A while back in one of my writing groups, someone was asking for advice. She had pitched a story idea to an editor at a website and, after a few weeks, had not heard back. (I know, so weird, right? Ha ha.) When she sent a polite note of inquiry, the editor said she had been busy but would respond soon. A few more weeks passed. The writer asked us, “Is it okay to ask her again? I don’t want to be the person who can’t take a hint when someone’s just not interested.”
To me, this fear was totally misplaced. With submissions, it’s the writer’s job to submit her best work, and it’s the editor’s job to say yes or no. I told her, “If you still want to do the story, then ask again. It’s not your job to say no to yourself.”
A similar issue came up in another group. (Yes, I spend my life in secret Facebook groups. It’s a valid life choice! Actually, it’s out of hand and I’m going to make some changes.) A woman wanted to apply to a great position in another department in her company. She had the exact qualifications for the job. She was thinking that maybe she would set up lunch or coffee with the manager of the other department to discuss it… and she would tell her that she understood if she wasn’t a good fit for some reason.
Naturally, I and the other women in the group chimed in immediately: No, no, no. Don’t tell her you might not be a good fit. Tell her you are! I said the same thing again. “It’s not your job to say no to yourself.”
Now, there are some cases when it doesn’t make sense to pursue a definitive answer. If you’re pitching a new business idea to potential partners, you may want either a “hell yes!” or nothing. A lukewarm “okay” might mean that you would be constantly re-selling the whole concept, which would be too much stress on top of getting the thing off the ground.
When it comes to dating and romance, I believe that only a “hell yes” is worth acting on, for the same reasons. I don’t want a relationship where I have to keep selling you on the key benefits of me.
In almost every situation, I believe in taking no for an answer. That’s just respectful. But we shouldn’t say no to ourselves.
Why are we so eager to do that? I guess we think there is nothing more humiliating than valuing ourselves or our work more than someone else does. We think we deserve something, someone else doesn’t, and there it is, right in the open for everyone to see.
I’m not sure why that should be so shameful, though. Judgments of talent and worth are very subjective, and why wouldn’t we be biased in favor of us? Besides, we know ourselves better than everyone else. It could be that we know something they don’t.
Believing in yourself can pay off. Here’s something I’ve witnessed firsthand at the workplace: a person pursues a promotion. He doesn’t get it. Other managers agree in private discussions that this person really didn’t have a chance.
But. The managers now know that he’s ambitious. He made some good points about his talents, too. The fact that he stepped up and applied makes everyone take him just a little more seriously… and it leads to another promotion or opportunity later.
At the very least, fear of rejection or failure should never keep us from applying, asking, submitting, or trying in the first place. There are enough gatekeepers in life without us doing the job for them. Make them say no. But be prepared, because once in a while, they’re going to say yes.