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Letter to my daughter: you only get what you ask for

Something that seems so simple is actually a major challenge in your career, because the advice you’ve been given in school is flawed.

passive people

letter to my daughter

Dear daughter,

You’re now an upperclassman in high school and you’re considering college, so you’re just a few short years away from beginning your career, so listen up.

One of the most powerful pieces of advice that I never got was that you won’t get anything you don’t ask for. I know you’re thinking you already get this, but trust me, there is no possible way school has prepared you for your impending career, because you’ve been told two contrasting things by teachers: (1) if you work hard, you’ll get ahead, and (2) if you want something badly enough, you can have it.

But both of these concepts that are the undercurrent of what school programs you for are flawed, because you see, if you don’t ask for something you won’t receive it.

You won’t get a raise simply because you worked your fingers to the bone and are the best performing team member. You have to ask for it. You have to approach your superior at work and ask if they have time to discuss your future at the company. Be prepared with a list of your accomplishments (maybe you landed a major client, you streamlined the team’s communications, saving hours of wasted work). Assert your value and then do the very difficult task of ask for a raise when you deserve one.

You won’t get a promotion because you deserve one, in fact, when a position above you opens up, you better fight like hell to get it, because companies often hire talent from outside, so you’re not competing against your coworkers, you’re competing against the rest of the world. When you hear that someone has given their two weeks’ notice, and it’s for a position you believe you’re in line for, say something before they go. Get into your boss’ office and let them know, just as you would with your raise, what you’ve done and why you deserve the position, and how you envision improving the company by advancing.

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You won’t get the bigger office when your company moves to a new space just because you have seniority. If you have the opportunity to ask for a specific office beforehand, do it. This doesn’t have to be something you make a federal case out of, just a simple “hey boss, I love that side office, does anyone have dibs on it?” Otherwise, seat assignments will rely on the company’s logic, not yours. Speak up.

Because you’re a polite Southern gal, you’ll be tempted to just allow things to happen around you, but trust me, I learned the hard way that raises, promotions, and perks don’t go to the person that deserves them, it goes to the person who asks for them. Would you as a boss give a promotion to someone who didn’t seem to want it? Working overtime and kissing butt doesn’t mean you want something, so ask for it. Or you won’t get it. It may feel awkward, but you can do this – don’t you ever let anyone step over you because they asked and you didn’t.

Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.



  1. CJ Johnson

    August 27, 2013 at 10:18 am

    I would take this article a bit more seriously if you did not use a photo of a typical stereo type Blonde/Blue white girl with perfect teeth. The younger generation seems to talk a good game when
    it comes to diversity but they consistently use images like this one to promote their goods and products including their blogs. Good story, bad image. P.S. I am a Blonde so I can knock my own image.

    • Lani Rosales

      August 27, 2013 at 10:39 am

      Hey @disqus_ZMz8pPgbHr:disqus thank you so much for adding your voice to this column, I appreciate your taking the time to opine!

      I’ve been thinking for a few minutes about your commentary and thought I would respond. First, getting stuck on the image is exactly the problem in the workforce that I’m addressing – people obsess over image and not substance, so if my daughter or yours doesn’t go ask for that promotion, the hot blonde could get it because she did or because she’s hotter.

      Second, although this is one of many letters to my daughter in this series and images of all races, ages and genders are used, I picked this specific image because it shows a young woman in front of a diverse group behind her, which is exactly where I hope my daughter will be because she worked her tail off.

      I hope we can avoid focusing on the shallow view and look more deeply into the image, past the girl. 🙂

      • CJ Johhnson

        September 25, 2013 at 12:50 pm

        HI Lani: Yes my point is the old if it bleeds it leads and while I totally agreed with your atricle I know in today’s microwave minute society they often do not get past the headline or the photos.

        • Lani Rosales

          September 25, 2013 at 3:39 pm

          While I agree, sometimes we use pictures of Indian women, other times African American ladies, some old, some young, some beautiful, some not… if we excluded the pretty blonde (that my pretty daughter can relate to), are we guilty that discrimination? Help me to better understand?

  2. Tinu

    September 18, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    Funny, @disqus_ZMz8pPgbHr:disqus – I didn’t even register the image when I read the story. I’m not as visual as most people though. Plus my focus was on “why would something Lani wrote only have two comments.” In my view diversity includes everyone, so we should still end up with some blond haired, blue eyed people. Which is why I think the concept of color blindness is wrong. But I digress.

    The most poignant thing about your article to me, Lani, is that even if your daughter does all those things, she still might not get what she wants professionally, because companies rarely operate based on fairness. Which is not necessarily a bad thing. I know as a woman, particularly as a black woman, most people would think I should have the classic ideas about diversity and fairness. Generally I do.

    But in the area of human resources and hiring, I think we should stop pretending that people even understand that affirmative action was meant to be a door stop, not a quota enforcement system. It has Never operated like that, even in government. The popular perception is that it does, and the popular perception was that before the gender and racial diversification of the workplace, things were fair – and so movements for job equality attempt to inject additional fairness on top of that.

    You’re so right though, much more right than you realize, when you educate your daughter that these ideas of fairness are fictions. It was never, ever equal. I wonder sometimes, instead of trying to make it more fair, our energies would be better spent in exercises like refuting the fictions the world tells our kids, so they can better navigate around them until we all come up with something better.

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