Saying Yes Purposefully

Jeff Haney, MD

Jeffrey Haney, MD

It’s on your development plan, it’s one of your New Year’s resolutions, or maybe it’s written on last year’s annual faculty review: “You need to learn how to say no.”

Many of us spend decades practicing self-flagellation for not learning to say no. Consider yourself liberated from this tyranny. Don’t learn to say no. Learn to say yes with purpose.

This idea, saying yes, is not unique—it is all the rage. Oprah swears by it. The Huffington Post has a long-form article on the subject. Even the TV titan, Shonda Rhimes, devoted a TED Talk to the subject. The consistent argument for saying yes—the adventure, rising to a new challenge, learning new things—tickles the carpe diem recesses of our brain. On the surface, saying yes makes sense, but not in isolation. We are aware of the ridiculousness of always saying yes— I am currently picturing my child asking me if he can eat candy for dinner every night this week. So how should we say yes?  

An annual faculty review provided the “Aha!” moment. During the review, I appreciated a faculty member’s willingness to jump in and always say yes. In the next breath, I appreciated her capacity to be clear about her boundaries and engagement in important work of the residency. The next moment was subsumed by my cognitive dissonance—the faculty member always seeming to say yes, possessed a clear set of boundaries. In the haze of thought, I heard myself say, “you are wonderful at saying yes, with purpose!”  I am unsure if it was her conscious practice, but it was a modeled behavior to share to the world.

Saying yes, with a purpose. In saying yes to opportunity tied to purpose, the results are clear and achievable. When the opportunity is not tied to purpose, it can become a vague promise difficult to keep going and nearly impossible to fulfill. The beauty of saying yes with purpose is that it obviates the need to learn how to say no.

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