Most kids dream of their future in lights. They imagine themselves growing up to be movie stars, ballerinas, and firefighters. Although my ambitions weren’t quite so colorful, they were just as passionate. Almost as far back as I can remember I wanted to work for a non-profit.
I wrote my last post after returning from the DigitalNow conference. Being absorbed in the many ways that technology is reinventing the workplace, made me think about my early adventures—some exhilarating and others terrifying. As I navigated the world that is now my professional home, there were lessons learned that I believe can be valuable to entrepreneurs or professionals of any stripe. Over the coming weeks, I’m going to share some of my stories with you.
I can’t remember an aha moment when I suddenly decided that I wanted to be a consultant and guide associations on their journeys toward excellence. I didn’t fly straight toward my goal like an arrow. My adventure had many twists and turns.
I remember asking my parents how I should decide on a career. They gave me the standard words of wisdom—look for a job that pays a good salary and pursue what you are able to do well. I took their advice to heart, but I also followed my instincts. I’m a natural-born doer. I landed where I am today because I kept on saying yes. Sometimes even when I deeply regretted that decision.
The impulse to lend a hand is ingrained in my DNA. I come from a closely knit small town. It was a community that said yes to people in need. My parents were very involved with our church, and my mom volunteered at the school. We were raised to give back and to care for our neighbors. Most of my family’s friends and acquaintences had jobs in the trades, and many had landed on tough times. But it never felt too difficult because there was always a friend ready to catch someone who had stumbled. My family delivered bags of groceries for people who were down on their luck, and when we could, hired them to do odd jobs. We supported each other when things were bad and celebrated when times were good.
Growing up surrounded by volunteerism, I was primed to say yes to all kinds of activities In high school and college. My enthusiasm often meant that I ended up leading the charge. From being the president of Students Against Drunk Driving to working for the college wellness center and educating peers on AIDS awareness, I dove in head-first. Those experiences taught me not to be afraid to take a leap of faith. I learned about multi-tasking and discovered that sometimes being the leader means finishing the job by yourself. At the time, I didn’t realize what great training this would be for a budding entrepreneur.
Valparaiso University, where I went to school, didn’t offer a degree in nonprofit management. When I told my dad about my plan to major in social work, he suggested that I could come back home and attend the community college. That brief conversation prompted me to say yes to a degree in communications and political science—even though I wasn’t sure how those credentials would qualify me to head a social service organization.
Saying yes to opportunity has almost always led me in a positive direction. When my immediate reaction is negative, these early experiences have trained me to hesitate and to consider what the hidden benefits of a more positive response could be.
So when –
- your employees present you with a great idea that sounds too expensive to implement;
- your board chair makes an interesting suggestion that seems outside the realm of possibility;
- or a vendor recommends an approach you had previously considered and rejected.
Don’t be quick to say no. There are many things I would not have learned, people I would not have met and skills I would not have today because of a simple yes.
Watch this space to hear more about where saying yes has taken me on my professional journey.