leave a lasting impression. People may not remember what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel, just like Dan and his team did on my birthday.
I’ll always remember this story, and it’s just one of the reasons I spend a lot of time mentoring others and continue to learn more from other leaders every day. Never stop learning and never stop asking.