Tuesday, April 04, 2006

When to Say No, When to Say Yes

There are two extremes in motive for decision making. The first is the confident, can-do, I-don't-want-to-let-anybody-down, yes, Yes, YES Type. The second is the cautious, will-I-succeed, does this follow my plan, will-it-make-me-look-like-an idiot, maybe, no, I don't think so type.

Both extremes can hurt the person: the first by getting buried in ridiulous obligations, the second by missing opportunities.

Ms. Yes rarely misses opportunities. They spring up like flowers before her and she picks them al--beautiful or not--hey, they're flowers and I like them! The opportunities, the possibilities, and the teamwork excite Ms. Yes. Eventually, though, she says yes so many times the joy is sucked out of every opportunity. Buried by tons of stuff, her work becomes shoddy. She gets tired and weary. She gets discouraged when she can't do it and the problem is that the word "No" never enters her vocabulary. When she fails, she blames herself. She beats herself up, she gets up and tries harder. Rarely does she evaluate the why.

Dr. No makes up for Ms. Yes's yeses. Every possibility is weighed against a plan, against perfection, against image, against ability. Dr. No only wants to say yes when he can hit a homerun. He only sings when he can be Pavoratti. Being second is not acceptable. If he has other obligations and the new one would add pressure: No. If he has never done this type of thing before, he'll recommend that you get another expert. No. If he is asked to try something new, like skiing, and he might look foolish. No. Dr. No's risks missed opportunities, unexplored hidden abilities all to keep the status quo for comfort. He won't say Yes unless he knows he can deliver. And when he, rarely in his view, makes mistakes it is clearly someone elses fault. He doesn't entertain failure. He only picks successes so someone else must be to blame.

Most people fall on this continuum. I'm at the Dr. No end. To illustrate how ridiculous this perspective can get when it is extreme: After High School, I quit playing the violin for a host of reasons, but here was the main one that I told people, "I realized that I could never be Izaak Perlman and it is very difficult to make a living in music if you're not the best." First of all, no one is Izaak Perlman but Izaak Perlman. The man is an unqualified genius. His mistakes are even beautiful. What was I thinking? To the second part of the equation: A city symphony pays pretty darn well. In Houston, the musicians went on strike and they each make like $80K/year. Not bad by any reasonable standard.

But my rationale was that to do it, I had to be the best. Anything less was a failure. I would hardly call symphony members failures, right? But I'm a classic Dr. No.

At the other end of the extreme is a friend of mine. The last time she said "No" was in the 80s. The woman doesn't let the word pass her lips. Room mom? Yes! Sunday school? Yes! Investment opportunity? Yes! Girl scouts? Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! The woman is run ragged. She never stopped, even through her cancer surgeries and treatment. She is an energetic whirling dirvish. Everyone loves her, of course, because her favorite word is YES!

I try to be her conscience. She is definitely my inspiration.

When I'm fearful or lazy or recalcitrant, I think of her and try to do more, say more yeses and take a chance. She will never live with regrets because she didn't try something or do it. She lives every moment in hyper-speed, like it's her last. I live life like it's going on forever and the time and ability will always be there. It won't and might not. So I need to say yes and get moving. If she wants to continue, a nap, a weekend away, would be just the ticket.

So where are you on the continuum? Are you bold, courageous and exhausted? Or are you fearful, anal and perfect?

Self-awareness, introspection and balance are the key when saying yes or no. Take opportunities that work for you and make them count. Learn to say both yes and no.

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