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Getting used to “NO”

Growing up in an Indian household, I was taught to ask few questions, obey orders, and fall in line. These lessons helped me get through many different circumstances in life. However, there was an ill side effect: I lost confidence and initiative. As a result, I would only ask questions that would guarantee answers in my favor. Or I would wait until the situation would lead to a favorable outcome (in my head) before venturing to ask. In short, I was uncomfortable with the possibility of being told no and not willing to enter a situation where I would have to endure such emotion.

However, this mindset is unhealthy for one reason: I lose on many opportunities that may have been favorable if not for my faulty reasoning.

The times I failed to ask at work to be involved in a new initiative because I thought I would be turned down? The time I thought my idea was so bad it was not worth bringing up? Over and over again I run the situation through my head and most of the time end up losing.

Two discoveries forced me to change my tactics.

The people that get ahead are the ones who endured “no.”

From starting and failing, founders who break through and succeed are ones that have failed dozens of times before. As Thomas Edison quipped:

I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.

A book I read recently (I cannot remember it was either Grit or something about mental stamina) talked about salespeople and the persistence of high turnover/failure. The ones that break through are the ones that get down to business and get hammed with no’s (in sometimes more severe ways). Even for canvassers, of whom two of my sisters took part, selling books required long days of being told “no.” But the persistence built grit and over time they learned their lessons and developed a tactful strategy that allowed them to succeed…eventually.

What have I got to lose?

Once I asked myself this question, I realized that I had little if anything significant to lose. I figured the most I would lose is five minutes of low self-esteem. For me, it came down to that temporary time frame. Feeling inadequate and incompetent are lifelong struggles that I have long refused to face directly. Yet I will probably be told no. Sure I may endure some cursing, there may be some hard feelings, and I may give off the wrong impression by my inquiries. However, that pales in comparison to the potential opportunities that would appear had I not been in the way of myself.

I started out small, when I read that you could ask for the entire can of beverage on a flight, I started asking for tomato juice. My request has been politely declined once, but accommodated in the other times. I asked my boss if I could avoid taking a vacation day since I was working forty hours that week anyways, and was turned down. I felt bummed for a few minutes but then happy that I took initiative to try. I know I’ll win some, and lose some.

By protecting myself from potentially negative outcomes, I became an opportunity hermit. But I am changing the game. At the least I will make respectful requests, and handle the emotions later. These emotions are temporary, but the lessons learned are lasting.