From the time we’re little (except for the terrible twos when everything’s a big No-fest) we’re pretty much conditioned to be nice, play nice and share everything we have. Pop culture also regularly reminds us that we should be more open to things, from uber-producer Shonda Rhimes’s book Year of Yes, in which she committed to saying yes to everything instead of no, to Say Yes to the Dress, a show that’s entire premise is about urging brides to announce their commitment…to a few yards of fabric.
In the spirit of being ornery for a good reason, let me buck this tide of assenting to everything. I’d like to encourage you to say no more often and to mean it.
In that vein, before you accept the next invitation that comes your way, give it a quick rethink, who knows – you might actually want to say yes instead of feeling forced into it.
Say no to that interview
You’ve been out of work for a while and everyone in your immediate orbit is pressuring you to GET A JOB. They mean well of course, they want you to feel better about yourself, hope you’ll soon have more disposable income, and really really hope you might start showering on a more regular basis. The thing is, that if you’re serious about looking for a full-time job or gig you can know just how debilitating it can be to get all dressed up for an interview for a job you don’t really want. Worse still is going in knowing you’re worth more than the salary or that the actual job compromises you, your skill set and hopes for your career and could even set you back.
When to bail: Forget the interview if the job doesn’t even sound better on paper. If you’re second-guessing every career choice you’ve ever made. If the thought of working there, even as a stopgap, depresses you beyond measure and will ultimately hinder your ability to secure the next better interview, you should probably give it a pass.
A word of caution: Sometimes it pays to go on an interview for a job you’re not sure you want simply to practice. But step out of the process as soon as you can.
Say no to a job offer: Congrats! All that resume polishing has been paying off and you’ve been offered the job of your dreams- or have you?
This would be the time for a quick gut check to see if you’re as excited as you think you are. Think back to when you first heard about this position. Now think about what’s been offered to you. Is the salary the same? Are the benefits there as well? What about your title or responsibilities? Do you want the job because it improves your skills and offers a good working environment — or because the title or the company look impressive to friends and family? If you’re worried about project creep before even starting a project, it’s a good time to put the brake on things.
When to bail: Retailers and advertisers aren’t the only ones who are great at the old bait and switch: some sketchy job descriptions or offers seem to do the exact same thing. If the job you applied for came with a higher salary and now you’ve been offered a fancier title but paltrier paycheck, you already know something about your potential future employer, they can’t be trusted to do right by you. Do you really want to start working for a company that doesn’t keep its word or misleads you intentionally from the get-go? Probably not. You deserve to be excited about your new opportunities
A word of caution: No job is perfect though, say no to too many opportunities and the offers might stop coming in.
Say no to networking
You know that you should get out there more, and so you sign up for more Meetups than you can keep track of, and start RSVPing in the affirmative to every even remotely interesting industry event. The problem with being at too many events is that you become that guy. You know the one. He’s at every single corporate event, cocktail in hand, eagerly scanning every new face to make a new connection since he already knows everyone and is desperate for a new contact.
When to bail: It’s fine to attend networking events, but try to be more circumspect about accepting or sharing invitations. If you hear about a talk or interactive event held by a thought leader you admire, it’s nice to attend, but don’t assume you’ll be able to speak with her. Chances are good that the best events will be so crowded to the rafters you’ll never get to meet your hero. Instead, try to focus on higher quality events or even the ones that offer a more guided way of networking. In this way, you have more potential for professional improvement rather than another night sitting in the corner grumbling about everyone in your industry.
I co-founded and ran a networking organization in partnership with the business development offices of a former mayor of NYC and despite meeting hundreds upon hundreds of strangers a year, I always tried to manage my expectations for every event. I challenged myself to make one meaningful contact per event, and that made the entire evening a success. I still do. I don’t believe in collecting business cards or sharing social media information haphazardly, in networking as in life, less can frequently be so much more.
A word of caution: Don’t expect to gain career changing opportunities at every event and you might end up being extremely pleased with the results of your next networking efforts.
Say no to the next business trip
This one is tricky. If part of your job description specifically involves travel, you might have a hard time saying no to an important business trip. That said, if the bulk of the work you hope to accomplish can as easily be completed via Skype or Slack or any other virtual means, you can probably skip a few trips.
When to bail: If you’re coming down with a bad cold, are so fried you can barely function at home much less when your home base is a hotel room, you’re no good to anyone on their home turf.
A word of caution: There really is no substitute for face-to-face interaction sometimes. If you’re planning to increase your monthly retainer, asking for a raise, or even presenting something that makes you look like a rock star, you should probably do it in person. But if it’s a minor detail that can be worked out by phone or Skype, do that instead.