I’ve been thinking about the idea that doing something because it’s good for you or because you should do it often isn’t beneficial.
It’s taken me a long time to get even a little bit comfortable with saying no to opportunities that aren’t right for me, and I noticed a pattern in some of my choices.
Point: My first job out of college
When I was in college, I decided that I wanted to teach scuba diving for a while. Well, at the time, I was sure it would be something I’d do forever. Ha!
After I got my instructor certification, I sent out letter after letter, application after application and wasn’t getting any bites. It was that Catch-22 of not being able to get any experience because I didn’t have any experience.
Finally I got an offer. In Houston. Just in case you were wondering, they don’t have good diving there.
As it turned out, this was in a shop that sold equipment and lessons and dive trips so after a training period, a portion of my pay would be based on commissions from selling that stuff.
This job had a lot of strikes against it…ugly location, crappy diving, and icky selling.
But you know what I said? It would be good for me to learn how to sell. I’ll bet I could be good at it once I learned. It won’t be so bad.
It didn’t matter that I would rather not have to sell, or that selling wasn’t my reason for becoming a scuba instructor.
My first day on the job, I was handed a list of people to cold call. Who the hell cold calls to get customers to come in to a dive shop? And my sales ability was irrelevant, because that stupid shop (in a freaking strip mall) never had any customers, anyway.
I was out of there after three months.
Yes, I could look back and say I just didn’t know the right questions to ask. That would be true.
But it was also true that I didn’t bother to answer the most important question.
Counterpoint: Technical training, anyone?
About a year ago, a co-worker and I were tasked with teaching SQL to the other members of the software development team who specialized in a different programming language. I suppose I could have thrown a tantrum and gotten out of it, but I knew it was time for me to start getting comfortable with teaching again.
At that time, I hadn’t done anything like public speaking or teaching in over seven years, and every time I thought about the upcoming class, my stomach would churn and my heart would race.
This time, though, doing the scary thing turned out to be a huge success and won me major brownie points with the higher-ups at the company.
So what’s the difference?
In the first case, I said yes to something I thought I should do, but had absolutely no interest in. I had to justify it to myself and really stretch to find the good things about the opportunity.
But in the second case, as scary as it was, I really wanted to do it. And as a first foray back into the world of teaching, it was a relatively safe opportunity. These weren’t strangers and they didn’t have to pay to be there.
That question I should have been asking myself those times when things didn’t work out?
Do I want to do this thing?
In spite of the sense of fear (and even, sometimes, dread), I wanted to share my knowledge with my co-workers.
The things you are trying to justify doing because they’re good for you, in spite of not wanting to do them? Maybe you don’t need to do them at all.
Maybe you could get help from someone, or you could find ways around the apparent necessity. At the very least, spend some time exploring the reasons you believe this thing you don’t want to do is a have-to.
And the things you really want to do, that are scary? Well, as long as you really, truly want to do them (as opposed to wanting to do them because you should want to do them), then it’s time to figure out how to do them without scaring the shit out of yourself.
Yes, I know making decisions is complicated (I am a superb waffler), and sometimes it’s not so easy to answer the question of “Do I want to do this thing?” But, in the end, if you’re going to say yes, the balance should be tipped more to the side of wanting to do it than not.
Besides, if you say no to something and then realize you actually do want to do it, it will come around again. Saying yes when you should have said no is usually a lot more unpleasant.