Years ago, I learned a very valuable lesson. I worked for Pfizer. The majority of my team was in NYC. I lived in Michigan (where my husband was based) and had to fly to Manhattan in order to interact with my colleagues and get stuff done.
That’s how many big companies work. While remote teams are okay, face time is better. It builds relationships. Solidifies trust. And while I had a team of lovely coworkers, I tried to fly under the radar screen. My goals in life are simple: to be self-sufficient, to add value to my organization, and to be left alone.
It’s funny how those things don’t change.
So the first time I asked a coworker for help, I was surprised to hear him tell me no. He wasn’t responsible for providing assistance. That was someone else’s job.
Now listen, I have no problem telling people no. I’ve said no throughout my entire career. No, I won’t be a part of [your stupid plan] to [accomplish a really mediocre outcome]. Sometimes you have to say no to set boundaries, set expectations, and remain sane. And sometimes you say no to teach people a lesson. For example — no, I cannot help you with [your staffing project] because [you are a real pain in the ass and I don’t like you].
That’s fine. And maybe that’s what my colleague was telling me.
But I just think that you should save the word ‘no’ for when it matters. The right way to move throughout the world is to say yes. Take initiative. Contribute. Be helpful. When someone asks me to do something, my instinct is to do it. Maybe I will deliver on that promise in a clear way or maybe I’ll do it my own way. But if I can do it, I will do it because I trust that my colleagues are not trying to waste my time, feel that I’m best suited to accomplish a goal, and really need my help.
And if my boss asks me to do something, I always say yes. Even when it’s crazy. Bret (who is my CEO at Starr Tincup) came up to me and said, “I have an idea for a zine but I need your help.”
A zine? A zine? Do I look like a mothereffing zine writer to you?
So I said, “This is crazy. [long pause] You’re nuts. [long pause] [sigh] Of course I’ll do it!!”
If Bret asks me to do something, I don’t question why. I don’t try to redirect his thinking to other & more appropriate resources. I don’t say, “I think someone else is better suited to handle the administrative project work required to write a zine.”
It’s all hands on deck at my company. I follow the lead of my colleagues and I say yes. Bret is asking me to do something for a reason and I trust him. He would never waste my time. And the zine is absolutely awesome. So fun. Really creative. He was right. And maybe I do look like a zine writer.
So I’ve learned to avoid saying no at work. Or rather, I’m saving up my right to say no for when it matters.
And you should, too.