Growing up, I said “Yes” to everything that comes my way. Every opportunity, every offer, every introduction, every meeting, every invitation, every event, every employment, every phone call, every book, every school of thoughts, every request. This approach has taken me far. My life exposure, LinkedIn work profile as well as my liberality to the diversity of ideas to has significantly increased as a result.
Nothing in life comes at nil costs, however. There is a fine line between being eager or ready for more, and greed. Now in my early twenties, I can no longer afford too many internships, too many try-and-we’ll-see, too many meetings, too many invitations, too many calls, too many requests, too many friends, nor too many irrelevant information flooded in my head. All chosen opportunities come at the cost of not choosing a better one.
I used to say too many yes to the point I am the slave of my greed and have an anxiety breakdown. My family was there for me. When I became stressed out of having too many commitments on my plate, my dad told me.
“Choose your worries wisely”.
My dad is a serial entrepreneur. I spoke to him rarely, but every time I do, I learnt something wise.
I was too hard headed to admit to him I have said Yes to too many irrelevant opportunities that do not contribute to my long-term development. He continued “If I want to measure a man, I measure him by the significance of his worries. You are anxious about small moves that do not matter in five years. Continuing to display concerns over unreal problems will cost you the respects from other people.”
He got six decades of wisdom under his belt, so I listened to him this time. I tried to say No more often. It’s definitely out of my nature and therefore not easy. Sometimes I bite myself over what could happen if I have taken up a particular opportunity, but I told myself I made the best decision with the information given to me at the time. Life is a game of poker; every move is a choice of check, fold or bet. I cannot say Yes, or bet on every single round unless I am sure I can afford the increasing stake. My decision is based on the information of my hand and the cards on the table. If the next card turn out to be not in my favour, at least I made an educated choice based on the best information available to me at the time.
Choosing carefully, or disregard the irrelevant choices entirely, is supported by a psychological theory I recently learnt called “Decision Fatigue”, which refers to the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making. The more decisions I made, the worse the quality of those decisions will be. Decision fatigue theory is advocated by people like Mark Zuckerberg, President Obama or Steve Job, who reduces their fashion choices to the minimum as they don’t consider such decision is worth diminishing the quality of other more significant decisions.
“I really want to clear my life so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community.” said Zuckerberg, about his wardrobe full of grey T-shirt.
He continued: “I’m in this really lucky position where I get to wake up every day and help serve more than 1bn people, and I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous about my life, so that way I can dedicate all of my energy towards just building the best products and services.”
Decision fatigue is also studied in development economics as one of the causes that exacerbate poverty. This phenomenon is because the poor makes a lot more sub-optimal decisions under financial stress that produce lesser output to their overall wealth, compared to the ones who are more well-off who may not need to be consciously mindful of many of their daily decisions.
Learning when to say “No” was a way for me to grow up. I learnt to suppress my greed to fully understand that I cannot have everything, neither can I learn everything. I regularly make an exeMerriweather go-no go decision over my next steps, who I want to become and what I am going to do to pursue which path I’d take. Regularly saying No helps me to reduce to the minimum the number of irrelevant choices I undertake every day as well as the circumstances that force me having to make those insignificant decisions.
Check, fold, or bet? All decisions, regardless of how big or small, will shape me and the possible versions of the future.
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Illustration by my friend Karl.
I am active on Quora – Please follow me on Quora at https://www.quora.com/profile/Le-Quynh-Mai for more writing.
P.S. My apology for being MIA for three months. A few of you have written to check if I’m OK – thank you <3. Life carried me away, but I will make more conscious efforts to regularly post.