On Saying No

But no is cold and heavy. It puts an end to things. In that way, it is a word of control. Its very use suggests a speaker who actually knows something, who won’t bend, who won’t give in to what you want simply because you want it. No says the case has not been made.  –  Read the Article.

I read an article this morning about “When to Say No,” so I thought I’ll write about it.

At one point in my life I used to sell Cutco knives.  It was a great experience and I was trained with tactics that would help me get a customer to say “Yes.”  For example, one that I remember was to always end my sentences with a question.  Even better, end with one that naturally led to a “Yes.”  “Could I show you the next set of cutlery?”  “Do you see how I cut through the tough leather?”  Enough of these, you’ll eventually get a “Yes” when you pop the most important question: “Would you like to buy?”

Maybe it had something to do with the training, I was pretty eager to say “Yes” to a lot of new things at Stanford.  My Freshman year I said yes to all the fun things (rightly so), but my Sophomore year was filled with frustration because I had said “Yes” to too many commitments.  “Yes” was the word to everything because I was opening myself to options that Stanford is particularly good about giving.  Coming from a background where options were limited, Stanford was the brave new world.  But “Yes” killed me.  My grades dropped due to too many commitments.  I did not perform particularly well in any of the organizations that I joined.  My health suffered and I wasn’t getting any sleep.  “Resume-padding” was something I actually thought about.  It was okay to say “Yes” (despite my other commitments) because it added a line or two on my resume.

Then someone somewhere told me (remind me if it was you): “It’s hard to say ‘No’ in the short-run, but it’ll benefit you in the long-run.  Vice verse.” (It’s easy to say “Yes” in the short-run, but it’ll kill you in the long-run). Junior year I decided to say “No” to a few of my commitments.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t hard to decide which ones I was going to say “No” to.  Everything started going uphill from there.  My health improved, I started in leadership positions, I focused on creating substantial items under the few activities left in my resume.  In the process, I found my passion (entrepreneurship) and what I am excited about doing (e.g. drive the idea of entrepreneurship to students at Stanford, solve critical problems through entrepreneurial endeavors, etc.).  I got busier (with less commitments!), but it was because I loved what I do and I did them well.  I attribute this to my saying “No” in the beginning of Junior year to some of my commitments.

Some thoughts though.  Without having said “Yes,” I wouldn’t have joined the organization (BASES) that eventually defined my role at Stanford and most likely my career out of college.  It’s quite easy to say “Yes” when you have no items on your resume in the first place.  It’s also easy to say “Yes” when you don’t know what it is that you want to do.  I think these are legitimate situations to say “Yes.”  Stanford’s awesome this way and you have to take advantage of it.  But there comes a time when “Yes” becomes natural because it’s too hard to reject opportunities when they come to you.  A time when “Yes” becomes competitive because, as a Stanford student, I think I can do everything.  That’s when “No” becomes the magic word.  IMHO.

P.S. I wasn’t that great (but wasn’t bad) of a salesman with Cutco and it really taught me to appreciate their work and great salesmanship.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “On Saying No

  1. Charlie

    I believe my mom still has those knives!! So you did something.

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