What Would You Say?

Posted by Judy Anne Cavey on Jul 20, 2011 in , , | No Comments

If you were asked to work weekends, a lot of overtime, relocate, and a host of other requests, what would you say?

In Can You Work This Weekend? by Suzy Welch, (O Magazine), she takes readers on an interesting ride though her world of successful friends (acting as lab rats of sorts) to discover the magic answer to the question posed.

The “Yes” Woman

Welch had a personal ah-ha moment while writing up a recommendation for her assistant, which prompted her investigation. She recommends her assistant by stating, “No matter what the request, Megan’s answer was always yes.” The idea this young assistant “always said yes” piqued an interest in Welch to find out if, in fact–always saying yes opens doors in a career–and if saying no creates the opposite result. At the same time, she fully understands saying yes all the time makes one exhausted and pulled in different directions.

Recently, a study found women are now asked to work overtime almost twice as often as are their male coworkers. If you’re a female, how does the outcome of that study sit with you?

When it’s Time to Say “No”

One friend Welch questions, a corporate president, tells her “You can say no, and you can restore some order and balance to your life…and your career can even thrive, but you will have narrowed the opportunities. That’s the way it is.” But is narrowing opportunities negative when the outcome is a more balanced life? Certainly not, when you consider why you said no in the first place. It’s a personal choice, hopefully based on sound judgment with the ability to accept the possible limitations at the office. It turns out the corporate president did say no to a relocation and suffered certain consequences. Her reasoning for the decision had more to do with family being ripped from yet another location and she states, “…it was the right choice.”

Never Say “No” and Pay a Price

Another friend Welch interviewed, at the top of her game in a consulting firm, was shocked hearing the former story, saying “How could she not move?” And went on to say one “never, never, never” says no if she wants to get ahead. This particular woman made her career paramount in her life early on, supported by her husband in that decision. Welch then asks this powerhouse the question: “But what about the personal price?” This reminding her of missed holiday celebrations, birthdays, anniversaries, teacher conferences, and school picnics. The response, “To get where I am, I have given up so much.”

Be Honest About Motives

The parting words Welch’s friend utters exposes truth, “It is this hunger and insecurity that has made me CEO.” Is the hunger for power, or compensation, or to feel important, or perhaps to receive other accolades? Possibly, like many high achievers, they are seeking approval from their aging parents who never acknowledged what they did as “good enough”? But her admittance of there being an insecurity is telling. What is she insecure about? Could it be that letting go of what she perceives to be her power–being at the top of her career–is frightening? Possibly.

Earning Your “No”

The next interview Welch conducts was with a much admired, and highly successful anesthesiologist. This friend’s life is more flexible than the previous example, giving her time to enjoy activities outside of her career. What’s her secret? “I said yes to every request for probably 15 years,” she confides, “I stockpiled goodwill as if a nuclear war were coming.” That strategy allowed her to eventually say no–but selectively–now that she’s established. The anesthesiologist is married to a doctor who states, “It helps a lot that she’s made herself indispensable.” Herein lies one of the keys: make yourself indispensable. And the second key? Welch’s friend sums it up this way, “You can’t say no until you’ve earned it, unless, of course, you’re willing to pay the price for irrelevancy.” Do you agree? And how does one determine that they’ve “earned it”?

Know What You Value

Here is how Welch brings it all together, “The question, I realized, is not whether you always have to say yes or when you can start saying no, but how you want to live your life.” You need to decide what you value most. Is it getting ahead, earning a hefty salary and the corner office? Or do you desire possessing a balanced work-life? The choice is entirely yours.

Men Have it Easier

As Welch points out in her article, no matter what the choice is for women, men still have it easier to a certain extent. Men in traditional marriages have the benefit of a spouse who carries the load at the home front. If a relocation is in order for advancement, the wife most often carries the burden of handling all of the unpleasantness associated with a move. She gives up a tremendous amount too, leaving behind family, friends and a comfortable sense of community.

If there are children, they always suffer a great deal. Upheaval to a new school, in a strange town, adds to the stress of leaving behind the only life they knew. Men might assume their wife can smooth things over with the kids, but it doesn’t work that way. Disconnectedness–from a former life and father now working long hours–leaves deep scars that can last a lifetime.

Is it fair to ask so many, to give up so much, for one persons benefit? Sadly, in certain families, no one is ever asked, they are simply informed of the change.

Final Thoughts

The economy has pushed more people into saying “yes” than ever before and I don’t foresee that changing any time soon. Having said that, it’s still imperative to do some serious soul searching to find where you draw the line–then stick to it.


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