As a CEO, I am frequently asked for advice, tips, or guidance, “how should I launch a podcast?” Or, “can you take a moment to look at my website?” The worst offender, “Do you have time to chat today? I’d love to pick your brain.”
I am not an apple tree, or a strawberry field. You cannot freely “pick my brain” at your leisure.
Why, you ask?
I have worked hard for years at educating myself, challenging my thoughts & beliefs, building my resolve and growing my confidence. I have opened myself up to new ways of thinking and I continue to enrich my own breadth of knowledge by engaging in conversations with all kinds of people. I work my ass off, and all along the way, I’ve learned incredibly deep and important lessons.
While it’s a seemingly innocent request, or to you, just a “quick favor,” to me, when you ask to pick my brain you are signaling that you don’t get it at all. You are signaling that you deserve access to my energy and my expertise, with little to no value in return.
I know my worth, I know that my value is immense, and it’s certainly not available free of charge. Access to my merit is a privilege. Yet, I see so many women willingly give away value due to cultural and societal conditioning. As a woman, it’s harder to say no– we are socialized from a very young age to be agreeable, to be nice, to say yes, to give more energy out than we receive.
Reminder: You don’t owe it to anyone to say yes, and more importantly, never apologize for upholding your boundaries.
Your time and knowledge is incredibly valuable. You are valuable. Most importantly, knowing your worth is not narcissistic or self-absorbed, it’s quite the opposite. Knowing your worth simply means you take pride in your work, you have self-respect, and you have healthy levels of self-esteem. You practice positive self-talk, you tell yourself how strong and smart you are. It means being confident, and confidence is a superpower.
As women, we must begin taking action and we must stop allowing others to take advantage of what we have to offer. Value is an equal exchange. If you don’t value my opinion, thoughts, and advice, and are not willing to offer me equal value in return, please move along.
Make your worth known and carry it with you in everything that you do.
This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t help others out, I’m all for paying it forward and giving my best advice to people – especially young women – that need guidance. Why? Because I have been on the other side of this, looking up to inspirational people, wishing so badly to learn from them and their wisdom.
So, if you are seeking expert advice, how can you ask this question in the best way possible?
Simply change the language you use, and have the awareness that if someone agrees to share her valuable time and hard-earned expertise with you, that there should be some type of value exchange. First, STOP asking “can I pick your brain?”. Rather, do your research and reach out with a compliment or something you’ve learned about them that has inspired you, or let them know what you specifically admire about their accomplishments. It’s a much more human and genuine approach to open a two-way dialogue and conversation. Humans crave making connections, sharing their wisdom and stories, and this approach is a much more mature and open-ended way to start a genuine conversation.
Don’t expect too much – a 15 minutes phone conversation or a few email exchanges may be all that you get. The more value you can provide, the more time and attention you may be given, but this is not always the case. Be grateful and express your gratitude.
In addition, you must accommodate their schedule. Don’t assume they’ll be able to meet you for a coffee. Or, in the context of today’s climate, meet with you 1 on 1 on zoom. Recognize this is a massive ask, and you may have to get creative with your communication.
If and when you do land a meeting, treat it like an interview. Come prepared with questions, come prepared to talk. Yes, hopefully you will be doing a lot of listening too, but prove to them the reciprocal nature of this conversation. Provide THEM with some value too.
Lastly, express endless gratitude and be humble. Be kind, complimentary, and immediately write a thank you note.
Part of being a successful entrepreneur is expanding your network and meeting key players in your space, putting yourself out there, and being brave. It’s important, especially as women, to learn to ask for exactly what we want. This is something that men seem to have an easier time doing.
Reaching out to industry experts is an excellent way to learn more about your passions and, further, hearing people’s stories, failures and successes, is empowering and inspirational. However, this can be tricky territory to navigate – as evidenced by the “Can I pick your brain?” mistake that I see so many people making. By simply adjusting your perspective and thinking about the value that YOU can offer, you’ll have a better chance at growing an all-important network and earning the trust and respect from those you truly admire.