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When to Say Yes to a Project — Even If You Want to Say No

“So… are you, mobile?”


“Mobile. Like, can you move to another state for work?”

“Uhhh, yes? I guess it depends on where you want me to be mobile to…”

This was the beginning of a promotion I got three years ago. I didn’t know exactly what I was signing up for and I remember my heart starting to race as the conversation kept going.

As we were talking, I kept thinking of all the reasons I _shouldn’t_consider this. I could list them alphabetically, categorically, chronologically — whatever she wanted. I was mostly sure that this was a bad idea.

The main reason was, I was afraid I’d have no idea what I was doing. I was going to be working in HR still, but with extra responsibilities and two bosses — one in a different state and another in a different country.

The point is, I was terrified of agreeing to this job. It was new, it was in a different place, and I would have way more responsibility there than I did in my current position. And more responsibility would mean more stuff that I had to learn. What if I was in over my head and couldn’t do it? Or worse, what if I could do it but it turned out to be terrible?

Sometimes, saying no feels like the default. It’s an automatic, gut response that gets out before we can stop it. And in some cases, saying no is a great idea.

But other times, like for this promotion, the temptation to say no isn’t because you’re too busy, don’t like the project, or just don’t want to do it.

Sometimes, saying no feels like the right thing to do because you’re scared shitless.

Someone asks you to do a project. You quickly go through the other projects you’ve done. You’ve never done anything quite like this. Your stomach clenches, your voice seizes a little, and inside you’re shaking your head: Nope, nope, nope. Fuck, I don’t know how to do it. I can’t do it.

This is where you want to say no instinctively.

But wait!

Don’t let your terror get the best of you.

Use the 10% Rule

Taking on things you don’t know is scary. But it’s also one of the best ways to learn new skills.

So from now on, before you say no, implement the 10% rule: if you don’t know how to do something a client needs, say yes as long as the part you don’t know is 10% or less of the total project.

How do you know if it’s 10% of the total project?

You’ve got to plan it out.

Plan Out the Project

Write down everything that needs to be done, step by step, in order to consider the project completed.

Now, let’s say you’ve got 10 steps on this project plan. You’ve got 9 of the steps down pretty solid. But there’s that one thing, the initial thing that freaked you out, that you don’t know how to do.

Since you’re not sure how to do it, how do you know what’s involved in completing it? This is where the awesome power of Google comes in.

If you research this last task and it seems hard, but doable, take the project.

When doing something new, stick to the 10% rule. If you know how to do everything but 10% of the project, you’re probably good to go. That 10% will be challenging, but you’ll get a new skill set in the process.

This means you’re in no real danger of letting your client down, but you’re also getting paid to learn new skills that you can later market.

Learn More Skills and Get More Confidence

The best thing about the 10% rule is that it helps you learn new skills while still getting paid. I obviously think side projects are pretty fantastic, but getting paid to learn something new is even more fantastic

Plus, think of all the confidence you’ll gain when you realize that you could do it all along! You’ll be combing your hair in the morning, singing Eye of the Tiger to pump you up, and it’ll suddenly dawn on you that you’re doing a great job because you’ve taken these risks that are helping you grow.

Remember: Risks Are Good

It’s uncomfortable to admit that you don’t know how to do something, and scary to agree to something you know you could do but haven’t done yet.

As for me, I took the leap and moved to Portland for the new job. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I met wonderful new people, learned that I love working internationally, and realized that I definitely had a better skill set than I was giving myself credit for.

So remember that risks are good. They help you push your limits, learn new things, and most importantly, get you into a growth mindset so that you’re not scared to learn new things in the future.

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