Why was I so afraid to ask questions?
I don’t recall it ever being difficult when I was younger. Curiosity and naivety often led the way, so asking questions seemed like the natural thing to do. Yet, somewhere along the way, I grew up and it became harder.
I remember being 15 years old and just feet away from my favorite women’s basketball player, Tina Charles, at a sponsored event in my hometown. I prepared so many questions and imagined the conversation in my head too many times to count. Yet, in the moment, I froze. My dad ended up approaching Charles and asking if I could get my picture taken with her. She could not have been nicer.
My dad later confessed he was not comfortable talking to adults as a teenager either, but experience and confidence eventually made it easier.
At that time, I was timid when it came to asking any authority figure—really, anyone older than me—a question. I didn’t know whether I was afraid of being embarrassed, getting rejected, feeling less intelligent or if I was subject to “question aversion.” Now, I understand it was a combination of all of those things.
We’ve all seen those inspiring social media posts about young kids writing letters to a president, famous athlete or activist, asking them a question and later getting a personalized response back. I bet none of those highly successful recipients got to where they are without asking for help or advice at some point.
Why is it that questions regarding such simple matters, like asking for directions, asking someone to remind you of their name or asking someone to repeat something, can be so intimidating? Or even the more complex questions of asking a company questions during a job interview, asking for forgiveness or asking for help in times of struggle and need.
Thankfully, I’ve improved a lot over the years. As a journalism major, I’ve learned that reporting and asking good questions is half, if not more, of the job. To be a great reporter, you can’t be afraid to ask those difficult questions, even if it is outside of your comfort zone.
Many times as a reporter, I’ve reached out to a source asking for an interview and, after not hearing back after a few days, have had to ask again. There’s a needed but precarious balance of persistence and social cues to master asking questions. Each interview I conduct helps me strengthen that balance.
I’ve had to learn in difficult ways that asking questions can also come with a downside. I’ve asked questions people have rejected or haven’t been able to answer, and I’ve gotten an answer I didn’t want to hear. Rejection and frustration can seem like the worst thing the moment it occurs, but those downsides are relatively small and fleeting in the grand scheme of things.
During my time at Lehigh on a club sports team, as an orientation leader and even simply as a student, I’ve learned that you aren’t going to get anything if you don’t ask for it. People aren’t mind readers, they don’t know what you want. Questions result in actual change.
Asking questions doesn’t just benefit you. Its purpose shouldn’t always be about “What’s in it for me?” There is a power in asking “Can I help you?” or “How are you feeling?” or “What can I do for you?” It shows empathy and benefits both friends and strangers.
I’m learning to embrace rather than fear asking questions. Obviously, one may not always get the answers they hope for, but without asking, you’ll never have the chance to know or to learn or to make a connection.
Asking questions can be humbling, it can be scary and it can be profound. But it is necessary. There is power in asking. And if you have any questions, just ask me!