Say No To Say Yes and Accelerate Your Career

Last week, right I got a surprise in my inbox. I had just finished my recent post on how to set playful but rigorous personal goals when I got an email from Brittney Prest, one of the participants in my most recent workshop in Boston. I have women set personal challenge goals for themselves when they leave the workshop. Sometimes these goals are to take an action (speak up at the next board meeting,) and sometimes they’re outcomes that we’re working towards but don’t have direct control over.

Brittney reached her six month outcome goal–in a little over two months.

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Brittney scheming world domination and women’s empowerment.

Brittney hit the ground running in the workshop. She didn’t come in with a specific agenda per se, but she was in that transition space in her career, between racking up early experience and the beginnings of leadership and management. Early in the workshop, the concept of “saying no to say yes” to the things we really want resonated with her. Instead of saying yes to all the projects that came her way, she realized that although no one has perfect control of their workload and responsibilities, she had more agency than she thought in deciding what to accept on her plate.

She laughs that her colleagues at first commented on hearing “no” from her more often as she proactively took on responsibilities that aligned with her professional goals, and declined others that drew away from that focus when she was able to. When Brittney left the workshop, she left with a dual agenda: She set her sights on becoming a project manager, and decided to keep the workshop experience going by starting a women’s group with the other BY+W grads in her office. The group kept the challenge-based model going, but they kept it fun and playful. “We enjoy having the chance to catch up with each other when it’s outside of a work setting or social gathering. The tone is still professional but not formal,” she says

A few weeks ago, Brittney was informed by the firm’s leadership that she was going to be recognized for a promotion. “They noticed my professional growth from the way in which I handled myself with clients and colleagues, and even the manner in which I was communicating in my emails,” she says.  After working at Dyer Brown Architects for almost three years, and months ahead of the firm’s traditional year-end promotion season, Brittney was promoted to Assistant Project Manager–the professional track she had set as her goal. “Our firm is committed to supporting the professional growth of its staff,” says Brittney, “so they recognized that my confidence was building to take on new challenges and more responsibilities.  And by doing so, I was provided more opportunities to grow professionally at the firm.” Of course, her at-work Build Yourself+ crew “were the first people I told I was promoted,” she says, “and when this happens for them, I’ll be just as supportive.”

We’re often taught, through both school and socialization, that pleasing people is the only way to succeed.

We often unconsciously pour our energy into making other people happy, intuiting what they want and need and working to deliver it. This is not bad–empathy is an incredible force for both good in the world, and for successfully understanding the needs of clients, employers and coworkers, but it needs to have limits. Leadership means increased responsibility, and one of those responsibilities is sifting through the demands on your time and taking greater ownership of directing that resource intelligently. Brittney’s promotion was earned because she found an effective way to demonstrate that she can achieve her personal goals through measureable results in a way that’s both beneficial to the firm and her career.

The real world is not school, and if you’re not in the driver’s seat, defining your priorities and directing your own valuable resources to create value, someone else will be driving them you.

“I finally found my voice and am growing in more ways than I ever thought possible,” says Brittney, “I want to have an incredible career. I want to continue working in the architecture field and getting these tips early on is the best investment I can do to make that happen.”


I wrote this post originally for the Build Yourself+ workshop, a challenge-based empowerment workshop for women I founded and teach. For more on the workshop visit www.buildyourselfworkshop.com

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