Whenever you discuss work-life issues, you probably spend a lot of time talking about having appropriate boundaries and how to say “no.” However, you may want to decline less often and say “yes” more of the time–because saying “yes” is the fastest route to developing your talents and growing your career.
Of course, boundaries are essential, and you have to be able to disengage and set limits on your work. But, you don’t want to inadvertently set limits on yourself by taking a too-stringent approach to new opportunities.
The benefits of saying yes
When you stretch and challenge yourself to do something unfamiliar, you tend to be more stimulated and satisfied in your work. When you can do a job without thinking about it, things can become too routine, and you risk burnout. Taking up a new challenge, doing something unknown, and figuring out how to solve a problem you’ve never tackled before can be very motivating. Saying “yes” also increases the likelihood that you can fully contribute your gifts and skills and find meaning in your work. Saying “yes” is all about trust.
The importance of trusting yourself
You should always be learning, developing, and nurturing your talents. When new opportunities come, or you’re invited to take on that new project, you need to trust yourself and your skills. Yes, this includes being aware of your limitations (so you don’t say “yes” to the wrong things). But you also need to trust your capabilities and the work you’ve done to prepare for the next chapter.
Trust those who believe in you
When someone offers you the opportunity to take on more responsibility, be confident in what they saw in you. It’s easy to be your own harshest critic, but it can be helpful to be a little gentler on yourself. See yourself through the optimistic lens others have on you. They might recognize something in you that you haven’t even identified in yourself.
Understand that it might never be the perfect time
Life has many variables, so you need to accept that there might be no such thing “perfect timing.” Accepting a promotion might affect your availability when it comes to spending time with your family and friends. Being in charge of a large project can take up more time, meaning that you have less of it to dedicate to your hobbies.
The thing is, you won’t know until you try, so I suggest that you go ahead and do that. Trying new things can require you to invest time and effort, but when you’re interested in the challenge, you might find that it brings you more energy and capacity to do more in other parts of your life. After all, boredom can lead to fatigue and lack of motivation. Stretching yourself and saying yes to something challenging is one way to prevent that from happening.
When to say “yes”
So given that you know the benefits of saying yes, how do you know which opportunities you should agree to? Ideally, it should let you build on an existing skill. The optimal situation is one that enables you to apply and build on what you already know while also stretching into new areas. Moving from HR to finance, for example, may not be very wise if you’ve never seen a spreadsheet. But, moving from HR to strategy might make sense because it allows you to leverage your understanding of how talent drives an organization’s success. You should also prioritize options that let you meet new people and broaden your network, because this opens up more opportunities to say yes to things that can let you grow.
One caveat: When you say “yes,” you may not always be paid for the stretch you’re making. Pay attention to your company and say “yes” when you believe you’ll be noticed and ultimately compensated–just don’t expect every new opportunity to come with an increase in pay. Sometimes, you need to learn and grow and show the company that you’re capable of the next challenge before you receive that title change and pay bump. Just be careful about taking on an increased workload at your current title and pay for an extended period. Unfortunately, some companies will take advantage of employees if there is an opportunity to do so.
Ultimately, saying “yes” to opportunities is about saying “yes” to yourself. It’s about being confident in your abilities and making a commitment to be better. And when you do rise to the challenge, you’ll realize that you’re capable of more than what you thought you were.
Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCRw, is a sociologist focused on work, workers, and workplace, working for Steelcase. She is the author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations.