Where in your life have you said NO to opportunities that would have brought you comfort or status, but that were not in line with your purpose ? And … what was your BIGGER YES that came out of this NO?  

My first NO for a BIGGER YES was when I worked as young project manager in international development cooperation, at the European Commission in Brussels. With persistence, I had been able to move to the section dealing with public sector reform, and was now responsible for some 50 technical assistance projects in various stages between programming and completion. My job security was precarious, as I was on a string of short term contracts. But I loved this work, which was so much in line with my background and interests in political science, international relations, and systemic change. 

I had just passed a competition that allowed me to be hired in a formal role as European Commission official – which opened the door to a huge change in job security and status. I was excited about this perspective. Our Head of Unit had previously shown some dislike for me, but I was hoping that my ability to manage my large portfolio and to resolve difficult situations would speak in my favour, and that he would hire me into the existing vacancy in his unit. The opposite was the case – he did everything to prevent it. In the end he asked to have the vacancy taken away from his unit and be given a consultant post for another area instead, so there was no longer a position to hire me on. Everyone saw what was going on and showed me their solidarity. To help me, another Head of Unit, a great manager and lovely person, offered me a position in his unit … dealing with transport projects. I felt grateful, and torn: a safe job, better paid, with a great boss! But in an area that would have taken me away from my professional path. In the end I thanked him – and declined. 

It was a SCARY NO. In terms of finance, security, ease, and immediate wellbeing, a really bad decision. My boss was horrible, and despite my 50 + projects responsibility I did not have a formal and long-term position.

But I knew that working with these projects in public sector reform, I was developing in my “Zone”, and there was no way I wanted to say yes to a job outside of this zone simply to have a secure position, higher status and a nice boss.  

I don’t know where the “safe” decision would have taken me. But what I do know is that saying NO to the tempting offer was a YES to myself,and to my path in life. And this decision brought me to my next jobs – first as expert and project manager in the European Commission’s Human Rights Unit, subsequently to lead public sector reform projects in consultancy, and from there moving step by step into institutional reform, organisational development, leadership and coaching, the work I do today, and that gives me fulfilment, joy, as well as a good income. 

What I learned was that saying NO to offers that promise comfort, status, and safety feels counterintuitive, probably foolish, and certainly scary. But that when we know where our purpose, passion and interests lie, saying yes to those offers ultimately costs us more than the temporary discomfort of choosing the road that at the moment seems more challenging.  And that in the end, saying NO to that which is not in alignment with our passion and purpose, allows us to say YES to ourselves and to working with the greatest possible ease, joy and success. 

At this moment, what do You need to say NO to, to make room for a BIGGER YES ?  

Lots of love

Sylvia x