Rejection does not feel good, so we avoid it. We avoid asking questions unless we feel confident about the answer being in our favour. Does this qualify as calculated risk or is this simply irrational? If you have a 50% chance of getting a yes, that’s a lot better than 100% of getting a no, which are your odds if you don’t ask the question! This is a story about how I learned to ask the question.
When I was 16, I created a music club in my school. We were an all-girls elite academic school with no music program so I started teaching guitar and dance to my schoolmates for free. I wanted to share this passion for music with as many people as I could. The next year, I wanted to put together a show. Not a concert, but something a bit closer to a musical, with dancing, singing, a bit of acting and a storyline. Maybe it could be a benefit concert for the school or for a charity. Here are some of the reactions I got:
“We’re known for being bookworms here, not dancers and musicians! We will be ridiculed!” — my music club facilitator.
“What if nobody comes? I’m not sure we can do this. If it fails, we’ll look like fools. I doubt the rector would approve it.” — many other teachers.
Frustrated, I went to the rector’s office. I told her about the club, about the classes I’ve been teaching over the summer holidays and the show that my 22 friends and I put together. She watched patiently as I went on. I couldn’t tell if she was on board or not, but she looked amused. Then she said:
“This would fit quite well with the new initiative that the Ministry of Education is rolling out in an effort to make our students more well-rounded. Let’s do it.”
Suddenly, everybody was on board. Naysayers were now proud supporters. Every time I met with the rector, she had some more exciting news. Our venue got upgraded from the school hall to the Indira Ghandi Institute, a theatre seating 700, with fully equipped stage and green rooms. People from the conservatory were invited. The Minister of Education was invited. We got the greenlight to sell tickets. Somebody took care of the sound and lighting, somebody would be filming it.
We sold out! It was the first show open to the public that our school had ever produced and it was sold out to a cheering crowd, over 700 people strong. It was standing room only and we got a standing ovation at the end. The Minister was in attendance and stayed throughout the show. What started out as a long shot turned out to be a resounding success.
I was the lead choreographer, set designer, dancer, singer, coordinator of the 22 other high school girls on stage, many of whom were performing for an audience for the very first time. I felt truly honored to have been the driving force behind their first performance. The stage is an experience that I think everybody should try at least once. I’d say this show was my first taste of leadership and entrepreneurship. I loved every minute of it. My first gig as a producer was a success, but one that would not have seen the light of day if I had stopped at the first no!
After that, I made a conscious decision to ask the question instead of assuming the answer.
Here are a few other questions I thought would be answered by “no” but resulted in a yes. Hint: 23rd Hour resulted from one of those questions!
Mom, Dad, can I record an EP?
Will anyone pay money to see me perform?
Can I play you a song?
Wanna play a show together?
Mom, Dad, are you ok with me moving California, despite the fact that I don’t know anybody there and have had serious health problems?
Hi George, I’m Sherry, I loved your set. Do you ever collaborate, and if so, would you like to collaborate with me?
Are you up for busking?
It’s 3am and we just finished busking and jamming all day but I’m not done playing. Are you up for more?
We’ve played all day and all night. Want to start writing a song?
Can we have our album launch at your venue even though we’ve never played your town?
Would you follow me on Spotify?
Would you like to have me as a guest on your blog/podcast?
Would you publish our story to CD Baby’s DIY Musician blog?
Would you publish our story on Hypebot?
Can we come play live for your radio show?
Can we have a radio show?
BTW, we do have a radio show! It’s called “Bay Area Musician”. The show highlights the San Francisco Bay Area’s music and musicians, their insights, their journey, and their opinions on what we can do to ensure a bright future for the Bay Area music scene. The goal is to get listeners and musicians excited about the local scene and inspire the local community to seek out and support local/live music.
If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area, tune in on Fridays 4–5pm on KZSU 90.1 FM. For those of you online, stream it live at http://kzsu.stanford.edu/live
In the age of information overload, we can no longer wait for somebody to hand-pick us. So many opportunities were granted to us because we found a fit and we asked to be considered. What questions should you be asking instead of assuming “no” for an answer?
Written by Sherry-Lynn Lee
PS: If you’re in the SF Bay Area, we will be playing at Angelicas in Redwood City on Canada Day! That’s July 1st. If you’d love to see great live music that comes with gourmet food, a good wine selection, table seating, a relaxing ambiance, and a volume that won’t blast your ears, you need to get your tickets now! 23rd Hour at Angelicas is the show that will make you fall in love with live music all over again. Make it a date or a girls night out. We promise you won’t regret it.