The Power of No

One of my mentors recently asked me to take on a project that’s not my cup of tea. Have you ever had a mentor persuasively ask you to do something you have no interest in doing? I was all…

As I refine my interests, I want to be selective about the opportunities I embrace. Working in settings where doing more is rewarded, makes it hard to figure out what “more” I should and shouldn’t be doing and stressful to pass on the yes train to success. As young professionals, we basically spend our youth forging opportunities and when one is placed in our lap, it’s hard to turn away the gift…even if it it’s not what you and Santa discussed. But, somehow, like my 2 year old patients, I have come to believe in the power of “No.”

“No” has power when you allow it to define your priorities. The power is in the discernment. So how can we invoke this power when we feel pressured (by ourselves or others) to do something that doesn’t align with our goals or interests?

I have a few ideas.

1. Ask for transparency and be transparent. Perhaps you lack insight into your mentor’s vision or they are unaware of your goals. Use the moment as an opportunity to clarify your mutual interests.

2. When stretched too thin, decline something you risk doing poorly. Overextending yourself may reflect negatively on your work ethic or professionalism.

3. Recognize that sometimes, you need to say yes! Good sensei’s should challenge you in ways that help you grow. These ways may not always be apparent, but can lead to new opportunities.

4.  “Great is the enemy of done” (thanks Dr. Michelle Hermiston!). Perfectionism can impede productivity. Find out what commitment is required and when time is tight and you are stretched, let “done” be good enough.

5. When all else fails, go to the bathroom (or wherever you collect your thoughts), look in the mirror and say…

YOU. Know that you are in charge of your destiny and despite your best intentions some opportunities will be squandered. Move on as quickly as possible. It is your willingness to get messy and commitment to try your best (see Playing Like a Champion) that will carry you to where you’re meant to be.

As young pups in the game, a thoughtful “No” may be the greatest tool in our professional toolbox. This week, let “No” be a step towards something you want for yourself!


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