Along with my work as a coach and writer, I’ve been a professional speaker for over 10 years. I’ve had many wonderful experiences speaking to global audiences both large and small about a wide range of topics and issues around personal and professional growth and success. But when I started out, I was new to the whole arena, and had a great deal to learn. I experienced some bumps and bruises on the path, for sure.
Years ago, as was true in all facets of my life, I hadn’t yet learned how to speak up and stand up powerfully and effectively for what I wanted and believed, so there were times that the whole experience fell short of what it could have been. And I didn't know then as I do now that saying "yes" to every new opportunity that's presented is not a sound professional strategy.
Thanks to these eye-opening lessons, I’ve created a check list in my mind of what I personally need in order to move forward with a “Yes!” to a new professional opportunity - whether it’s a new role, speaking engagement, consulting assignment, client, partnership, new service direction, and more.
Because of this checklist, I’ve steered clear of potential disasters and have been able to walk away from paid and volunteer engagements and partnerships that would have taken me away from what I truly care about, and derailed me from focusing on the causes and outcomes that matter most to me. And thanks to this checklist, I am able to stay true to myself, without compromising my soul, on the road to a creating a successful, rewarding professional identity.
Here’s the checklist I use, that tells me when to walk away from an opportunity, even if it’s highly lucrative and looks great on paper:
Walk away if…
1. You can’t be yourself.
2. The messages you believe are important to share are not welcomed.
3. The outcomes you’re passionate about are not in alignment with their desired outcomes.
4. The people you’ll be collaborating with don’t reflect core values that are essential to you (for me, those are collaboration, diversity, integrity, honesty, emotional health, and balance).
5. You’re being micromanaged before you even take the gig.
6. Your experience, know-how and perspective aren’t appreciated or valued.
Here’s an example of how a potential opportunity can violate all of those rules:
Several years ago, I was approached by a large, well-known sports organization to give the keynote for their Women’s Leadership conference. Two young women interviewed me on the phone at two different times, to explore hiring me. We talked all about the potential topics for my presentation and the goals of the conference, and they both expressed interest in my talk on The Fast Track To Career Bliss – How To Dig Deep, Discover Your Right Work and Illuminate The World With It.
During our conversations, something interesting happened. While they both thought my talk topic was a strong fit for the theme of their conference, both expressed (in a somewhat awkward, sheepish way) a fear that women in the audience might end up quitting after hearing my talk. I’d never heard that concern before (most people feel the talk will be motivating and inspiring to their audience), and frankly, their concerns raised a huge red flag. They tried to suggest ways I could “tone down” my messages around how women can leverage their amazing skills, and build a rewarding, impactful career they'll love. Truthfully, I began to feel micro-managed and controlled even in these introductory calls.
I replied sharing this: “I have to admit, if both of you are that concerned that women will walk out of their jobs after hearing these messages about building a rewarding career of significance, I’ve got to ask ‘What’s going on there in your organization and culture? Is it a culture that isn’t positive for women? Are women on the brink of quitting today?” After a few moments of deafening silence, they admitted “Yes, it’s pretty bad for women here” and went on to explain all the different ways that women were not respected, appreciated or valued there.
The reality was that this organization needed much more than one annual women’s leadership conference to fix their problem. There was blatant gender bias and discrimination, and the environment was not positive or supportive of women. And I got the strong feeling that the men in leadership roles there would not be happy to hear that women in their organization were being encouraged to build empowered careers.
I ended up saying “no” to this opportunity as a speaker. My professional colleagues have said “You’re nuts! You should have taken it! Just get the gig then deliver the message you want to.” But as I continue to progress in my career and business, I don’t agree with that philosophy.
For me, there are key qualifying conditions that have to be met to move forward with an opportunity and to make it a great experience for all. In short, my goal is to offer my messages and my know-how and research to organizations and cultures that truly want women to be all they can be, who aren’t afraid that women will run out and quit when they’re given effective tools and strategies to empower themselves to build impactful, rewarding careers of significance.
In the end, I’ve held true to this idea: If in this new opportunity, you cannot be who you really are or share the insights, experience and knowledge that reflect what you believe and know to be true, then don’t take it. If you’re being micromanaged and controlled before you take the gig, and asked to do things that feel wrong, then walk away.
Instead, cultivate a whole new batch of exciting opportunities that will be a great match for who you are. Say “YES!” to opportunities and partners that welcome and need your unique approach, perspective, and experience and want you to you leverage all of those to help their organization succeed. And take thrilling opportunities that encourage you to nourish your own growth as well.