Early in my professional life, I would say yes to any opportunity that came my way.

A stranger I met in an elevator offered me a cup of tea in his office: “Yes”.

Someone I met at a work lunch asked me to be a speaker at his organization’s event (for free): “Sounds fun!”

A stranger contacted me on LinkedIn to share startup ideas over dinner: “Absolutely, I know a great place downtown.”

These three moments shaped my whole career. I would be a different person — almost certainly a less happy one — if I had turned any of them down.

But that doesn’t mean I’d say yes if these offers came knocking on my door today.

Say yes until you can afford not to.

“You need to jump into every opportunity you can get, so you say yes to everything. Even the things that seem kinda dumb or pointless or weird or inconvenient. You say yes and do them anyway. Because you never know what doors they will open.” — Mark Monson

Mark is right. When you’re young, you don’t have a network yet and your focus should be on building one. Go to any event you can find, and shake as many hands as you can (even virtual ones).

Your first goal is to get to know the right people. You never know where they’ll turn up, so you need to show up at various events, take on new challenges, and always keep moving. Don’t shut down any opportunity out of hand, and don’t be afraid to stray out of your field.

But getting to know people isn’t enough. The second step is to make an impression. What you lack in experience, you can make up for with energy and sheer enthusiasm. You don’t have to be a perfect charmer, just be sincere and amicable.

Most importantly, keep saying yes. Generosity builds social connections — so offer to help the people you want to know better. Even if they won’t repay it immediately, they’ll remember you, and that may bring you unexpected benefits down the line.

Recognize the moment when you “made it”.

Once you have more opportunities than you can handle, it’s time to switch gears. At this point, saying no becomes one of the most important skills you can have, and you need to develop it quickly.

To make the best of the connections you created and the opportunities life throws at you, you now need to be laser-focused on your goal. Nurture your existing connections to make them valuable, remember people’s names, contact them now and again, stay on their radar.

Once you can afford to be discerning, self-knowledge is your top asset. Figure out what you’re passionate about, and always make time for it. Have a clear goal in sight, and choose new acquaintances accordingly.

Whatever you’re saying, say it with style.

A few important things to remember:

  • Don’t make it weird.
  • Older professionals appreciate enthusiasm and an open mind. However, they have enough experience to recognize empty flattery. Now, I won’t lie — some people are into that. But they tend to be more interested in stroking their own ego than getting anything done.
  • Don’t turn into a people pleaser. You might get stuck doing things you hate or feeling kind of slimy. It’s better to build a handful of close-knit connections than to be an obvious social climber.

Everyone has a few lines they won’t cross.

Even when you’re completely new on the scene, stick to your principles. That’s the only way to build a happy future.

Just make sure you’re not being overzealous about applying your principles.

For example, maybe you want to avoid anything to do with multi-level marketing schemes. That’s fine — you shouldn’t say yes to it just because it’s the first job opportunity coming your way. But you owe it to yourself to make absolutely sure that’s what you’re seeing. Don’t be cynical, and research opportunities thoroughly before you turn them down.

Be gracious when you reject opportunities.

Saying no feels good. After years of feeling like you need every rope people throw at you just to keep your head above the water, it’s wonderful to realize that you’re swimming just fine on your own.

Enjoy this feeling, you’ve earned it. But don’t be mean-spirited when you reject opportunities.

Your time isn’t worth more than other people’s, so be polite about saying no, don’t tear people down even if they’re being awkward.

And hey, you can always say yes just for the hell of it. Try out new things when you have the time, and do your best to pass on the help and advice your mentors gave you in the past.

It’s all about humility.

In our society, independence is worn as a badge of honor and self-made millionaires are the heroes we should all emulate.

This is a cynical lie. Those self-made men? Most of them had rich parents paving the way for them in life. Even when that’s not true, I guarantee that they had a mentor, a coworker, a spouse etc. who did part of the work for them. If they seem inhumanly efficient and perfectly disciplined, it’s because of the under-appreciated, unseen people in their lives helping out.

You can’t accomplish everything on your own, and you need the support of others as much as they need yours. So accept help, listen to advice, and never stop progressing on your journey.

“Saying no saves you time in the future. Saying yes costs you time in the future. No is like a time credit. You can spend that block of time in the future. Yes is like a time debt. You have to repay that commitment at some point. No is a decision. Yes is a responsibility.” — James Clear

Eric Sangerma is an entrepreneur, founder of TrulyScaled.com and Wholistique.com and co-host of The Wholistique Show which explores how to reach peak personal and professional performance while living a minimal and balanced life. Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.





Image courtesy of cottonbro.