Why you need to be your pushy, petty, aggressive self

Let me tell you a story about pushy and aggressive.

I went to Burning Man a few years back and met a guy named, let’s call him Fred. Fred was a total and utter pain in the ass. He demanded what he wanted from people. He didn’t say please. He assumed what he wants is what everyone wants. His vision of the world was, according to him, THE vision of the world.

Picture the last morning of the burn. We’ve all been up all night. We were tired, covered in dust but really mellow and happy. I was making the rounds to the different camps to drop off gifts and say goodbye when I ran into Fred.

“Hey! You!” he shouted in my direction along with some weird thumb gesture more fitting of a Marvel bad guy than a burner dude. “Go get that bottle of wine you have at your camp.”

People rarely give something you want or need if they don’t know you want or need it.  But they are very likely to give you when you ask.

My camp, by the way, sat on the other side of Black Rock City. Even by bike, it’s a long ride under a midday desert sun. Maybe I would have gone for a friend, or even a stranger who talked to me like I’m a human being and not a dumbwaiter. But for Fred?

Well, I didn’t say no, but I did I did put him off. “You can come back to camp with me when I’m ready, but I’m not going any time soon.”

So he waited and then followed me back to camp. We get back, and I couldn’t find the wine. What did he expect? It’s the last day of Burning Man, and everyone was packed and ready to go home. I pointed him in the direction of our camp truck. “Go ask Nick,” I didn’t realize, though, that Nick, our driver, had finished packing and curled himself in the front seat for a well deserved nap. “He might know.”

Fred marched over to the truck and bang bang banged on the window, shocking Nick out of a dead sleep. I didn’t see Nick’s reaction, but did hear his angry snarls. Undaunted, Fred sauntered over to a group of people sitting around a packing box, lazily sipping from boxes of half finished wine.

“Hey Leigh!” he waved me over in his direction. “I found some wine for us.”

“Us?” I thought. “There’s no us, sweetie.” And Fred took the wine and drank without asking for permission or even saying hello.

What’s my point here?

Fred is annoying. He’s brusque, pushy and a total turn off of a human being. But he got his wine.

Fred often gets what he wants in spite of his shitty behavior. Sure, some people say no to him, but many — looks to myself  — say yes (even if it’s a begrudging ok). I know this, because he told me so. He lives with the best camps on the playa. He never brings his own food, because others share with him. People buzz around him all day long, listening to his stories, plying him with food and believing his self-generated aura of a man who always gets his way.

What does Fred have to do with you?

How many times do you hold back from asking for what you want, because you don’t want to be considered rude or aggressive? Or because you don’t want to be presumptuous. Or you’re scared you’ll be rejected with a big fat “No.”

But as Fred shows, it’s harder to cross the line than you think.

When you don’t ask, you don’t get.

I believe it was Oprah (Yes, I’m quoting Oprah) who said “You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.”

It’s a pretty simple aphorism, but holy hell is it true. People rarely give something you want or need if they don’t know you want or need it.  But they are very likely to give when you ask.

Don’t take my word for it. Ask Science!

Professor Vanessa Bohns from Cornell University ran a series of experiments testing people’s perceptions of how persuasive they are when asking for favors. Participants rated how likely they were to get a “yes” when asking strangers to use their cell phone or fill out a questionnaire or to write on a library book. Then they went out and asked for those favors. Turns out, people are far more likely to agree to do something than you think.

You are more persuasive than you believe yourself to be.

What happens when someone instead says no?

Well, again, research suggests it’s worthwhile to ask again anyway, as people are more likely to say yes when asked a second time.

It could be because people don’t want to appear mean. Or they’re too embarrassed to say no twice. Or maybe there are circumstances you don’t know and when you ask again, circumstances have changed to allow a yes. Or any other number or reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with you or your aggressive pushiness at all.

Bottom line: We don’t know why someone says no, so it doesn’t hurt to ask. And it doesn’t hurt to ask again.

Many of us are too timid. We want to be polite. We don’t want to impose. We want to be fair and decent. We don’t want to bother people. And this needs to stop right now. It is high time to be damn well pushy and aggressive as you can be.

Own it. Be it!

The last thing you want is to weaken your message, because of a fear that you might inconvenience someone else.

Sure, there will be times people say no. Some won’t respond. Some may even roll their eyes, get angry or call names. In which case, you’ll go to the next person, the next table, the next camp until you, too, will find your wine.

Here’s the thing. There is no way you, with your thoughtfulness and caring what others think and want will ever truly be like Fred. You won’t be such a jerk, but if you can channel just a little bit of Fred into your work and writing life, you will be gold.

Should you pitch that publication that you think you have no chance of getting?


Should you send an e-mail asking colleagues and friends to share your latest blog post?


Is it petty to ask for just a little bit more money on that article? Imagine if you made just that much more on one article. Even if they give you just ten dollars more which seems like nothing in the scheme of all the bills you have to pay, imagine how that ten dollars adds up over ten jobs or one hundred or one thousand. Not so petty anymore, is it?

You are worth more, so wouldn’t you rather work with people who believe that as well? Let’s repeat once again.


Should you write that novel? Ask an old coworker for a contact at his new publishing house? Ask that person you only know a little bit on Facebook for an editor’s contact at the magazine where she works?  Send a second pitch just a day after that editor rejected your last one? Write that query letter for that agent? Pitch a column.


When I think of the women I know who have moved fastest in their writing careers, it is because they are always checking, asking, seeing where they can benefit. They don’t worry about being called nosy, pushy, taking advantage, too aggressive, too loud or any other words or phrases intended to make you shut up, be quiet, and not advocate for yourself.

When they see an opportunity, they jump and take it. They don’t care what others think of them. They are not daunted by the no. Instead, they move onto the next and the next and the next until they publish, and suddenly everyone marvels at how much they’ve accomplished.

I don’t care how people label me as long as they comply.

If you’re not sure where to start with the ask, check out this Medium article that offers ways to make your ask, when to make them and even sample scripts for how to make them. While the specific information might not fit your needs, you can certainly find plenty to adapt for whatever it is you want.

The last thing you want is to weaken your message, because of a fear that you might inconvenience someone else.

To quote my good friend Asha Rajan, the Domestic Arts senior editor for Maximum Middle Age (pitch her here), contributing editor of Dead Housekeeping, an absolutely gorgeous writer and one of the few people in this world who reads and gives me feedback on my own writing before I release it into the wild, “I don’t care how people label me as long as they comply.”

Even if someone does find you to be pushy and aggressive, so what? There’s a good chance they’ll help you anyway.

When you don’t ask for what you want, you risk losing out on even more.

I know, I know Amanda Palmer. The criticisms of her number in the many, but her 2013 TED Talk on the vulnerability of asking for help has a solid message. It’s not easy, but it is so unbelievably worth it, because when you take a risk and ask, you open yourself to the possibility of forming a connection with another person.Those connections build your writing career.

The editor who responds to your cold pitch today, can be the one who publishes your timely story next year The famous writer ask for advice, may fall in love with your writing and share it with the world. The people you ask to read your writing might become your new writing group, the one that provides the feedback and encouragement you need to write and publish more. The writer whose work you offer to read might help you publish your next book.

One important ingredient here, though. You cannot focus on on what others give you. You need to be willing to give in return.

You can watch the talk here:

It is painful to put yourself out there and risk the worst of it. What if people will let you down? What if you end up feeling like an idiot? What if????? More often than not, people won’t let you fall. They will instead hold you up, help you and offer just what you need, because you are involved in the real give-and-take of human connection.

Has anyone accused you of being pushy and aggressive? Leave a comment below to tell me what happened!

Main photo thanks to Seth Woodward.