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Thoughts on Opportunities

A couple months ago, I told a dear friend the following. She said she has it on a post-it note on her wall now. So I thought maybe someone else in blogland might make use of it.

Opportunities do not stop coming if you continue walking forward. No matter how slowly, forward is still forward.

It took me a few years to learn this. When I started out, I felt like I had to say yes to every opportunity that came up…which wasn’t many or often. A slow trickle. And really, I had little reason then to say no to something — Paul Tevis wanted me to edit his book, awesome. Fred Hicks wanted to work with me on Don’t Lose Your Mind, sweet. Jenn Brozek wanted me to write short stories for her, fuck yeah. These all trickled in, and I kept saying yes.

Then, as I started to become known as this dude what makes your words pretty[1], I started getting more in demand. And I was suddenly in a situation where I was afraid to say no, because I believed in the back of my mind that saying no would be like dispelling this amazing thing happening to me. One “no” and no one else would ever offer a sweet gig to me again.

Yeah, I know, it sounds stupid. That’s why I say “back of my mind.” So I pushed myself a bit too much during the last few months of Dresden and burned out a bit. People kept approaching me, but then I started to say no. (I’ve also started to say “maybe, but I can’t right now,” which is slightly different.) I was afraid still, yes, but I had to for my own sake and for the sake of my would-be clients, you know?[2]

I was prepared at this point for opportunities to cease. Turns out that I was full of shit in the back of my brain, because opportunities keep coming. The reason they keep coming is because I keep walking forward — sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly — but I keep making progress in this thing I’m doing in my life. And now that I’ve come this far[3], I now trust that saying no to opportunities will not screw me over for ever and ever. Intellectually, I could understand this from day 1, but now I trust that. And that means I can say no when I need to. (It helps that I avoid being a cockbite in saying no.)

So, when I see others struggling to try to make a sudden wave of opportunities all work, I want to sit them down and talk about how they should focus on fewer and to make those they take on badass, rather than stretch themselves too thin because they haven’t yet learned how to say no. And I want to help convey in them how to keep self-confidence after saying no that there is still a bright future ahead.

Opportunities do not stop coming if you continue walking forward. No matter how slowly, forward is still forward.

A corollary: taking on too many opportunities and burning out or failing on them is not walking forward, but backward. It’s a line in yourself that you probably won’t really learn until you hit it and screw up, so it’s hard to say where it is in each person. But be mindful, yo.

– Ryan

[1] Clearly, I could use such a dude right there.

[2] Another hard-learned lesson I still struggle with.

[3] Which with only a few years under my belt, frankly, isn’t that far.

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One Response to Thoughts on Opportunities

  1. Laura Lipsy says:

    Yes, Ryan, blogland needed this.

    This is exactly why I’ve begun to keep an extra folder of future project ideas. I’ve seen my limits before and approximately what I have time to realistically accomplish. It isn’t much given the day job and the kids, but at least I can work harder on the few things I can get done.