This is the second installment of the Career Path series. If you haven’t read part 1, you may want to go back and start there. The series is my attempt at sharing observations and mistakes I’ve made throughout my career which may be helpful for others on the same path.
There is a lot of advice written by very successful people who talk about the power of saying no. When individuals with a lot of professional opportunities say no more often, it allows them to be more strategic and provides more time and energy to focus on what’s most important. It makes a lot of sense to me and I love the messages in Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism on this topic.
But early in my career, I wasn’t saying no for any philosophical reasons. I said no to different opportunities because I was busy. I said no because I pre-judged people, I was insecure and rejected new ideas or ways of thinking. I thought I already knew everything that was important in my job so what was the point of saying yes to anything else, especially when I equated yes with more work, stress, and discomfort. So while part 1 of this series was about ego and holding yourself back, saying yes is about what we can do when we’re ready to admit we don’t know it all.
Now you might be thinking, what exactly am I saying yes to? Everything? And almost immediately you will experience a flood of emotions and thoughts telling you why this is a terrible idea and how you should actually say no. After all, no one respects a yes-man.
But this isn’t about blindly saying yes to others or saying yes in unethical or illegal situations. This is about saying yes to yourself.
If you work in corrections, you’re busy. You may already be feeling stressed or overwhelmed, which can trigger powerful emotions that shouldn’t be ignored. Talk to your peers or someone you trust, take advantage of the resources that exist in your organization and seek professional help if needed. But stress isn’t unique to corrections. I don’t know anyone who isn’t busy, so why are some able to say yes when others feel like they can’t?
I think when we are honest with ourselves, when we are true to our values and account for our biases, we can say yes to what helps us grow, even when doing so is hard and uncomfortable. In my career, I had to get outside my comfort zone to get where I wanted to be. In fact, all my greatest accomplishments, the things I’m most proud of, were not things I wanted to do. I did them because I knew I had to do them. I had to say yes, even when there was a part of me that didn’t want to. Thinking back to my post on Pros & Cons, I might have had more reasons why I could’ve said no but ultimately, saying yes was more in line with my goals and values.
I couldn’t predict what opportunities were going to present themselves in my life nor could I predict what doors will open for you. But I do know there will be doors. So try saying yes, walk through a door or two you wouldn’t normally entertain and see where it takes you. If you immediately experience an urge to say no, examine that response. Are you saying no for the right reasons?
If saying yes still feels a little too uncomfortable, start small. You don’t have to go skydiving on day 1. Here are a few examples:
- Ask someone new to coffee
- Make time to read a new article
- Volunteer for the next project
- Attend that network meeting you typically avoid
Saying yes means being open minded and action oriented. It’s not a single yes, it’s a series of yeses. If you say yes to the next training, the next position or new idea, don’t stop there. One opportunity will lead to another, if you keep looking. I know this might be starting to sound a little mystical or woo-woo, but I’m not trying to sell anyone magic beans or make promises. You are the one who has to walk through that door, take a look around and act. It’s work, all of it. But the more you look, the more options you’ll find. Say yes and see where it takes you.