The Courage to Say Yes: Lessons Learned in Changing Careers
For many years, I had a knack for saying both yes and no to the wrong things! This meant taking on projects and activities that distracted me from my goals, and turning away opportunities that could have opened new doors. Once I decided to change careers and start my own business, I knew it was more important than ever to more consciously and wisely allocate my yes and no answers.
While a successful career change involves saying No to the right things, saying yes, particularly when yes involves embracing uncertainty, is important as well. Those yes and no answers have so much value if you can only apply them to the right things!
Today I share with you some key “yes” moments to draw a lesson that I hope you can apply to your own pursuit toward doing what you’re passionate about for a living, whether that’s your 2nd career or your 5th!
1. Opportunity is knocking. Are you listening?
The question: Would you coach me?
A few years before I launched full time into a coaching career, I received a request from an endurance athlete who knew of the races I’d completed as a triathlete and ultra runner. She asked if I’d be interested in coaching her. The idea really excited me, although I had no idea at the time how to do it!
I had never written a training plan for someone else. I had no electronic infrastructure in place, no clue how much time it would take and no idea what to charge. There were many open questions, but what I did know was that I was super excited about the prospect — energized in a way that I hadn’t felt in a while.
That was enough for me to say “Yes” and trust that I’d figure the rest out later, which I did. At some point there was a 2nd client, then a 3rd and 4th and eventually I began to make a living as a full-time coach, absolutely loving what I get to do each day.
Can you think of a time when someone asked you to share a skill that you have, but don’t regularly use to serve others? When opportunity knocks, are you listening?
2. Are you willing to get far out of your comfort zone?
The question: Do you give motivational speeches in German?
I received the call via a referral from another company I’d given a motivational speech for. The call went like this:
We heard about your speech for Company A. We’d love to have a similar speech for our organization. It’s an association that has met each year for 26 years and has never had a guest speaker. Would you be interested in being their first guest speaker?
My answer was an instant YES.
Great. It needs to be in German though. Are you comfortable giving it a speech in German?
After a short pause, I answered yes, absolutely!
Did I have the German skills then to give an hour-long speech? No way! I only knew the basics and was far, far from a conversational or speech-giving proficiency. I felt that by agreeing to give the speech in another language, I would be setting an example of challenging yourself to do the seemingly impossible. Accepting that challenge fired me up to take a massive step in my German skills and I ultimately managed to give a well-received speech in a second language. More importantly, learning the language opened doors and led to many new relationships and opportunities. It was scary, but I’m glad I said yes!
How far outside of your comfort zone are you willing to go to live life fully? There is nothing to stop you from learning a new language, immersing yourself into a new skill or diving into a totally different field of work. If you want it bad enough, set yourself up to have no choice but to make it happen.
3. Are you ready to take a risk?
The question: Would you start your own training facility?
In the early days of my coaching business, I focused primarily on writing training plans for endurance athletes and also on coaching running sessions. I expanded this to personal training eventually. One of my regular clients said that she’d love to keep training with me over the winter, but I needed to find an indoor location. A couple months later I signed a lease on an unheated room in a barn and was up late at night ordering equipment from Rogue and designing a small, niche training facility for personal training and small group classes. Within a year, we outgrew the barn room and moved to a larger building.
At our first anniversary party, it brought tears to my eyes to see a “community” together that hadn’t existed a year prior. I’m so happy I said yes to opening a gym. I kept that training center for 5 years and adored the friendships and experiences it brought into my lives and the lives of so many in the community.
4. Are you willing to stand naked in the town square?
The question: Would you write a book?
The realization hit me during the editing process. Publishing your first book is a bit like standing completely naked in front of a large group of strangers. You are putting yourself out there with nothing to hide. Perhaps some people will gawk in curiosity. Maybe they will judge you harshly and notice every possible flaw. Some may compliment you and your courage to stand there baring all. Others will attack you for having the audacity and for the offense of displaying the natural human body. Yet, once you’re there, in the moment, you have no choice but to own it, for all that it brings.
Writing my first book was a massive challenge, one that I eventually understood meant sharing my thoughts, experiences and feelings without control over who would learn these things and potentially judge me. I would receive feedback from editors that challenged me to cut chapters, add more personal stories, share fewer personal stories, rewrite sections, and make other changes that I struggled to make. And I knew that I would receive feedback and reviews from readers one day.
I dealt with these normal fears by first fully accepting myself. I figured that if I were truly OK with all that I was sharing, then it really didn’t matter what anyone else thought. Then, I wrote the worst possible review of my book and re-read the review over and over until it became a source of humor for me! In that way, I took the sting out of any potential negative reviews down the road. I published the book with confidence and with huge joy in realizing a dream.
If you’ve ever been afraid to figuratively stand naked in front of the town square, ask yourself the same questions. Are you at peace with yourself? If not, get there. Are you able to visualize the worst possible outcome of your figurative public nakedness? If so, can you handle it or rehearse it until you can handle it? Your answer will give you powerful insights into whether or not you’re on the right path.
Unlocking your potential with courageous Yes answers
Each of these Yes answers took me out of my comfort zone. They involved agreeing to a target without yet knowing how to get to it. Each also involved an outside influence, knocking on my door with an opportunity. Saying no cleared key obstacles and made the way for these Yes answers to unlock a career doing what I love.
Overarching Lesson: Tune in with high awareness when faced with choices, as you never know up front the series of decisions that will lead you to doing what you love for a living. Often, the answer with the greatest uncertainty is the one that opens the right doors for your journey. As Steve Jobs once said: “you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.”
I wish you the best with any change in career or focus that you are considering!
Jeff Grant is the author of Flow State Runner: Activate a Powerful Inner Coach’s Voice, Hill Running: Survive & Thrive, Run Faster: Unlock Your Speed in 8 Weeks, Running Heavy, and UltraRunning: Ultimate Guide. Based in Switzerland, Jeff is a coach and writer who specializes in mental coaching, peak performance, and transformation. He is also a Co-Founder of BridgeX Teams LLC, a global virtual team building company. Jeff’s popular newsletter is a digest containing inspirational and instructional resources, including his latest content. See recent issues and subscribe for free here. Refer to Jeff’s bio for more information, and please check out Jeff’s Coach & Author page on Facebook.