Being Told “No” Changed My Life

The most important lessons I have learned came from people who told me “No,” or “Do it faster.”


I was “reorganized” into managing a large department with twenty managers reporting to me.  Only a few of those managers had been in the their position prior to the reorganization and few of these managers knew each other very well.  I decided that they  needed leadership development training, both to give them the skills to succeed at their jobs and to help bond them as a team. I proceeded to get estimates from several vendors and took the best of them to my (also newly reorganized) boss.  She looked at the proposal and said “No.”  She didn’t believe in that kind of training and she certainly wasn’t willing to spend that much money in this newly configured organization.  It was a well thought out proposal, with a a curriculum that was well designed to set my whole organization up for success.  I couldn’t believe she was saying no.  She said, “If you really believe in this, do it yourself.”  I don’t know if she was calling my bluff, or if she was just  blowing me off.    I went away pissed.  I had never really had a boss tell me no before on something that I thought was that important.  But she clearly meant it.

I thought about it.  What would it take to create the training myself?  I had never done anything like that before.  I did it.  I probably did it because if I didn’t, she would be able to say that I didn’t really believe it was worth it.   It changed my life.  It changed my career.  I found that I loved developing and delivering this kind of training more than anything I had ever done.  And I never would have/could have known that if my boss hadn’t told me no.    I went on to create an executive development program for the company (different job) and to create a business doing for other companies.  All because I was told no.  I probably should thank her, huh?

Do It Faster, Much Faster!

I was hired by a CEO client to implement his company’s strategic goals.  I put together what I thought was a very aggressive timeline to get it done.  As far as I was concerned, to hit my timeline it would take absolutely everyone in the organization doing everything they needed to do as quickly as they could to actually hit the schedule.  I pride myself on being an optimist, though, so I had hope that we could do it.  His reaction to the plan? Do it quicker!  Much quicker!  He looked at the plan to hire key players and cut the time to do it by 80%.  Absolutely impossible! I thought.  He was unyielding, and I decided to see just how fast I could do it.  I was shocked to find that we were able to meet his deadline! I won’t even tell you how fast we did it, because you wouldn’t believe me.  It took managing each task with urgency.  It took not approaching the tasks as “business as usual”, but rather with focus and intent to get it done quickly.

When you go into work on Monday and look at what you have to accomplish this week, think what it would take to get it done by end of day Monday.  Your first reaction is likely to be like mine:  impossible.  Think about it, though.  What would it take?  What if it meant you had to to keep your job?  To feed your kids?  You get a lot more creative (and urgent) when the stakes go up.

The Lesson

The difference between taking no for an answer and not, is your decision.  The difference between “business as usual” and moving fast enough to deal with this constantly changing world is your decision.  It’s your mindset.  You have the ability to reframe like I had to at any time.  You don’t have to be told no, and you certainly don’t have to take “no.”  You can DECIDE to do it anyway.  You can DECIDE to do it fast.  And once you learn this, you won’t be the same.


Filed under Career Development, Career Goals, Executive Development, Personal Change, Reframe

4 responses to “Being Told “No” Changed My Life

  1. Jo, this is an excellent article, and a great kick in the pants! Thanks for writing this and sharing it. It has given me new incentive to keep pursuing a certain job in a career field that is different that what I have been used to.

  2. Jo, great examples! In spite of the name of my blog, I’m very interested in the power of “No” – as your examples show, confronting a “No” can spark energy and creativity, and challenge us to find hidden wells of resourcefulness.

  3. Jeff Woodward

    Great reading Jo; guess I never told you NO!. But then you were very persuasive!

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