All The Opportunities of No

"No" is not a word we usually associate with opportunity. I have my own troubled history with it. It is the ultimate "negative" feedback. No means "stop, don't proceed" ,it means "I don't agree" , or even "we aren't going to do that". So where does the opportunity come in? It took me a long time to figure that out.

"No" Parenting

We often hear that "millenials", a generational group I'm lumped in with, don't hear the word no often enough. That was not my experience. In fact, I learned from a very young age not to even bother asking for what I wanted, lest I raise the ire of my mother.

I was, in other ways "spoiled". I grew up in a big expensive house in a rich town. I got a lot of things, and I never asked for them. They were what my mother wanted me to want to have. I learned the helplessness of hearing "no" from someone else. Once that other person said "no!", what could you do?. Turns out there were many situations where there were plenty of ways to go from there.

Learned "no"ptimism

I should be unambiguous about one thing. Learning "no means no" in a sexual context is absolutely the best lesson, and the rest of what I'm about to describe doesn't apply to that context.

When I left the protective womb of my elitist liberal arts college I was all of a sudden swamped with "no". I wanted to be a college swim coach, but I heard a lot of "no". Not knowing how to deal with that, I reverted to my child-like state. I guessed that I should stop asking. I soon found out I was wrong.

With new found courage (from my future wife, who couldn't understand why anyone would give up so easily), I started asking again. This time with an open mind. When I heard no from hiring coaches, I kept my cool and pressed on. What could I do to get to "yes"? How could I improve myself? What did they value?

Even more so, I learned how to absorb the ego blow of hearing no and move on from it in the same conversation. 

I learned a lot about the profession I wanted to join before I joined it this way, and it allowed me to start the most important process (networking) of my professional career.

Finding Your Own No

But still harder challenges lay ahead. After learning about all the opportunity that I got from hearing no, I still hadn't learned how to use the word myself. I said yes way too much- yes to doing that extra work, yes to the job I wasn't sure of, yes to all the endless requests from swimmers, parents, and other coaches. I said yes until I was totally overwhelmed.

I found my own no, and though I'll never quite perfect it, I can see now the opportunity it creates for others too.