However, just as you wouldn’t go out on a date with every single person that asked you, you should exhibit a certain level of particularity when it comes to where you commit your time.
A good rule of thumb is whether the opportunity causes more damage than potential good: if it could hurt your brand or your soul, don’t accept it.
Most readers will be able to spot such instances a mile away. However, the trickier moments in life are when to say no when it seems like you should maybe say yes.
Below are some occasions when you owe it to yourself to say no:
The “Perfect” Opportunity.
According to Dan Schulman, after Obama lost the race for Congress in 2000, he interviewed for a job running the prestigious and progressive Joyce Foundation in Chicago. It would have paid mid-six figures and included other perks such as a country club membership.
Many people would have viewed this opportunity as a buoy in a turbulent ocean after Obama’s public failure. But Obama knew in his gut that he was not done with politics and that’s why Obama admitted to “doing a bad job on the interview.”
If an opportunity is dropped in your lap but it doesn’t mesh with your core instincts, you owe it to yourself to say no.
Your Time is Always Finite.
Your commitment to excellence requires that you say no as there are a finite number of hours in the day and always will be.
Time does not allow you to say yes to everyone: sure, you want to serve on the board of that worthy non-profit, or mentor that very deserving underprivileged kid, but if you want to continue all the numerous other tasks you are committed to with the excellence that you have connected to your brand and your name, you must say no.
It doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you a master strategist.
Silence is Golden.
Do you remember the period before you were successful? Maybe this was when you were a student or a struggling entrepreneur, or working a job you hated.
This was a time in your life when you weren’t inundated with invitations to dinners, talks, cocktail parties, screenings, or panels.
While all such events are (sometimes) incredibly worthy and can often enrich your career and your network, you can’t and shouldn’t attend all of them.
Back when you were at the start of your career and had a much smaller social network and fewer events to go to, you also had more silence. You had more time alone with yourself to think about your ideas and to tinker with your own creativity, innovation, and imagination.
This is my theory as to why the second album a band puts out often is subpar. The first album was made after much reflection and effort. When the first album and the band takes off in a whirlwind, it often doesn’t give the band the time and space it needs to recreate that magic in the second album.
You have to say no occasionally in order to honor times when you can just be alone and silent with yourself and your ideas.
Saying no comes from a place of strength and wisdom. It indicates that you know yourself, that your goals are crystal clear, and that you have the courage to assert boundaries.
Sometimes saying no to a brilliant opportunity, a fun social event, or a worthy mentee means you’re shouting an even bigger yes to yourself, your goals, and your future.