04 Jun Is saying YES the easy way out? Fire up the courage to say NO.
Saying Yes. The easy way out?
Since my childhood full of Matchbox cars, G.I. Joe, and musical instruments, I’ve gravitated toward decisions and actions to please others. I’m very good at saying yes. If there’s any chance of disappointing someone with a no, I often say yes, even if that’s not the best choice for me, and then I proceed to over-extend myself to deliver. As Duke Robinson covers very well in his excellent book on this topic, my tendency is to be too nice for my own good. Is saying yes the easy way out? More often than not, it is.
Finding the courage to say no
In many situations, it takes more courage to say no than yes, especially when a yes is the low-risk answer. If you believe that no is the right answer for you and your career focus, and that answer requires courage to voice, then it can be incredibly relieving and invigorating to get that answer out in the open. It feels good, really good.
There are some important “No” answers I had the courage to give along the way when I changed careers and placed my focus on doing what I love for a living. Many of these were pivotal moments, but I didn’t always know it at the time. Today I share with you three key “No” moments. It is my hope that sharing my key decision points may offer insights that you can apply to your own life.
1. Would you like to stay on the expat train?
How about another relocation? It will mean more money, a step up on the career ladder, another paid move, bonuses & other perks. Are you in?
This was THE KEY moment. After working abroad for nearly 5 years on expat contracts (jobs outside one’s country of citizenship), I knew that 1) it’s intensive, hard work that comes with high expectations and 2) it pays well and the benefits are usually quite good. It’s a difficult train to leap from, even if it moves around from country to country! Moves are particularly profitable actually, and why pass up a sure step up the corporate ladder?
To make things interesting, our residence permit in Switzerland at the time was tied to my job, so all bets were off on our ability to remain in Europe if I didn’t accept the transfer.
Saying no to the move would mean risk and uncertainty. Worst-case outcomes involved funding our own move back across the Atlantic and needing to find new jobs at a bad time in the US economy. Following 4 corporate relocations over the years, we’d yet again need to leave a group of friends we loved, learn a new city and “get settled” all over again.
Saying no was honestly a scary prospect, especially when a yes would equate to more money and relative security and a no was more of a black hole. Yes was easy. No was hard.
After thinking it over, the answer came. “No thank you, gentlemen. It’s time to hang up my suit and tie. I’m out.”
The liberation of saying No
Man that felt good to say! Seriously, it was incredibly liberating to say no. I had no idea where we’d end up living or what we’d do for work, but there was only one answer to give that I could live with: a resounding No.
Once I had the guts to say no, my employer found a way to solve the permit challenge so that I could help them close down our Zurich branch and be free to later work in Switzerland for another employer. And that other employer would turn out to be the company I founded. Saying no to that transfer was a catalyst – it was pivotal!
A key lesson
Listen to your passion & allow “No” to liberate you.
2. Would you like to come back as a consultant?
A month into my career change, I received a phone call with the question “would you be interested in returning as a consultant, just for a few months?”.
I knew returning to corporate work as a consultant or starting my own consulting business would mean big bucks. I was skilled and confident in my area of work and knew I could step right back into it and rake in the money. I’d earn more in 3 months than perhaps in the first few years of starting my own coaching business.
It was tempting — really, really tempting. A few big paychecks and I’d have much less pressure on creating a revenue stream from coaching work in the coming year. I could take some time off to decompress and not feel rushed in developing a business plan and building a successful coaching practice.
As I mulled it over, a former colleague offered me some outstanding advice. “Don’t do it. Don’t come back to consult. Cut the ties. Cut yourself free. If you don’t do it now, you’ll never leave. The money and comforts will suck you in.”
Considering his advice, it struck me that my approach to a high-paying job was in some ways like a drug addiction.
The Justification Trap
The more I worked, the more stress I accepted in my life … and to offset that stress, I justified “things” as additional compensation. Fancy suits, gadgets, clothes … too many things! If I went back just for one more “taste,” I’d get caught up in the cycle again … more work, more money, more things, more stress … all the while more distance between me and my passions in life.
My colleague’s advice was priceless. I had to end the cycle. I made the call, took a deep breath and said no. Thanks for the offer, but I’m not interested in returning as a consultant. Again, it felt really, really good to say no.
I wanted to be hungry to make my business succeed, even though I didn’t really know what the business would look like yet! Consulting for a few months to pad the coffers wouldn’t create hunger or a sense of urgency. It would do the opposite. It takes a sense of urgency to build your own business. Hunger is a great source of motivation and an immense source of power. I would make my escape on an empty stomach!
Whatever it is that you’re going for or wish to pursue, keep in mind that the motivation required to overcome a challenge rarely comes from a moment or place of comfort. Allow yourself to be hungry and uncomfortable. Then, embrace the passion to drive you through that adversity and to your goal.
If you would like to make a deeper dive into the topic of saying no, check out Anne Brown’s Backbone Power The Science of Saying No.
3. Will you join our start-up?
When I first launched myself fully into the business I was passionate about, I had multiple chances to join someone else’s project – their company. In each case, I could have helped grow the business. In front of me stood a venture that had already endured start-up pains and was ready for the next stage of development.
I liked these organizations and would have loved working with the people. Within each was a chance to make a difference, but something was missing. I had this gut feeling that where my passion stemmed from was not only in helping people improve their lives, but also in building something from the ground up. That aspect really fired me up. That’s what got me so excited that I’d work through the night. It wasn’t just working in a certain area … it was building a business and creating something new in that area. That was a strong fuel for my passion.
The most profound offer came when I had 80% of my book written. I was at a critical crossroads at this time. Months earlier, I massively scaled down my business to create the space I needed to focus fully on finishing the book. While that provided extra time, it also significantly reduced my income. I was heading toward year-end without enough money in the bank to pay my annual accounting and insurance invoices, much less pay myself a salary. I saw dollar signs in an offer I received to join a start-up. Just like the temptation I experienced when I first changed my career, I stared down this offer and weighed the near-term benefits with the long-term impact of realizing a dream to publish a book.
I put a great deal of thought into each decision and ultimately said no to each opportunity. I had to be honest with my potential business partners and myself and acknowledge the “why” behind my passion. The risk of starting from scratch was greater and my vision for what to build was still not crystal clear, but I was thrilled by the possibilities and the blank canvas. And this is the type of excitement you need to pull off a successful focus on doing what you love!
The overarching lesson
Identify what drives the passion behind your business and career pursuits and make sure your approach to life covers that.
Having the courage to say no — to little things and to big things — has opened new doors for me and for many others. It’s led to the creation of a business and lifestyle that results in me eagerly looking forward to each new day and experience. Whether it was being offered a promotion, a consulting job or a chance to join another start-up, there were many chances where a “yes” answer would have moved me into another direction — away from my passion. Saying No kept me on a fulfilling trajectory.
None of the “No” decisions were easy, but all of them were worth it.
Finding a focus that resonates deeply with you requires integration. This means selecting the right ingredients, saying no to the right things, say yes to the right things, a healthy dose of passion, and humbly accepting any support that is offered. That last one is important. I believe that the support you receive is based on a combination of how you consistently treat people in the long-run, as well as luck and good fortune. And it’s all too easy to allow ego and drive to get in the way of honoring that support. I’m grateful to have had wonderful support over the years–without it, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
I wish you the best with any change in career or focus that you are considering.
This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man. — William Shakespeare