“Go for it!” They said.
“Volunteer for that new project,” they said.
“It’s a stretch opportunity”, they say.
“It’ll be fun,” they said.
If you haven’t noticed, there’s this new push for women to say ‘yes’. A push to be bold and committed and to open ourselves up to everything to see what might be possible. And we think that’s great!
But every ‘yes’ comes with a trade-off.
Saying yes to the project that will take up all of your capacity means that you might not be able to say yes to the volunteer work that was helping you build that gap skillset you wanted to add to your resume (Like how I had to sacrifice my pro bono marketing work to focus on a new job opportunity). Saying yes can open magical doors, but are there times when you shouldn’t feel obligated to answer in the affirmative? YES!
Here are 10 reasons when you should NOT say Yes (or should at least think long and hard about it first)
Don’t say yes if…
- … you actually don’t have the capacity. There is nothing that bothers me more than when people are all talk and no action! if you don’t have the capacity to do what you’re committing to, don’t commit! It’s okay to say that you can’t commit. “Can you lead the corporate social responsibility committee that meets 3x a week and tracks deliverables from 4 different work streams aside from doing your actual job that you’re trying to balance with the part of your life that your work people know nothing about?” If the answer is not an honest “yes”, then don’t say it! Do the things you commit to well. Quality is way more impressive than quantity.
- …saying yes compromises something else that you’ve already said yes to. So let’s say your were bold and committed and you said yes to leading that committee. Awesome!! But if you get asked to take on more responsibility and you haven’t even wrapped your arms around your current stretch opportunity, I’d say the chances of growing Gumby-like appendages and being able to stretch yourself even more is not likely. Don’t say yes if it sabotages your full growth potential in the thing you’re using to grow.
- …you lose your balance. Work-life balance is important. You do better work when you have an opportunity to focus on all aspects the your life that are important to you. So if saying yes means you start making stupid mistakes, cancelling on friends all the time, and not taking the time to be healthy and fulfilled, then this was not your “yes”.
- …if the opportunity goes against your greater strategy. Saying yes to be a data reporting lead when you hate numbers, don’t want to work with numbers, and can’t envision yourself in any role where this would be important probably means you are not going to get anything out of this for the greater good of your career. Be selective with your “yes”. Only offer the “yes” that sets you up for bigger and better opportunities.
- …if you’re a “yes (wo)man” Have you become the team “catch-all” because you ALWAYS say yes? Have you become a push over at work? Are you so good at saying yes that people assume you don’t know how to say the alternative? If so, I suggest you practice saying “no” when it’s appropriate. Keep them guessing! Build up your “no” backbone! The first couple of times will be hard, but then it starts to feel so good!
- …there’s a better person for the job. This isn’t always the case, but sometimes it’s better to swim in your lane and let someone else do what they do best. Let’s take our data example. I hate analytics. I can do it. Graduate school made sure of that. But I will never raise my hand to volunteer to pull your numbers and write data queries. If it needs to be done, “Fine, I got you, boss”, but I will not say yes to that when John Doe does analytics for fun, on the weekends, and holidays and is sitting in his cube bored right now and itching for something to do. On a more serious note, as your career goes on, you’ll start to develop a niche and build your professional brand. Once you know what your brand isn’t, you’ll know what is okay to say “no” to. Don’t sign me up for data reporting. No thanks!
- …you’ve already paid your dues. Back to data (one more time!) I started off as a data analyst. Because that’s what you do when you’re fresh out of the gate. You pay your dues. You crunch numbers. You build reports. You build them again. You validate, you build dashboards, and you learn how to write some impressive macros so that the data starts crunching itself! But I’ve done that. I paid my dues and got paid my pittance and I built a lot of character from that experience. I think of it fondly…because it’s over. Don’t say yes to something that pushes you back in the opposite direction if it can be avoided. Obviously, be a team player and do what needs to be done so that the team is successful. But in all other circumstances, suggest hiring an analyst or intern, or reach out to John who loves this stuff!
- …you’re making room for a better yes! I love this one because it plays to my very strategic nature. There’s a project coming down the pipeline that I really want! I want that thing so badly! But in order to put myself in position for that project, I have to make room for it by turning down some other opportunities that are easier and more immediate. It’s like The Marshmallow Test for self control. If you can delay immediate gratification so that you can have something bigger and better in the future, then I think it’s more than okay to say “no thanks”
- …you don’t want to. We all have to do things we don’t want to do professionally. This is unavoidable. But if you shouldn’t feel obligated to say “yes”. If you’re given a choice, practice making one. Let your voice be heard, even if it’s not what you think they want to hear. Don’t say no “just because” and don’t say yes “just because” either. Have an opinion and make sure your decisions align with what you want now and in the future.