TV producer Shonda Rhimes opened up the TED conference talking about her year of Yes. Based on her book of the same name, Rhimes spent 12 months saying yes to everything that she was scared of. The talk went over well in the auditorium, but I kept thinking that her insight would serve entrepreneurs like myself better if we did the opposite of what she suggested.
Our fear isn't of saying Yes, but of saying No to a potential opportunity.
I don't know if Rhimes identifies herself as an entrepreneur (as she works within Disney/ABC, one of the largest conglomerates in the world), but few entrepreneurs I've ever known have had a problem jumping into a new, often scary experience. As The Art of Risk author Kayt Sukel shared with me, we tend to lean into calculated risks anyway. Saying Yes more may actually hurt us, both personally and professionally.
Instead, we have to conquer our fear of shutting the door and not jumping out of the proverbial plane with the parachute. We have to remind ourselves that not every beast needs to be vanquished and not every new business card was meant to create a deal. We have to learn to let things go.
Looking back, I'm having my own year of No: I sold my startup, Cuddlr; I tied up many long-time volunteer and professional commitments; I tossed out decades of stuff, including stagnant ideas; I finally shifted from being a journalist with an entrepreneurial streak to an entrepreneur who writes well. No has become a friend of mine.
When we go for everything, we lose. The problem is that the best opportunities, the ones most fitting of our skills and desires, won't have any space to emerge if we pursue each and every opportunity with equal zeal. It is a matter of shutting down inadequate ideas, pushing away bad business and building a smart instinct to walk away. It's a matter of saying No.
Rhimes has a nice anecdote about saying Yes to playing with her kid whenever she asks, the most personal example of her year of Yes. Understanding the finite time you'll have as a parent, as a lover or as a friend is one of the smartest things you can do. You should also look at your time as an entrepreneur as finite, too. Do you want better clients, more focus and amazing opportunities? Saying Yes more isn't going to get you there.
The best skill an entrepreneur can have is gently shutting down opportunities. I encourage you to have a year of No.