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These Are The Five Times You Should Say No To An Opportunity

If you say “yes” to every opportunity, you might not be able to do anything well.

These Are The Five Times You Should Say No To An Opportunity
[Photo: Milkos/iStock]

You’ve probably been told at some point in your life that one of the keys to career success is saying “yes.” Be enthusiastic! You never know where that “yes” can lead you. Shonda Rhimes, the brains behind Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, and Orange Is The New Black, even wrote a whole book about it after she realized that she was missing out on a lot of great opportunities by defaulting to “no.”

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But not all opportunities are created equal. Sure, there are times when it’s good to push yourself, but there are also times when it’s smarter to say no–whether that’s a new job, a speaking gig, or even a promotion at work. If you find yourself in any of the following situations, think twice about saying yes.

1. When You Know That You Won’t Be Able To Deliver

It’s always good to say yes to something that scares you, and it’s common for managers to give stretch assignments to star employees as a “nudge” into a promotion track. But there’s a difference between tackling a challenge to grow, and promising something that you know you can’t deliver. Tim Sieck, a principal partner at HR consultancy On Target Talent, told Molly Petrilla in a 2014 Fast Company article that he once turned down a project when it was clear that there was no chance of success. “You have to be able to say, I don’t think I can do this,” Sieck said.


Related: 5 Ways To Tell Your Boss No Without Actually Saying No


2. When The Long-Term Cost Outweighs The Short-Term Benefits

There are times when an opportunity presents an obvious short-term benefit–a job with a better title, an investor who wants to save your cash-strapped business in exchange for 50% ownership. But you know deep down inside that there are significant long-term costs. Perhaps the job with a better title has little growth opportunities, and forces you to specialize in a field you don’t really want to be in. Or you value autonomy and control, and you know that having a co-owner is just going to cause you many headaches down the road.

“What’s good for you in the short run isn’t necessarily good for you in the long run,” TV host and author Anthony Bourdain told Fast Company in 2017. “You got a TV show, and somebody offers you a million dollars to, you know, represent an anti-diarrhea medication. Well that’s a lot of money in the short run, but, you’re always going to be that guy with the shits. That’s a life sentence,” Bourdain said.

3. When You’re Already Stretched Too Thin

High performers at work face an unfortunate dilemma–the better they perform, they more work their boss throws at them. It can be difficult to say no to work, but if that means compromising quality, then it’s a sign that you should push back when your boss gives you extra assignments. Lauren Berger, CEO and founder of InternQueen.com, told Fast Company in 2017 that this is a mistake she sees many entry-level workers make. They’re so keen to go above and beyond that they over-commit to projects, and the quality of the work they were hired to do suffers, Berger said. Still feel uncomfortable about turning down work? Here are some tips on how you can say no to your boss without actually saying no.

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Related: Hate Saying No? Here’s What To Say Instead


4. When Nothing About It Excites You

There are times in your career when you have no choice but do the boring grunt work to get ahead, or drag yourself to awkward networking events because you’re trying to break into an industry (and you know no one). But there comes a point in your career when saying yes to these things brings you diminishing returns. As entrepreneur Neil Pasricha wrote for Fast Company, initially, saying yes bought lots of opportunities that he would have never encountered otherwise. But then eventually, it became impossible to say yes to many of those opportunities. “For everything I gained in new opportunities, I paid the price on productivity. The more you’re given a chance to do, and then actually do, the less time you have to do it all,” Pasricha wrote. These days, he checks his gut for a reaction before he says yes to an opportunity, if it’s not a  “hell yeah!,” then it’s a hard no.

5. When You’re Clearly Being Taken Advantage Of

Being a reliable employee is great–until you become the go-to person for everything and are left with more work than your colleagues who don’t seem to work as hard as you. Of course, sometimes this is a necessary step toward career progression, but unfortunately, there are employers out there who take advantage of its star performers without giving any rewards. When this is the case for you, in might be time to start saying “no” so you that you don’t burn out or build up resentment, as Michael Grothaus previously reported for Fast Company.


Related: The Ultimate Guide To Saying No To Things You Don’t Want To Do


Saying no to opportunities can be difficult, particularly when you feel like there is a risk of disappointing the person offering you the opportunity. But as Grothaus reported, any “fallout” probably is not going to be as bad as you make it to be. He wrote, “The sky won’t fall, your family won’t stop loving you, and your boss won’t fire you–heck, everyone will probably respect you and your time more if you say ‘no’ more often.”

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About the author

Anisa is the Editorial Assistant for Fast Company's Leadership section. She covers everything from personal development, entrepreneurship and the future of work.

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