Embrace the ‘No’

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I haven’t written a blog post in a very long time, but thought I should get back into it. This post is a deviation from my normal blog content which is typically more technical.  Although I plan on continuing with technical content, in this post I wanted to share my thoughts on a recent leadership workshop I attended. I hope you enjoy it.

A few months ago I attended a “Women in Leadership” 2-day workshop put on by my employer.  Although geared toward women, I think the key takeaways for me could be applied equally to both men AND women.  I’ve spent a lot of time since the workshop thinking about these things and trying to improve on them.  I believe they’re important life skills so I wanted to share them with you.  For the most part my focus has been on how it impacts my professional life in IT, although it can be applied to your personal life as well.

3 key takeaways:

#1: Are you a “people pleaser” and does that stop you from focusing on your own goals/priorities?

This was a big one for me in my younger self. If I could go back in time and re-do a behaviour I’ve exhibited over the years it would be this. I spent entirely too much energy focused on what would make others “pleased” which ended up sabotaging my own goals and priorities. Sounds silly, but you’d be amazed how much influence some people can have on you if you let them.   The key words ‘if you let them’ are important – once I figured out it was a choice I was making things got a lot easier for me. If doing it my own way meant some people weren’t “pleased” then … oh well. I’m pleased to say my more mature, experienced self has figured this one out and I can only think of a few personal examples (parents, grandparents) where I would let this rule slide. Trust me, in your professional life this one’s a killer if you let it rule you. Other people will end up controlling your career for you (both intentionally and unintentionally) and no one is as interested in your own career as you are – take charge of it yourself.

#2: Are you an “over-achiever” who can’t say no and does this prevent you from having time/focus to work on your own goals and priorities?

I’m definitely guilty of this one – trying to pretend I can do it all.  It’s easy to fall into this trap – you watch others who are successful in your industry and it appears as though they are in fact “doing it all” so you start thinking you should too.  I suspect what you’re not seeing is the many things those same people have said no to that has given them the time to focus on the things that are really important to them.  I’ve decided to go on this assumption and have definitely embraced the “no”.

Saying ‘yes’ to everything that comes across your plate can be risky for many reasons.  First, you may not be able to give your best effort to everything you’ve committed to and the end result is usually nothing you’re proud of.  This does little for your reputation and in turn, self-esteem. Second, if you’re spending all of your resources (time, energy) on other people’s goals and priorities, where do yours fit in? Deciding what niche you want to fill and how you’re going to go about filling it is an important professional goal – you need to spend time and energy on it to make it happen. I believe this all goes into building your personal brand and in professional life… that’s everything. Once you’ve decided what those goals and priorities are, it becomes a lot easier to know when to say no and, just as important, when to say yes.

To help others struggling with this issue, whenever I ask for help I always remind them ‘no is an answer’.

#3: Are you a perfectionist in what you do never satisfied with the end result? Is good ever good enough?

I think the saying goes ‘Perfect is the enemy of good’. This has been a big one for me over the years in my career. Waiting to get the perfect idea for a presentation or blogpost, waiting to get the perfect job, waiting to get the perfect project, waiting until I’m 100% ready for an opportunity. This is actually why I’m writing this blogpost – not because I don’t think these things have been blogged about countless times before, but because the things I’m talking about are things I believe a lot of people struggle with, its important, I have a voice, and I shouldn’t be afraid to speak up and share my thoughts regardless of whether others have shared theirs before me. That’s a good enough reason. If I help 1 person with this then I’ll consider it a success.

If you let perfectionism run your life, you run the risk of sitting on the sidelines while life and opportunity pass you by. Perfecting things can be a fool’s errand. Unless you’re in charge of designing the space shuttle launch system or something where people’s lives are at risk, nothing is really ever perfect anyway and most people won’t notice the odd thing you’re obsessing over to go from something ‘good’ to something ‘perfect’.

(Case in point: I’ve given myself 1 hour to write/edit/publish this blog post – I’m not going for a Pulitzer Prize. Labouring over it for another 2 hours isn’t going to change the core message I’m trying to deliver and would just end up consuming another 2 hours of my Sunday!)

Although the type of material in this post has the potential of sounding preachy, it was certainly not my intent.  These are things I’ve personally struggled with at times over the past number of years in my own career.  I’d love to know if you’ve battled with any of these same things and, if so, how you’ve dealt with it.

Thanks for reading!

Joanne K

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