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Say “no” so you can say “yes”

Maturity is the ability to reject good alternatives to pursue even better ones.

Illustration of arrows pointing in different directions

You can’t do it all, no matter what our crazed culture tells you. | Illustration by Kevin Craft

Saying no is never easy.

But Spark Capital’s John Melas-Kyriazi, MS ’13, Materials Science and Engineering, has found that there’s no shame in walking away from a commitment that isn’t working out, as long as you do it thoughtfully and respectfully, and with plenty of advance warning.

“If you talk to people about how you’re feeling, you explain your decisions, and you give them time to deal with what happened, that gets you 80% of the way there,” he offers.

How can you decide when to turn down an interesting opportunity so you can focus on something that’s more important in the long run? Tina Seelig, Professor of the Practice in Stanford Engineering’s Department of Management Science and Engineering, recommends giving yourself advice on what to do from your “future self.” Meritech Capital’s Konstantine Buhler, MBA/MS ’17, Computer Science, takes a similar tack, imagining who he wants to be 30 years in the future and then asking himself whether the people and ideas he is interacting with now are likely to get him there. And Melas-Kyriazi approaches crucial turning points by reminding himself that the most powerful stories are stories of people who make brave decisions, not the people who do whatever is expected of them.

On this episode of the LEAP! podcast, Buhler, Seelig and Melas-Kyriazi discuss strategies for changing course, turning something down and sorting through a billion options.

You can listen to this episode and dig into other LEAP! episodes via Stitcher, iTunes, Spotify or Stanford eCorner.

In the LEAP! podcast, Tina Seelig — Professor of the Practice in Stanford Engineering’s Department of Management Science and Engineering — takes a deep dive into how to launch a career. LEAP! is produced by the Stanford Technology Ventures Program.