My career has mostly focused on business development (aka sales) and I have been an active “networker”.
I was recently introduced to a cleverly constructed networking organization that groups people who are looking for similar customers.
I sat in on a sample session (virtual these days) and greatly enjoyed it. The gentleman who runs the group started by having us watch a TED talk. He then split us into two rounds of breakout sessions to discuss questions he posed.
I loved every minute of it. As a lifelong learner, I eat up that kind of stuff – TED talks, discussion groups, and simply meeting new people.
After the session, I had to decide if I wanted to move forward and join the group.
The people I had briefly met in the breakout discussions were super nice, and to make the best of the experience, I knew I would have to get to know each of the other members well. And, to make something like this work for me, and to be fair to the other members, I know not to commit unless I can give it my all.
I thought about the time that would require. I have many initiatives I am involved with in my business and in my personal life. So, I decided to say no.
I told the organizer how much I enjoyed the session, how much I liked his concept, how much I liked the people, but that one of the greatest time management skills is knowing when to say no. He agreed.
Saying no isn’t easy.
One of the hardest situations to say no to is when the offer is for an opportunity that strokes your ego.
For example, when my kids were young, I brought an issue to a board of ed meeting. I found the meeting to be interesting, so I began to regularly attend the meetings. A year or two later, I was asked to run for an open seat on the board. I would have won if I ran, because I would have run unopposed. It was extremely flattering to be asked, but as much as I enjoyed the meetings, I knew I was not interested in serving on the board, so I said no. (I did later serve on a committee, which I enjoyed.)
In another case, I served for nine years on the board of my temple. When I was first asked to join the board, I told the then-president I did not aspire to be president of the temple, and to please not ask me to get onto the president-track (treasurer, to second vice president, to first vice president, to president). She said that was fine.
Over the years, I served in several roles. I oversaw the temple’s insurance, because I know that from my career, I served as recording secretary (I am a great note-taker), and I was head of the personnel committee. I also had to tell several presidents, each of whom served two-year terms, that I did not aspire to be president. (Each told me they had heard that, but wanted to ask to see if I had changed my mind.)
It’s not only hard to say no, it’s also hard to leave positions after you have said yes. In this case, after seven years, I told the then-president I would be stepping down after that year. A year later, the incoming president asked me to stay. I said I would stay for the first of his two years, which would help him as he got his feet on the ground in his new role, as well as allowing him time to recruit a replacement.
Most recently, a dear friend became president of an area non-profit that serves people in great need of food (and more). She asked if I would participate on the finance committee which she thought I would find of interest because of my business experience. I told her if I were to become involved (which I wasn’t guaranteeing I would), it would be much more interesting for me to be on a committee focused on the actual work of the organization.
She invited me to decide by sitting in on a bi-monthly committee meeting (on Zoom). I enjoyed it. I have attended several meetings since, and intend to continue as long as I enjoy participating and am able to make a meaningful contribution of ideas and suggestions.
Most recently, a long-time business colleague asked me to join the board of the non-profit organization she runs. Once again, I was very flattered. I talked to another board member to learn more. But, I said no because of my recent involvement with the organization I wrote about in the prior two paragraphs (on top of all my other business and personal commitments).
It’s not easy to say no, for a variety of reasons. But it’s important to be able to say no, not only because an inability to do so will wreak havoc on your time management, but also because it will impact your health (the stress from taking on too much), and your happiness (the joy that gets sucked out of your life when you take on responsibilities you don’t enjoy.)