No plans this weekend? Here’s one thing you should consider doing, courtesy of Amena Brown, a poet and author.
Send one scary email today. A scary email is sending an email to someone who has no reason to say yes to what I’m asking or who will certainly reject me. If you got one, send it. Start and start small.
That could be to a former coworker, someone you admire, an old flame — whoever has been on your mind that you’d like to connect with (that said, if you’re asking for advice, there is some etiquette surrounding that you should be aware of).
One of the scariest emails I ever sent — I didn’t know the woman, and didn’t know if the message would even make it on her radar — led to my first full-time job, so I’m a big fan of the practice.
Plus, in journalism, cold-emailing people you want to talk to is an every day occurrence. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t, but when it does it’s the best feeling.
Just as important as setting New Year's resolutions is figuring out how we reach them, and not getting so bogged down in work that we forget to take care of ourselves. On the podcast Call Your Girlfriend, hosted by the journalist Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow, co-founder of Tech Lady Mafia, human rights technologist Sabrina Hersi Issa advises scheduling a Personal Inventory Day each month as a way to regularly take stock of where your time is going.
Some advice on cold-emailing: Be specific with what you want out of the correspondence. You’re putting yourself in someone else’s inbox, so be respectful of their time. If you don’t have anything specific in mind, perhaps rethink why you want to engage with this particular person. Maybe you just want to compliment their work.
And, again, this isn’t to suggest you have a free pass to ask people to do your work for you, or request someone’s time you don’t know for free.
Here’s some advice on asking for advice:
If you really want advice, just ask it in the email. And follow these rules:
- Spend 95% of your time researching the person you’re emailing, and 5% writing the email.
- Introduce yourself quickly but specifically, and ask specific questions.
- Ask one or two questions. Not three! You’ll feel like adding a third because your email looks too short. It’s not.
- Google your questions first.
- Don’t offer to “hop on the phone” as a compromise. That’s not a compromise, it’s a threat.
- Say “Even one sentence would be great.”
- Novelist Tao Lin came up with this one: Tell the recipient it’s OK to ignore your email. Not just to say no, but to completely ignore it.
- Say thank you.
- As soon as you’re ready to send, find and delete at least one sentence.
- Send and move on. Never “follow up.”
But if you have a piece of writing or a story idea you’ve been dying to pitch; if there’s a job opening you want; if your boss is looking for someone to take on a big project and you know you have what it takes — just go for it.
Sending an email out into the ether can be scary, but it can also be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do. You never know until you try.