The Power of Asking
In May of 2016, I was on top of the world. I had completed all four years of college as a Division 1 student athlete, and had a freshly-minted marketing degree in hand. Everything I owned could fit into my Toyota Camry, and at 5am the day after I walked across the graduation stage, I drove to my future home in the Napa Valley.
Let’s rewind for one second. How did I get here? Why Napa? Well…I needed a job, so I asked for a job. Literally. My experience with wine didn’t really extend beyond slapping the bag at house parties. Once I turned the wise old age of 21, my friends and I would order a bottle while out to dinner to celebrate being together. But truth be told, I’d never sought out a career in wine. I’d never even sought out a career—I was desperately searching for a new place, and a new experience. And that took the shape of a Visitor Center Job at a prominent winery in the Napa Valley in my home state of California. During the job search, I tried to think outside the box—I figured the best way to use my marketing skills was to pick a product I loved. I loved (and still love) wine. So I quickly googled my best friend’s mom’s favorite chardonnay, emailed their generic info @ email address, and literally ASKED for a job. And a few weeks later, I signed my first offer of employment and frantically searching craiglist for a place to live in a town I’d never visited before.
I think a lot of people, especially women, are programmed to NOT ask for things, but to accept whatever falls into their lap. This is problematic for many reasons, and those reasons deserve their own article (stay tuned). The power of asking—asking questions out of curiosity, asking for help, asking for a job—isn’t something my professors taught me. It was something I learned because once I started asking questions, it snowballed into a sudden thirst for knowledge. I couldn’t stop asking, couldn’t stop wondering and wanting more.
My first day on the job in Napa, I barely spoke. I simply absorbed what was around me, and tried to hide my armpit sweat and shaking hands. When I got home that day, my amazon account saw more activity than it had in a year. I ordered no less than seven books on wine, insoles for my shoes, and wine-away spray (because shaking hands + red wine = no go). In the days after, I made flashcards of all of the company’s collateral I’d manage to shove into my bag. The next few weeks at work, I started asking. I asked everything from why wine was red (the color comes from the grape skins, not the juice itself), to how the estate chef usually prepared eggplant, because I just couldn’t get the hang of it (grilled). I asked every guest who I poured wine for what they thought of the wine, or what their favorite wine was, and each time I learned something new.
And then, come fall, I got antsy. I felt like I needed more. One of my favorite books on wine was aptly named The Wine Bible, and its thick spine and dog-eared pages was constantly in my purse. The author is a force of a woman; a curious, thoughtful, and elegant writer. I referred to it like a church lady might refer to her religious text. I listened to every podcast she was featured in, watched every video of every seminar on wine she had ever given. I felt confident I knew her well enough, at least in my mind, and I LOVED her. I sent her a brief email, with a writing sample and my (albeit scant at the time) resume, and asked if she needed help in her office. And that evening, she wrote back—“we actually could use a hand. Come by next week.” And that was that.
I showed up at her office, hands shaking and armpits sweating, and again, could not comprehend how I could possibly ask her anything she thought was remotely intelligent. She asked if I had any questions, at the end of our meeting, and I stammered, “oh, I have SO many questions.” She smiled knowingly.
Over the months I interned with her, I tasted hundreds of wines, wrote pages upon pages on wine regions, producers, and grapes I couldn’t pronounce let alone had heard of (Assyrtiko? C’mon.), and learned more about wine, and myself, (and how much coffee my body could actually hold. Hint: it’s a lot...), than I ever thought I could.
Once I landed my first real marketing job, I found myself at the base of a gigantic mountain of learning that I didn’t know how to scale, I started asking questions. I started calling my friends who had agency jobs and applying their lessons and advice to my current job. I started asking industry veterans about what they found was effective. And as time went on, I found my way up the mountain…but not without having to ask for help, and sometimes ask for forgiveness. But by asking nonetheless.