In life, sometimes you hear somebody say something and it resonates so deeply that it changes your perspective on everything. I had that experience when I was 11 years old; it changed everything.
I was a naturally curious child. I was always exploring, trying to find out how things worked and continuously asking questions. When I was at nursery and we had our afternoon naps, I’d sleep for 15 minutes and then start waking all the other kids up so we could play again. My nursery teachers eventually made me sleep in the staffroom so I couldn’t wake the other children. It was heaven; I got to ‘earwig’ on all their conversations.
When I was growing up we had a family friend who was a self-made multi-millionaire. I found him fascinating and always had a list of questions for him. Mum didn’t think that this successful man would be interested in the questions of an 11-year-old, so she often tried to limit my time with him. I, however, would try anything to get to talk to him.
One day we all went for a walk and I decided that this was my opportunity. He was very rich; I was 11 and not rich so I, logically, decided that asking him how he became rich might help me to follow in his footsteps. My mum clearly thought this ‘So Wally, how come you’re so rich?’ approach incredibly rude and told me to be quiet and stop asking questions.
His response? He told her off! It was a sweet moment for me I can tell you. He went on to give me some of the best advice I’ve ever received. He said, “Wendy, if you want to know the answer, ask the question.” and – more importantly – “If you want to be on the team, say ‘yes’ when they ask you to join.’
This simple and yet profound advice has stayed with me since then. His advice gave me the courage to ask questions and get involved in things I wouldn’t otherwise have dared to. The approach had worked for him so I figured it might work for me. This incredibly successful man had given me permission to take risks and to not fear failure.
What it means for us.
A recent survey found that successful CEOs were ‘more likely to say yes than to say no.’ This seems obvious, doesn’t it? If you want to make something happen – anything happen – you have to say ‘yes’, because saying yes opens a door for you in a way saying no never will.
In my last job, part of my role was to invite people to speak at a conference. It was a privilege to do. Most people’s response was, ‘Yes of course, I’d love to do that.’ Pretty much the only people who ever said, ‘No thanks, I don’t think I can do that’ were women. Women seemed to see the hundred reasons why they couldn’t or shouldn’t take the opportunity while men seemed to see all the reasons they could and should.
One day I had to call someone I was just getting to know to ask them to speak. ‘Hi Rachel. I‘m just calling to ask you to…’ before I’d finished my sentence, she said, ‘Yes, I’ll do it.’ I pointed out that she didn’t know what I was actually asking her to do but she replied, ‘whatever you’re going to ask me to do, I’m going to say yes to it.’
Rachel’s reply was, and is, unique. Her view is that women often say no and rule themselves out before they even know what they are being asked. So her approach is to say yes and then find out more. And if the opportunity isn’t right for her, she’ll find someone who can do it better than she can.
“This incredibly successful man had given me permission to take risks and to not fear failure.”
In very different spheres Wally and Rachel and their say yes approach have made a significant impact. Wally’s company started with one lorry on a farm in East Anglia; it is now one of the largest haulage companies in the UK, employing thousands of people. Rachel started her career as youth worker on a Youth for Christ bus in East Anglia; she is now the National Mission and Evangelism Adviser for the Church of England.
It’s amazing where saying yes can lead you. So ask yourself; are you a yes person or a no person? Do you count yourself in or rule yourself out? Do you open the door or close it on yourself?
Wally and Rachel didn’t know where they’d end up when they started out. The same is true for you and I, but remember, if you say no you’ll probably never find out; you’ll just end up where you started – behind the door rather than through it.
So give it a go; say Yes. What have you got to lose?
~ WENDY BEECH-WARD
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