Why Saying ‘No’ to Your Biggest Opportunity May Be Your Biggest Opportunity

AlexiaCareer Advice, Communication, Happiness

I am back! I don’t use these three words lightly. While I am still navigating the unfamiliar territory of integrating my professional life into my personal one since the birth of my daughter, I know that the storm clouds that settled over me during the first few months of her life have lifted. Many factors have played a role in overcoming my at times suffocating postpartum depression, which I eluded to several weeks back. One of the most important ones was saying ‘no’ to what a year ago I would have called a dream opportunity.

The day I received an invitation to debate the merits of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In on a cable news show, I had spent the morning on my couch hugging my daughter while simultaneously trying to shield her from seeing me move through many rounds of tears prompted by insomnia, anxiety, and what I would learn a few weeks later were dramatically low levels of progesterone and estrogen. Nonetheless, I could feel myself learning towards saying ‘yes.’

Get gussied up, fly to New York City in a week, and film a segment on a topic I’m passionate about…that sounds like a dream vacation away from myself.

Which is exactly why I ultimately said ‘no’.

I knew that saying ‘yes’ felt easier. And if there was any hope of me beating my PPD, I needed to be all in to my recovery. I needed to be present with all of the discomfort of how I felt in order to move it through. I needed to be present with my daughter, even though I was embarrassed by the mother she was seeing, to continue the bonding process that was stagnating. And I definitely needed to be present to get to the bottom of what I sensed was a chemical misfire in my body to reclaim my life. Saying ‘no’ felt scary as hell, so I had to say it.

Now that some weeks have passed, my hormones are regulating, and I have watched the segment I would have been on, I also know that the context was off. This was a cable news show where I would be arguing the minority position. While I love a rhetorical challenge, getting positioned as a wacka doodle in the midst of a depression may not have been as perfect of an experience as I initially made it sound to myself. It’s easy to idealize an opportunity, or as I did for a couple of days, convince ourselves that if we say ‘no’ we are making a drastic mistake. Sometimes almost right is entirely wrong…as this would have been.

Another key factor in passing was recognizing I couldn’t prepare the way I would have wanted. Yes, I had spoken about Lean In during a previous TV interview, but I have been out of the TV game since I’ve been pregnant. And there is a big difference between rehearsing for a guest expert interview and rehearsing for a debate when the host of the program you are on, and the person you are debating, are both taking the other side. I don’t believe that all press is good press. Without having the time to prepare out loud my main and supporting points, having studies and statistics at the ready, and feeling at ease receiving snarky comments, I would have under performed. And as a result when I time traveled back to my ‘real’ life, I would be returning feeling weak in the one area that had previously been giving me strength…setting me even further back in my healing.

Finally, I was tricking myself by framing this as my ‘biggest opportunity’. While I still am passionate about developing my media platform, participating in another TV segment no matter how high profile would only be fulfilling what is now a secondary goal rather than a more primary one–recovering from PPD and enjoying the miracle that is my daughter. In hindsight, I see I often have a habit of clinging to an outdated goal rather than giving voice to the one that represents where I am now. Has this ever been true for you?

I’m grateful to hold space for a lot of my clients’ deepest desires. Yet I’m realizing that a lot of what they are chasing, and a lot of how they are talking to themselves, building relationships, pitching their visions, etc. while they are doing said chasing, runs counter to what they say they really want for themselves…now. ‘Big’ is not always ‘best’.

Which opportunities that you are seeking would allow you to live what thought leader Danielle LaPorte refers to as your core desired feelings? Go after these. Identifying how you want to feel in the process and after the achievement of your goals and asking yourself whether your goals would enable these feelings is your best litmus test for whether you are on your best path. For aren’t we all just trying to achieve and sustain the feelings that make us feel like our truest selves?

I know that my core desired feelings are joy, gratitude, impact, and of course moxie. And right now, my greatest act of moxie is committing myself fully to hearing the new sound of my voice–one that has as much space for my insecurities as my successes, that can articulate my clarity and confusion, that can speak the awe I feel for the incredible being I gave birth to even in moments where the only ‘aw’ I’m experiencing is followed by a ‘ful’. Fortunately, the more that I make moment-to-moment as well as more long-term decisions with this in mind, the more that ‘awe’ wins and the ‘ful’ abates.

How can you consistently create space as well as design and rework your goals to hear the truth of your own voice?