Saying No to Great Opportunities

Because you have a strategy; because you have priorities.  Because you have focus.

But saying “No” to a great opportunity is tough.

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It’s so easy to be blown in a hundred directions: instead, stay focused.

Every time I say yes to an opportunity that is not in line with my long term strategy or goals, I take away from those opportunities that are.  I’m actively investing my time and effort againstwhat I need to do to be successful.  My failing to have focus, I can prevent achievement.

So why do I do it?

I think there are three reasons: loss aversion, desire to diversify, and fear of vulnerability.

Loss Aversion is the idea that our fear of a potential loss is greater than our desire for a potential gain.  When it comes to career opportunities particularly, we don’t want to shut down the possibility of  something great by not devoting time and attention to it.  So we apply for everything we might be interested in, even at the cost of real investment in the best opportunities.

Desire to Diversify.  When it comes to investing our money, most people seek diversification.  So it’s tough to grasp the idea that we should focus on two or three priorities when it comes to investing our time.  Here’s why: with career opportunities, we want to stand outwe want to have a clear brand and positioning–not merely match the average that we’re competing against.  For this reason we need to pick a few focus areas, rather than pursuing everything.

Fear of Vulnerability.  When we try for a few things, we put more of ourselves into them.  But that also means that it will hurt more if we fail, and be more obvious to others that we didn’t achieve our goal.

There are a few concepts I try to keep in mind to help me choose to focus.

First, I have a project mindset.  The opportunities I pursue today will last a finite period of time:  if I set realistic goals in terms of time and achievement, I can do good work, wrap up the effort, and reassess my long term strategy.  The choices I make today are not permanent–they’re the path ahead from here for the next year or two: I decide accordingly.

Second, I work to be my own storyteller.  When someone listens to me tell the story of my career, they don’t dissect each decision or expect a perfectly smooth path from beginning to end.  Instead, they want to hear a compelling narrative that arcs through the turns of the story and speaks to their individual needs.  So I take a long term view of my life, reflect on my story, and consider its structure as I make big decisions.  I ask myself whether the choice I’m making is the decision that the person I’m working to become would make.  I practice telling my story–by writing it down, or by seeking the advice of friends and mentors–to ensure it makes sense and truly resonates.

Finally, I remember that success transfers.  With every investment of time and effort, I’ll gain skills, learn lessons, and achieve results.  the more positive my results, the more important and clear the lessons that I learn and the skills I gain will be.  If I focus, I know I’ll have better results and learn deeper lessons–that will open more doors across every domain in the future.

So if you want to stay focused, keep a project mindset, practice sharing your story, and remember to keep a long term view.

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