How to turn a no into a yes

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In November 2015 I squeezed into my seat in a large auditorium full of other hungry designers for Kikk Festival. The auditorium stood in Namur, Belgium. A small town where my Dutch was useless because everyone spoke French. I’m constantly perplexed by how a country functions when it’s population speaks different languages.

Standing on the stage in front of me was Anton & Irene, the well known design duo based in New York. Sometime into the talk, Irene said something that piqued my interest:

“You already have a no, but if you try, you might get a yes.”
– Irene Pereyra

She was talking about seizing the impossible — about taking opportunities, being a go-getter and not letting your fear hold you back. I found myself nodding, thinking back to all the times where I’d not pursued an opportunity because I was afraid. Afraid of not being good enough, of the outcome, of the risk.

Our comfort zones are a blessing and a curse. They’re a place where we feel safe and in control. It’s a predictable place that, while confines us to what we know, we know it well. Comfort zones are a place where we know we can succeed and can control the outcome.

Your comfort zone might be drawing in your sketchbook, a prototype or quick MVP. The thoughts of stepping outside of your sketchbook scares you. Perhaps you’re afraid of what the response will be if you published your work online or shared it with someone else.

Stepping out of your comfort zone can be mentally challenging. Physically, it’s often no extra effort. We psych ourselves out with fear, thinking it’ll be too hard or scary — and most of the times it is. Stepping out of your comfort zone isn’t supposed to be easy, or we’d all be out there drinking expensive champagne while we celebrate our success.

Without stepping outside of our comfort zone, how can we embrace new things and challenge ourselves creatively?

Taking on new opportunities can be unpredictable. But without embracing the unpredictable, you’ll never find out what could be. Not stepping out of your comfort zone and seizing opportunities might be the one thing stopping you from getting where you want to be.

I came home from that conference vowing to take Irene’s advice on board. I now look at new opportunities and things beyond my comfort zone with a new light — possibility. If I really want to do or apply for something, I’ve got absolutely nothing to lose by applying, and only something to gain.

The thing is if you do nothing, you’ve already lost. You already have that no. They don’t need to tell you that. It’s certainly not going to happen, unless you give yourself the chance of it happening.

Plucking up the courage to take on that chance of a Yes is by no means easy. We’ve all been in a situation where we’ve not pursued an opportunity because it was outside our comfort zone or we lacked the confidence. Sometimes, this barrier is necessary. If you strive for everything outside of your comfort zone, it can quickly become overwhelming.

But if you strive for nothing, you’re going to keep standing still.

Perhaps you’ve been thinking about going freelance but unsure whether you’ll be successful. Or maybe you want to apply to speak at a local meetup. Without trying, the outcome of these things is certain.

I remember feeling this way when I was thinking about applying to speak at at a conference. I thought, there’s so many better speakers out there that are beyond my knowledge and talent, why would they pick me? I felt as though I shouldn’t even bother because it would be a waste of time.

However, I thought back to what Irene had said. It was fact that I won’t speak at a conference because I’ve already got that no with certainty. However if I try, the chances of getting a yes increase a whopping 50%! So I took the plunge.

To my surprise, I spoke at not just one conference that year, but two.

Here’s the thing with sitting on the sidelines — opportunities walk right past you. You have to reach out and grab them. You may miss some, but your chances of grabbing at least one have increased tenfold.

Don’t fear the outcome, fear standing still. Fear knowing that you already have a no. But if you try, to your surprise you might get that yes you were hoping for.

About the author

Hi I’m Femke — a designer, writer and podcaster who overlaps between a day job, freelancing and side projects. I love to help other creatives be the best version of themselves. I’d love to get to know you more, say hi on Twitter 👋