You don’t get what you deserve. You get what you demand.

My family hosted an awards themed party and one great category was “MOST GANGSTER member of the family.” The unanimous winner was my 5 year old cousin Vidha.

Candid selfie with Gangster Vidha

How’d she win? Well, I have never seen this adorable little girl cry. Ever. She has her own way of dealing with life. Here’s an example:

The other day, she spotted a pink bicycle in our neighborhood. Immediately, her eyes lit up, she hopped on it and started riding it around the block. By the time I spotted the bike’s owner in the distance and mouthed a big “I’m so sorry…” Vidha was already done playing. She had gotten off with a big smile and was walking towards our car with a light spring in her step. The fact that that bike wasn’t hers was a trivial detail to her “nobody was using it then, right?”

While most kids would stop midstreet and look to their parents for permission, this 5 year old believes in not making a big deal out of little things. The nonchalance with which she ignores the formalities made me realize that:

Life is much simpler when we don’t approach it with preconceived notions of appropriateness.

Last week, I went to watch Star Wars. In Indian theaters, every movie has an interval in the middle of the movie to encourage people to get off their butts and buy things at the concession stands. My friend and I didn’t want anything so we were just talking. Then suddenly, the stranger next to me turnes up with a big bucket of popcorn. The wafting aroma tempted me and I really wanted to taste some. But all I wanted were 4 popped kernels. I didn’t want a large bucket of it, I just wanted to taste it.

So, I look over at my friend and asked her “do you think I can ask this guy to let me taste the popcorn?” and she immediately stood up, “absolutely not,” she said, and grabbed her purse. “If you want it, I’ll go get you popcorn!” But I said “No, no, I just wanted four pieces. Please sit down.”

Then I thought, “to hell with all this appropriateness.” As soon as she looked away, I turned to the fellow and just asked him “could I have some of your popcorn please?” He wasn’t sure if I just asked him that, so he said “Sorry, what?” and I repeated “Could I have some popcorn please?” And he laughed and tilted the bucket my way. I grabbed 4 pieces and popped them in my mouth. When I turned back, my friend’s eyes had become as big as tennis balls. I flashed a big grin and shrugged, “this flavor’s pretty good!”

Today, I remember that random story, not the taste of the popcorn, and that’s the point.

We miss out on our greatest stories because of abstract notions of acceptable behavior.

Years ago, when I first turned up in college, I found out that we had an Honors Program. I thought, hey, I want to be in the Honors Program. On an impulse, I found the office and walked in and simply announced to the director “I think I should be in the Honors Program.” The director must have experienced this before because he asked me for some scores before quickly accepting my candidacy and saying “sure Prateek, welcome to the Honors Program.”

That impulse changed my life. A few weeks later, I noticed that this professor’s graduate assistant had an office with couches, art-work and and included a mini Honors Library for the students. I immediately fell in love with this office. I found out that the student assistant was graduating that semester. Right then, I walked back in to the director’s office and asked if I could be his student assistant. He said that he only hired Graduate Students for financial reasons. I asked him to consider me anyway, and a couple of weeks later, he spotted me on campus and offered me the job. When I realized that the financial reasons actually meant that his budget allowed him to pay for his assistant’s graduate classes, I quickly went over to the records office and figured out a way to become an accelerated student. That single impulse to walk into the Honors office led me to a totally elevated college experience, the chance to work with one of the smartest, most humble mentor I’ve met in my life and a totally free graduate degree.

This is the single most important trait of hustlers. It is the easiest way to make things happen. Just ask for what you want.

Most people really like to help others. It makes them feel great or they can just say no. All you’ve gotta do is ask. Just remember — that when it comes to needing help.

You’ll never know… unless you ask.

The next time you think of a situation and wonder “what if I had just asked her/him.” Or “what if I had asked just one more time.” Just do it. Remember what Benjamin Mee said — You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.

Chester Karrass said it best.

In business as in life, you don’t get what you want. You get what you negotiate.