Two rules I live by, or ‘No on No’

I really should get back into the habit of blogging, so I will by writing about something I have been telling some people lately.

When it comes to working with people, I have learned a really crucial rule: It isn’t your job to give someone a reason to tell you ‘no.’

This is really, really important. I used to do that total bitch move of, when people asked me to work on something with them, saying “Are you sure?” Whiny, insecure validation bullshit. The simple truth is that I should trust people to be sure of that when they’re asking me to work with them. Or when emailing someone about a job, I would put in my own caveats and make myself sound weaker, sound insecure. I’m giving the person I want to convince to hire me reasons to tell me “no.”

I learned to stop doing that.[1] I will accept “no” as a response, and if there’s an issue that I think I would be irresponsible in withholding (like, say, my availability), I will put that upfront. But I no longer act like someone who needs validation in order to “feel right” about getting a job.

As a result, I have received more work. You can to. Just stop being an insecure tool. Hell, you don’t even have to stop, just *pretend* that you aren’t. Fake it ’til you make it, baby. Just don’t make it easy for a client to want to tell you no.

Related, it’s okay to be confident. You might be worried about sounding arrogant or cocksure or whatever, and thus be afraid of that being off-putting. Stop that.

If you’re worth working with, I want to know that. And I want you to know that. I have little patience (some, but not as much as in the past) for people who need hand-holding. Have confidence in yourself and your decisions. Show me that you do. You’re only being truly arrogant if you’re throwing it in my face and refusing criticism in return.

I used to equate showing confidence with showing arrogance — which is to say, I was a fucking moron. When I decided to show more confidence, suddenly I got more work and more people interested in said work. The trick is still simple: as long as you’re not throwing how “right” you are in others’ faces and as long as you’re willing to take criticism, you’re not being a cockbite.[2] (If you’re afraid you’ll become a cockbite, surround yourself with awesome people who will tell you you’re being one and be willing to listen. This is why I am proud to be in the Evil Hat family — we do this.)

Just try it. Don’t hide behind weakness. I understand the impulse to do so — if you do, then you’re in control of your own failure and lack of progress, and there’s something to be said for being in control of *anything* in your life. All I can tell you is that three years after starting this new life, I find putting myself out there and struggling with my own success far, far more fucking satisfying than being in control of my own failure.

– Ryan

[1] This is one of those times where my advice with being a freelancer overlaps with dating advice. Mildly.

[2] Clearly this is my favorite word to use on my blog.


12 Responses to Two rules I live by, or ‘No on No’

  1. E. Foley says:

    Amazing post, Ryan. Love it.

    I’ve been guilty of similar thoughts, of underselling myself. Heck, I still catch myself doing it every so often. The key is KNOWING you do it and kicking your ass before the thought comes out of your mouth.

    Since this totally relates to my niche in the geek-o-sphere, expect to see a trackback tomorrow when I write about this from the online dating angle. ;-)

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Thank you! And I look forward to that post! I find what you write about with online dating to be fascinating and awesome. (Cue mutual admiration society.)

      A couple years or so back, I stopped using computer talk for my analogies, and instead switched to using dating/relationship/sex. Everyone gets those. It occurred only a little later, as I was writing the opening essay for a book I haven’t published, that I was also telling myself to use some of this “be cool with failure because it’s totally awesome” game design advice for dating as well.

      Funny how that overlap works! :D

      – Ryan

  2. Finn says:

    Yep, you nailed it. In my experience, confidence is WAY more important than competence – and if you have both, people will treat you like you’re superhuman. If you ever get used to being treated like you’re superhuman, that’s a key sign that you have become a cockbite. ;)

    A single, concrete thing to practice that made a huge difference for me in moving from “faking” to “making”: remove qualifiers from writing and speech. No more “pretty much” or “but it’s negotiable” or “kinda” or “I guess”. That shit is totally insidious. I found that when I focused on it, it was everywhere in my communications. Every time I consciously removed a qualifier from a sentence and nobody freaked out or called me a cockbite (and nobody ever did), my confidence grew a little tiny bit.

    I still do it sometimes in my speech. The pattern is deeply ingrained, and it’s everywhere in American society. But most of the time I catch it, and I feel good about it every time.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      That’s fascinating. I think I’ve started subconsciously editing weak words out of my proposals and such, but not consciously so. I’ll start looking at how I’m doing that. Thanks for the tip!

      I do see it in my speech, but because I spent years being a podcaster who did his own audio production, I heard myself do it over and over. That helped me kick a lot of habits on weak words. I know others try to kick stuttering and the like, but for me the focus was on sounding like my words were worth listening to in the first place. In any case, not an education most people get.

      – Ryan

  3. “I used to equate showing confidence with showing arrogance — which is to say, I was a fucking moron.”

    Still struggling with this myself, mostly due to actually having been an arrogant prick in earlier life.

    (I’m just waiting for some cockbite to say “Having been? Why the past tense, Underkoffler?”)

    “Have confidence in yourself and your decisions. Show me that you do. You’re only being truly arrogant if you’re throwing it in my face and refusing criticism in return.”

    And that is an excellent way to distinguish between the two. Bravo.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Man, I remember one time when I was being a weak bitch to you over IM one day, and you chewed me out for it. So consider this post payback for good (and necessarily harsh, so don’t you fucking apologize) advice. :)

      – Ryan

  4. Rob Donoghue says:

    There is nothing I would have hated more than having to try to convince you to take a shot at the Berkun thing, because _of course_ you could fucking nail it.

    That I did not have to even try demands a transcontinental hi-5. Coming via UPS.

    -Rob D.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      Six months ago, you might have had to. But throwing myself out there over the last little bit has taught me how to be, well, this dude that I am.

      Totally looking forward to the UPS guy.

      – Ryan

  5. Doug says:

    This seems very much in line with my own experience of dealing with lifelong depression. One thing that it does, a ‘symptom’ if you will, is that I found it to corrupt my intuition about myself. That is, complimentary things felt wrong, and insulting things felt true. It seemed painfully apparent that everything I did was a big pile of crap, of no value whatsoever. Who could possibly miss the stench?

    For me, they key was, has been, is, treating this negative intuition like a symptom. I had to learn to treat my intuition about myself as untrustworthy.

    At first, this feels like lying to everyone; then there is the ‘duping delight’ of secretly enjoying the fact that I’m tricking everyone into treating me like a competent person; then there is the “Oh fuck now I am responsible for stuff and accountable to other people”; then there’s the genuine pleasure of doing things well when called upon to do so, combined with the periodic desire to crawl back into a hole and return to doing nothing and expecting nothing of myself.

    As you said very well, though, my experience has been that I’d rather struggle with a few successes. I’d also rather have more successes, but that’s a different matter.

    • Ryan Macklin says:


      I’d also rather have more successes, but that’s a different matter.

      Another rule I live by that I may talk about later: That is what the future is for. (Related, This shit’s a marathon, not a race.) Keep working, and you’ll get the successes you’re looking for. It just takes time and work — and people to often underestimate the “time” part of that equation.

      Also, I hear you on depression. The reason I didn’t start this life sooner was in large part due to letting my own depression get in the way. Sometimes, I still do, but I’ve learned to recognize triggers and deal with them as best as possible. Good luck to you in that regard. Not at easy road to travel, but a hell of a worthwhile one.

      – Ryan

  6. Ethan Hamric says:

    Fucking rad post, mang.

    I have these things on my whiteboard:

    The day is what I make it.

    Give no one the power to change that.

    Things will happen that I can not control. I can, however, limit the time I spend.

    Get over it still matters. (As in: sometimes things just suck and I have to plow ahead)

    I’m going to add your two rules to my little list. I’m so tired of fighting the bullshit negative voices in my head. I’m tired of not being confident. I’m tired of over-explaining things to people, thus eroding their confidence in me.

    Again, awesome post!

  7. gapb says:

    Thank you for posting this. It’s a good reminder for habits I’m working on breaking.