Sir Richard Branson once said: “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then learn how to do it later.”

This approach can be liberating in many situations and is one of the traits of the entrepreneurial spirit. Saying yes can be challenging but worth it. If you face such a situation and your main issue is self-doubt, then Branson’s advice is probably life-changing.

However, saying no can be even tougher, especially if you see great potential in an idea, or if the challenge comes from someone you want to impress. Saying no to those you like and to possibilities that excite you may sound counterintuitive, but it doesn’t mean it’s the wrong thing to do.

More than just saving your mental energy and heartache, here are the reasons why you should always steer clear of new challenges.

It compromises your core work

When you’re already fully committed to projects that you believe in, which requires immense focus and energy from you and your team, it’s time to say no to new challenges.

Exciting new opportunities can be a detrimental distraction, especially when you’re already running at near-capacity. Need evidence?

Woolworths had their Masters hardware business opportunity (see: distraction), which eventually led to a A$2 billion loss.

Knowing your core business and the purpose of your business is a safeguard that makes you smarter about saying no to opportunities that become distractions – and costly ones at that.

Most importantly, it stops you from feeling you must compete with every other competitor who isn’t even in your lane.

You’re assigned an unproven team

It’s one thing to take on a daunting new challenge when you have tried-and-tested people around you as backup. A new team, however, demands an entirely different dynamic that can affect both your operations and performance.

Your goal here is to stretch your people, but with realistic opportunities where you can test them individually and collectively in a measured way. You want to see how they perform under pressure and then mentor them as you go. You need to calibrate the challenges you take on to the ‘stretch capacity’ of your team. If you assess the opportunity is beyond their stretch capacity, or you just don’t know them well enough yet, then it is smart to say no.

Forced to operate at reduced capacity

Things that limit your capacity often come from neglected areas of your personal life. If there is a health issue, severe strains on your marriage, a glaring issue with your children, it is not the time to be ramping up your business in a way that will demand more energy and focus. Your work is not a good place to hide from personal challenges. Being stretched and stressed for a season is normal, but being perpetually and unreasonably stretched can lead to losing resilience and burning out. Not every opportunity must be taken, especially if you have major issues across your personal life. This used to be viewed as weakness, but it is strength. It is a sign of healthy self-awareness to factor these things into your decision-making.

Ignoring uncomfortable truths

Saying no is not just about being careful or conservative in your decisions, it’s about being smart. Taking on too much multiplies stress and it often takes an extensive amount of time to subside.

Stress-related ‘psychological injuries’ such as anxiety, depression and burnout can affect all business leaders and are now a major reason for Income Protection Claims (TAL 2018). The rate at which entrepreneurs experience mental health issues is more than double the general population. This is mostly the result of living in an environment of chronic stress for long periods.

It requires a healthy degree of self-respect to come face to face with a great opportunity, consider all the relevant factors, then walk away. Someone with healthy self-respect knows how to set boundaries. Boundaries help us to know when to say yes without obligation and how to say no without guilt or regret.

Life is full of decisions that are potential forks in the road. The truth is you can’t do everything, and you certainly can’t do everything you want to do all at once.

Knowing your capacity and the capacity of your team, alongside what it is you’re meant to be doing in any given season of your life enables you to become smarter about rejecting a good deal.

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