Thursday, February 25, 2010

How do you know when to "Just say no"?

I just wanted an excuse to put up a picture of these lively business-dames. Photo credit

A few weeks ago I was being considered for a position that was, on the surface, probably as close to a dream job as I could hope for right now. Out of hundreds of applicants, I was lucky enough to be given an opportunity to interview. Of course, I did my research on the job and the organization, making calls to people in my network to get more information. I spoke with the individual I would be interviewing with, and he described the parameters of the position in detail to me. I may be slightly above entry-level, but I quickly assessed in this five minute phone call that this position was for an established professional. And while I met all the requirements listed on the job posting, they were obviously needing someone with extensive experience. Experience that I didn't have. I fought back the quiet 'no's' in my head at first, telling myself I'd find out more at the interview and perhaps my lack of experience wasn't that important. Because after all, they had decided to interview me. When it came time for the interview, I was prepared and enthusiastic. I channeled my inner young professional like I never knew I could (see Bette Midler's Sadie in Big Business, minus the flip phone and shoulder pads, although that would have been awesome). But still, that feeling that this would be too much, that I wasn't ready, persisted; and in the days following, I started carrying the heaviest of heavyweight feelings: Guilt. I was Guilty for not being grateful enough for all the connections that had helped me land that interview, Guilty for not being ambitious enough to take a risk, Guilty for not being more forthcoming in the interview, miming Bette's cucumber cool self-assurance like my life depended on it, Guilty for lying to myself and the Director about my readiness to take on such a huge responsibility (I won't go into details, but trust me, it was huge). Just about everyone I had the guts to confide my doubts to basically told me I'd be crazy to say no. I didn't even ask my Dad because I knew the force of his response over the phone would propel me backwards into the nearest wall. When I finally consulted my most-trusted former colleages, their advice was to simply wait and see what the Director would decide. Two weeks passed as I twiddled my thumbs, anxiously wondering what I would decide to do if I was in fact, offered the job. And well, as you can imagine with all this guilty, greasy build-up, I never had to make that decision because they went with a different candidate.

The thing is, from a very young age, we are taught how to 'just say no'. Say no to drugs, say no to peer pressure and toxic friends and bad relationships. We've finally allowed ourselves to say "no" to our co-workers, to our families and our closest friends when their demands become too much. Its even becoming culturally acceptable to turn down promotions in the notoriously ultra competitive Japanese business world . Basically, the logic follows that if the proposal in question is not the right fit - Will you work more hours? Will you watch my dog? Will you marry me? - we can and should say no. And even though I didn't have to say no to this job (someone else said it for me), I wondered if our ability to say no isn't inversely proportionate to our age.

It seems there is some widely accepted rule that says college grads have to hungrily lap up anything and everything that is offered up to us, and gone are the days when it gets offered on a silver platter (were there ever days like that?). And as we get older, it seems we flex our 'nixing' muscles more and more. But should we really be saying 'yes' to anything - even if its eons away from the field we want to be in or requires much more time/experience/whatever than we are currently able to give it? For those who know their talents and capacities, their passions and areas of interest, I'd like to shout a big fat, "NO"! But this is something I hear very little discussion about; even thinking about writing this post caused my guilt to come creeping back.  So I would love to hear what others think...


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