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Saying yes when everything inside you is screaming no

A lot has been written about having firm boundaries, and having the wisdom to say ‘no’ to activities that either aren’t a priority or those that end up making you busy but ineffective.  Not much however, is written about the opposite end of the spectrum – saying yes to something that has the potential to be lifechanging or transformative, when you really want to say no.  If there is one thing that is a certain to lead to exponential growth though, this is it.  I’ll explain exactly what I mean.


Many years ago, my business partner delivered an unexpected blow by informing me he was resigning and moving hundreds of miles away.  At the time I was a medical practitioner and had only been with the practice for a couple of years.  I had joined the practice following a career change from hospital practice and what with moving house, bringing up young children and finding my feet in my new career, I really just wanted to be allowed to cruise along for a bit before handling any more responsibility.  Which was why my first response when I learned of my partner’s resignation (he was the senior partner), was to follow his lead, resign from the practice and find some other place where I could continue following another’s lead. I was in no mood to lead anyone other than myself, let alone a medical practice  whose future wasn’t certain because of dodgy premises that didn’t meet the disability discrimination act rules.  I did actually start secretly making moves to leave; despite my business partner trying to convince me otherwise; everything inside me wanted to go.  Wisdom prevailed and encouraged by my husband, I said ‘yes’, deciding to stay, while inside my head I was screaming ‘no’.


My reluctance to take up the Senior Partner role was for bonafide reasons – I simply didn’t think I could pull it off.  I wasn’t convinced I had the leadership experience or capability to lead a group of staff, whilst providing crucial (sometimes life-saving) services to a few thousand patients.  However, in saying yes, I was indicating that at least I was willing to give it a go.  That I had taken into consideration the fact that closing the practice was going to affect a lot of people negatively, and I owed it to those people to at least consider other options. Besides, both the partner that was leaving, and my husband felt I had what it took to do a good job.  I am so glad I listened to them.  Their confidence in me bolstered mine and all I needed to do was deal with my fears, which I did.   I learned so much in the five years I led the practice, discovering more about my strengths (and weaknesses) as a leader than I had up until then. And my staff actually thrived under my leadership.


Type in ‘comfort zone and growth’ into any web browser and you are bound to find several quotes on the subject.  Below are just a few.


“Be willing to get out of your comfort zone, if you want to grow.” Chelsea Vincent

“All progress takes place outside the comfort zone.”— Anonymous

“When you cross your comfort zone, fear zone, learning zone and growth zone, you will enter into the zone of leadership.” ― Amit Ray.


Let’s be honest, we still need to work on the art of saying ‘no’ to ninety percent of things we have said ‘yes’ to, only to find they are sapping the life out of us without producing any worthwhile results.  In Leadership this ability to say ‘no’ is even more crucial, as you will always find that the demands on your time seem greater than your capacity to deliver, but just as importantly, many of us are saying ‘no’ to things we should really consider saying ‘yes’ to.  The number one reason we say no? Fear of failure.  Fear that we’ll mess up and then everyone will really see that the ‘emperor has no clothes’ ( known as imposter syndrome).  I get that.  It’s a valid reason to say ‘no’ to that request to speak at an event because you hate public speaking and besides there are other speakers much better at it than you so why can’t they ask someone else?  Or declining that leadership role with greater responsibility because you don’t want to get involved in office politics and would rather be left alone to do your work quietly. 


But before you go ahead and vehemently decline the next time you are asked to do something that scares the daylights out of you, consider this – what if saying yes will open a door of opportunity you didn’t even know existed?  What if, it draws out a skill or gift or interest you didn’t even know you possessed?  What if, saying yes is the thing that leads to that other thing you’ve been wanting for years?  The first time I was asked to speak in public I almost said no because as a shy, introverted person, I didn’t really like standing up to talk in front of more than one person.  However, I knew I had a desire to help develop people to be better versions of themselves.  Saying yes to that speaking engagement led to the discovery that I could have more impact speaking to many people at once instead of on a one-one basis all the time. Duh!  Saying yes opened me up to greater possibilities that could only be reached on the other side of my aversion.  Even now, I am still saying yes to things I would rather say no to, because growth is a continual process and just because you do it once doesn’t mean you stop there.


I will admit that one could argue (and rightly so) that there is often a very fine line between things you really should say ‘no’ to (maintaining boundaries and all that), and the ones you should say ‘yes’ to, even though your head says it should really be a no.  Agreed.  Here’s a tip on the difference – if the impulse to say no is as a result of a fear of any sort – fear of failure, falling short, messing up – anything remotely along those lines, then invariably it’s a sign you really should seriously consider saying yes.  Then do the hard work – upskill yourself if you need to, find the resources you will need, get a pep talk from your best cheerleader or mentor.  Then roll up your sleeves and do what’s required, knowing that on the other side of your fear, is growth like you never imagined. 







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