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Embracing Your Preferences


Because the nature of my work is pretty fluid, my job description with many clients is dictated by their needs and what they ask me to do. I am really fortunate to have done a lot of different things in my career, and as such, I can do a wide variety of things.  However, I have found that because of this one of the hardest words, for me anyway, when it comes to my work, is “no”.  Perhaps this is because I do not want to let people down, or perhaps it is because I simply like saying “yes”.  Yes is positive.  Yes is moving forward.  Yes is progress.  Or, maybe, just maybe, deep down I do not want to believe that there is anything that I cannot do.

However, one of the things I have found with this sort of yes-first attitude is that it often leads to trouble.  The truth is, “no” can be a very positive word, if we let it.  Often, saying “no” stops a bad situation from ever starting.  And, if you could fast-forward a year into a bad decision, wouldn’t you jump at the chance to save yourself, and everyone else involved, the torment you have experienced with just one word?  At a year into a bad situation, I know I often have.

But perhaps one of the bigger lessons in learning to say no is learning that often the “no’s” in life are there to help you.  I am sure everyone has to admit, at some point, that they cannot do everything.  I know I have had to.  And, that is not to say that some of the things I say no to I am not physically able to do.  Sometimes I say no to things that I am perfectly capable doing, but I would be miserable doing.  Because, by taking these sorts of projects on, I feel like I am cheating the world.  I am cheating someone else who actually likes doing this sort of thing the opportunity to do more of it.  I am cheating the client out of my best work (if I am having a rotten time it will show, every time, no matter how long I try and polish it).  And, I am cheating myself by choosing to do something (that I don’t actually have to do) that is going to make me miserable.

I guess the truth is you cannot deny deeply-held preference, at least for very long, and I think there is a reason behind this.  I think we have our preferences for a reason.  I believe that these are guide posts to help us find what we really want to do.  Maybe it is just because I have gotten myself into terrible job situations far too many times in my youth by over-yesing things, but when I have hindsight on the experience, I was always grateful to be free of it.  Sort of like a break-up at the end of a bad relationship.  Sure, at first, the loss of the relationship stings, but in time, this sting is replaced with the realization that we were unhappy anyway, and we are grateful that we don’t have to do that anymore.

I believe our preferences are one of the best guideposts we have in finding our own joy and fulfillment from work, and they are to be ignored at our own peril.   We were born with our innate preferences for a reason, and we cannot separate these preferences from ourselves more than we can any other major part of our personality.  Who we are is largely tied to what we want to do, and what we want to do is largely tied to what we are best at.

So, even though it can feel hopeless sometimes when we feel like we are in the wrong job, doing the wrong thing, for the wrong people, all of this negative reinforcement is trying to tell us something.  It is trying to re-focus us on what we actually do want to do, who we do want to do it with, and how we want to do it.  Because, it is when we honor these preferences that our best work comes to us.  The fact is, at least it has been for me, is that I do my best work when I am happy.  And, I am more likely to be happy when I pay attention to what makes me unhappy and listen to the lesson it has to teach me.

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