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Reblogged:Indulge FOMO Once, Earn JOMO Permanently

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"We will continue to say no more often and to bigger tasks, and to build spaces in which others are empowered to set boundaries. This is the only way to make room for intentional 'yes' in our finite [work] lives." -- Amanda E. Cravens, Rebecca L. Nelson, A. R. Siders, and Nicola Ulibarri

Let me very highly recommend a Nature career column (a five minute read, archived here) that I learned about through episode 213 (7:06-27:38) of Cal Newport's Deep Questions podcast. Its title is "Why Four Scientists Spent a Year Saying No."

Aside from being engagingly written -- The piece grew out of a game the authors made of turning down 100 work-related requests over a year. -- it is loaded with actionable advice and insight into why one should make a practice of saying No more often.
Image by Kal Pilger, via Unsplash, license.
Early in our careers, saying yes helped us to make connections and explore promising research directions. But as opportunities multiplied in our mid-careers, we needed a mindset shift, from gathering to pruning. So we need to develop clear criteria to help us choose what to pursue. Questions that have helped us to strategically evaluate opportunities to say yes included:
  1. Does this opportunity fit my research agenda and identity?
  2. Does it 'spark joy' (with a nod to Marie Kondo, doyenne of organization)?
  3. Do I have time to do a good job without sacrificing existing commitments?
  4. Does the opportunity leave space for my personal life?
  5. Am I uniquely qualified to fill this need?
By saying no, we preserve our energy and creative capacity to do a better job on the projects, mentoring and service roles that we choose to devote our time to. [bold added]
Newport's podcast segment on the article mentions the following four major sections of the article, which are all good advice or good things to be aware of:
  1. Tracking helped make no an option.
  2. Say no more often and to larger asks.
  3. Saying no is emotional work.
  4. Practice makes no easier.
I found the section on emotional work the most intriguing: On top of the fact that one can legitimately struggle to evaluate whether to honor a request, the ugly head of altruism can cause many to experience moral uncertainty in doing so -- whether they consciously accept sacrifice as a moral ideal or have conflicting emotions from having incompletely recovered from having done so in the past.

And I suspect that altruism might often both motivate a tactic the authors criticize and explain why it doesn't really work:
ome advice columns suggest using a 'little no', or agreeing to only a portion of the task, as a way to lessen the blow: for example, agreeing to review a paper rather than contribute to it, or rescheduling a talk for later in the year. We found that this tactic was a slippery slope that led people to ask for a greater commitment later on. And it sometimes left us completing the whole task if the others involved did not contribute equally. Instead, we learnt to say 'no' early, firmly and completely. Only a firm no truly reduced our commitments. To soften the blow, we suggested others who could complete the task, and tried to lift others' voices by recommending colleagues and students whose views might otherwise be overlooked. Providing an authentic but succinct explanation for turning down tasks also preserved relationships with the people making the requests. [bold added]
The idea that one needs to "soften the blow" of a no can be compounded in many ways by altruism, not the least of which is the open-ended sense of obligation and entitlement it creates on each end of a request. This isn't to say that such an answer can't ever be a good one, but when simple transactions are complicated by altruism, they can look like compromises of one's rational self-interest in principle even when they aren't.

And when that happens, of course others will happily avail themselves if you let them.

I'll end with my favorite sentence, from near the beginning of the piece:
One of us has a cartoon illustrating the concept of 'JOMO' (joy of missing out) taped above her desk.
I think this nicely illustrates both the fun one can have in the course of building this important skill, and its ultimate reward.

-- CAV

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