My friend and mentor, Christina Baldwin, often says: “Ask for what you need, offer what you can.” I’ve written recently about asking for what we need (click here and here to read those posts,) but that’s only part of the story. We also need to offer what we can.

Usually when I tell a client: “Ask for what you need; Offer what you can,” they push back. I get some variation of: “So you’re saying I have to give everyone everything they ask for?”

It’s very common for us to unconsciously believe we have to give whatever we’re asked for.

It’s this unconscious belief that causes us to get angry at the people who ask us for things. We feel we have no choice—we have to give them what they ask for. So we get defensive and mean, to the point where the other person (hopefully) says, “Forget it!” and stomps away.

Having been this person, angry and defensive at a simple request, I can tell you there’s another way.

No matter what someone asks of us, we always have a choice. We have no control over what someone asks for—but we are always in control of our response.

Today what I can offer might me more than what I could offer yesterday. It depends on many factors and only I can make the decision for myself about what I can offer without resentment or playing the martyr.

The person of whom you ask something is also at choice: Just because you’ve asked, doesn’t mean they have to give.

As adults, we are responsible for getting our own needs met.  One of the ways we do this is by asking others for help. If they can help, they help, and your need is met. If they can’t (won’t, think they can’t, are unwilling to,) your need is not met and you are once again responsible for getting this particular need met.

Often when we ask for help, what we really mean is: “Help me! Now! You have to!”

But the people around you are always at choice, just like you. They don’t “have to” help any more than you do.

I recently talked to a friend who needs child care for her daughter for a few months while she works on a special project at work. She told me her mother agreed to watch her daughter two days a week but she needs her to watch her three days a week. She was very upset with her mother for saying she would only be available two days a week.

I asked her why she didn’t put her daughter in daycare for the other day.

“I can’t afford it,” she said.

“Why is that your mom’s problem?” I asked.

What my friend said to her mom was: “Can you watch my daughter three days a week for the next three months?” but what she really meant was, “You have to watch my daughter four days a week for the next three months!” Otherwise, she wouldn’t have been upset when her mom said, “No.” She’d have been grateful for what she did offer and would have continued to explore other options for the two days a week that she still needed childcare.

“Ask for what you need, offer what you can.”

Allow yourself, and the people around you, to ask for everything they could possibly want. Offer exactly as much as you can offer willingly, with a light heart.

Do you allow yourself the choice to say “no” to any request?


Diane MacKinnon, MD, writes about and speaks on life coaching topics. You can contact her at, or check out her website at 

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