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Want to Succeed? Learn to Say 'No' As a first-year founder and entrepreneur, saying "yes" to every opportunity can hurt your chance of survival.

By Ginni Saraswati

Key Takeaways

  • Achieving growth comes when the word "no" plays a bigger role in your life.
  • Prioritize being present so that those who rely on me and me can have our needs met first.
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A goal of mine this year has been to be super intentional with my time. The path to intentionality, I have learned, is a paved road with two parallel lanes. The left lane is about practicing discipline when it comes to focus and how your time gets allocated. The right lane is paved with the lessons of a two-letter word that should have been used more often.

Stage I: The time to grow

Growing a business is a symphony of yeses. As a first-year founder and entrepreneur, I was saying "yes" to every opportunity, course, seminar, coaching strategy and meeting because I was in the building stage of my business.

For me, being mandated to stay indoors during 2020 wasn't the time for making sourdough or catching up on my reading. It provided a rare opportunity to focus solely on growing my business. In February of 2020, we had 6 team members. By the end of the year, we had grown to 24! Purely organically, with no outside investors, all the while navigating the shifts and changes of the world around us.

Related: Learn to Say No to These 3 Things to Take Your Business to New Heights

Stage II: Life and the in-between

The last four years have been years of extremes for me. Joy, sadness, growth, forced stillness and counting down the days until something was over. It's been a time for me to learn patience and endurance while simultaneously not letting my business fall through the cracks.

Losing my mother in early 2021 at the height of worldwide restrictions and lockdowns meant that I had to endure a 14-day hotel quarantine immediately after the long flight back to Australia. Once released, we could spend our final 11 days together, and then she was gone.

Following this loss, I had to hunker down unexpectedly in the closest non-Schengen country for two weeks before being allowed to return to the US. Waiting to leave hotel quarantine, waiting for the impending loss of a parent, and then waiting to leave Romania so I could return home to NYC, it felt like I was facing struggle after struggle, and time went at vastly different speeds. I was also (somehow) juggling a global team as business was booming. How did I get through that and still have most of the hair on my head?

On the joy front, 2022 and 2023 brought many gifts. I fell in love and got engaged. This time was rich in terms of my personal life. When you put it all together, these years changed me, and the contrast between them was profound.

Related: How to Harness the Power of Change in Entrepreneurship

Stage III: Embracing the power of no

As things began to settle, and I passed life's infamous "Hey, here's everything all at once!" test, my company emerged from its transformation cocoon. It was evolving into something bigger, more mature, and more stable. I knew that if my business and I were going to survive this evolution, I had to learn to pull back the reflex to say "yes" to everything that came my way.

I now have a process when it comes to a new opportunity, a fresh business venture, continuing a current venture, or involving myself in anything that requires a time and energy commitment.

Here are the guidelines I follow before entering a new project:

  1. If I'm not very excited, the answer is "no."
  2. If I don't need to go for a walk to release pent-up excitement, the answer is "no."
  3. If it doesn't allow me an avenue to give back, the answer is "no."

My experiences have taught me to prioritize being present so that those who rely on me and me can have our needs met first. Achieving this has meant that the word "no" plays a bigger role in my life. My "yeses" are reserved for the guidelines I've put in place and, by extension, for my team, my fiance, and those closest to me.

It's a stage of maturity in entrepreneurship and also a privilege, I might add, to go from a "yes" person to someone who is selective and intentional when opportunities arrive. But there's a lot of wisdom gained along the road. As James Clear writes, "The amateur does not know what to do. The master knows what not to do." With every "no," I'm learning to master this journey better.

Ginni Saraswati

Entrepreneur Leadership Network® Contributor

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