Stop saying, “I had to ask!”

“I had to ask!”

No, you didn’t.

You wanted to ask and there’s a big difference between those two things. In Do Over, I spend 25% of the book talking about the importance of relationships. Why? Because relationships often get you the first gig. Someone will take a chance on you because they know you and trust you. Someone will give you an opportunity your skills might not have earned yet because of a friendship. And phrases like “I had to ask” tend to wear away at relationships.

If you say, “I had to ask,” it removes the responsibility from you. Some outside force made you ask. Your hands were tied, there was nothing you could do except ask.

So you did and the person you asked for a favor said no. You responded to his/her no with “I had to ask!” Or, instead you said, “Well, there’s no harm in asking,” only that’s not true either.

There can be harm in asking. Maybe the person you asked feels used. You barely know them and have jumped gigantic intimacy levels by overreaching with your favor request. Maybe they felt manipulated by the ask. Maybe they’ve now quietly moved you from, “People who are my friends” to “People who just want favors” bucket.

Don’t kid yourself. There’s harm in asking, especially if you do it the wrong way with the wrong person.

Does that mean you shouldn’t ask anyone for anything? Of course not. Your friends want to help you. They’re excited to help you. The time you’ve invested in that relationship completely changes the request.

Asking is hard but it’s not complicated. Here’s a simple way to remember the right way to do it:

Ask friends for favors. Ask strangers for friendship.

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Jon Acuff
Jon Acuff


  1. I think they key to not upsetting someone when asking for a favor is making sure they get something out of it as well. Like if you ask someone to help you move offer to buy them pizza or pay for their gas. When I’ve asked strangers or acquaintances to be on my podcast or write guest posts I usually get a positive response because I make sure the person knows I’ll be plugging their work or project as much as my own.

  2. Whitney

    This is so true. I feel into the “there’s no harm in asking” bear trap and the results weren’t pretty. Apparently I was more over a situation that the other person.

  3. Nate

    Ha! I had this very epiphany this afternoon! I must be getting your content osmotically…
    I was just about to say to a co-worker “It never hurts to ask…” regarding negotiating contracts with speakers, but I said instead “I was going to say something… but now I’m not… because it is a lie”
    Good post! Have a La Croix on me!

  4. Liz

    Being an introvert, I rarely ask ppl for things. So I know all too well the right and wrong way to do this.

  5. This shouldn’t be confused with “I had to laugh”. That’s a totally different discussion.