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4 Things to Consider Before Taking New Opportunities: Part 1

Why is Saying Yes to New Opportunities Important?

One of my favorite books is Shonda Rhimes’ Year of Yes. After reading it in 2016, I vowed to say yes to everything and see what difference it would make in my life. That year, saying yes proved a life-changing experience for my personal and professional life. My decision opened doors to experiences I would have overlooked had I said no to them.

If you’re a self-proclaimed “lifelong learner” like me, then you know when new opportunities are presented to you, it can be hard saying no. For many emerging leaders, taking every opportunity to learn new skills, grow and challenge yourself is the best way of getting ahead in your career.

But there’s also a downside to saying yes that is less obvious.

What is the Opportunity Cost of Saying Yes?

Every “yes” incurs an opportunity cost. Taking too many opportunities can leave ambitious leaders feeling overwhelmed, burned out and spread too thin. How do you balance the desire to learn new things with the reality of competing priorities? I have had to learn the hard way these four approaches to avoid spreading myself too thin:

  1. Prioritizing career goals
  2. Adopting a strategy for accepting new opportunities
  3. Setting short- and long-term goals for personal development
  4. Measuring personal accomplishments through self-reflection

Let’s unpack each approach so you have a sense of how to apply them to your personal pursuits.

Prioritizing Career Goals

A skill that will serve you well in deciding whether to say yes to new opportunities is prioritization. Create a list of learning opportunities you want to pursue, when you’d like to pursue them and why. Knowing your “why” ensures you are spending time on the things that matter. For years I struggled to balance competing interests. I had to learn a better way, and prioritization was a game changer.

Adopting a Strategy for Accepting New Opportunities

Do you have a method for reflecting on what you’ve already accomplished? How do you plan for future opportunities? Being strategic about how you try accomplishing your goals is half the battle. Scott Cochrane, a well-known leadership blogger, says, “Leaders must exercise the ruthless discipline to know when it’s time to pull back, to dis-engage, and to replenish their physical, emotional, relational and spiritual tanks.” Cochrane recommends leaders monitor the warning signs of falling into a “leadership slump.”

To avoid this scenario, develop a habit of writing your goals and accomplishments in a journal – your strategy. This is one powerful approach to helping discern when the timing is right to say yes and when holding off is best.

Setting Short- and Long-term Goals for Personal Development

As part of developing a strategy, you’ll also want to include your short- and long-term career goals. As Tony Robbins says, “If you talk about it, it’s a dream. If you envision it, it’s possible, but if you schedule it, it’s real.” In The Danger of Saying Yes: How Doing It All Minimizes Your Leadership, the author identifies three downsides for leaders who say yes to everything. To avoid this, the article recommends leaders create discipline. Setting realistic short- and long-term goals for your career will help you solidify them in your mind and develop greater long-term discipline.

Measuring Personal Accomplishments Through Self-Reflection

How often do you review all your annual accomplishments? Measuring your achievements gives you clarity about whether your goals were realistic or you could take a different approach to achieving them. I’ve created a self-reflection exercise called the L.E.A.D Analysis which examines past leadership actions and accomplishments and helps you create a vision for the future. Check it out – it could spark a new way of thinking for you.

When All Else Fails, Say No

We are always giving up something when pursuing something else. In Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, he shares valuable strategies for developing an essentialist mindset. He says “saying ‘yes’ to one thing means saying “no” to something else. Essentialists choose to get involved in the things that are important to them rather than the things that don’t matter.

Avoid burnout by focusing on the essentials. Say no to all nonessential things now.  

Great opportunities will always surface when you are doing good work. It’s best focusing on what matters at the moment.

Stay tuned for part two of this post. We’ll explore 10 critical questions you can ask yourself before jumping into new opportunities.

Interested in becoming a Featured Contributor? Email topics you’re interested in covering for GovLoop to [email protected].

Kima Tozay is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and subject matter expert (SME) on counseling and advocacy programs in her role at the Navy Fleet & Family Support Center in Everett, Washington. Her government career spans 15 years, starting in the Navy. Kima completed her Masters in Social Work degree from the University of Washington and has held positions with the Veterans Affairs Department (VA) and the Army. Kima’s greatest career accomplishment is receiving the Federal Employee of the Quarter Award for her leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. She earned an Executive Leadership Certificate from Graduate School, USA. You can connect with Kima on LinkedIn.

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