A Challenging Question


In talking with Chris Brogan for his new podcast recently, he said something I’ve been thinking of ever since. It was a question that you ask yourself when evaluating new opportunities.

This question didn’t actually come from Chris—I believe he said it was from one of his other podcast guests—but Chris is the one who implanted it in my head.

The question is:

How will this new opportunity help me serve the community I already have?

Wow. Tough question.

Regular readers may recall that I’m all about saying yes to new opportunities. I completely disagree with the common advice about saying no all the time. You’ve probably heard this advice before:

“You should say no ten times for every yes.”

“You should be very selective.”

“Great entrepreneurs are constantly saying no.”

My response is usually: yeah, great entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs (before his untimely death) or Richard Branson may have become somewhat selective out of necessity at some point. But when you’re getting started, say yes wherever you can!

Nevertheless, Chris’s question puts a whole new spin on it, because it’s not simply about saying yes or no. It’s about weighing the new opportunity against existing commitments to the community you are privileged to serve.

As I said: wow. This perspective changes the game, and as I consider the changes I’m making in my business for 2013, this question will be front and center.

How about you? Do you consider new opportunities in light of existing commitments?


*Travel update: I made it to Guinea Bissau last week! Only two countries remain for the entire ten-year journey to everywhere. Thanks for all your support.

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  • Lynn Daue says:

    Oh, absolutely. Opportunities cannot be considered as if they come about in a vacuum; anything new that appears will change the equilibrium of your life one way or another. While it’s amazing to be able to say yes to everything that comes along, you do need to weigh it against your current commitments in order to determine which of your resources (time, energy, money, etc.) will be diverted to support the new endeavor. At least, I do! (I can’t speak for the rest of the world.)

  • Emily says:

    You know I adore you, Chris, and have consistently read your ever solid wisdom for years. Every once in a while, however, through some alchemy I won’t even try to fathom, you come out with a zinger of a post that is exactly the right message at exactly the right time. This is one of those zingers for me.

    I’m in flux in my entrepreneurial initiatives. I’m (unexpectedly) loving the gig that pays my bills. I’m reflecting on the year going by and the one about to be birthed, torn by some unclaimed expectation that I should do profound things in the new year and get all my shit figured out and strategized by January 1. And then, this week, I was thrown a curve ball – an (incredibly amazing) opportunity to open a creative door I had firmly shut with much angst a few years ago, an “ending” with which I’d made peace.

    Do I open the door again, risking a revisit of both the joys and hobgoblins associated with the endeavor as well as putting some existing initiatives on hold and/or snails pace for a short interlude? Or do I say no, I’ve shut that door.

    How will it help me serve the community I already have? Answering that may well be the simple key to my quandary. Thanks for the gift. xo

  • Gary Arndt says:

    It is all a matter of resources. When you are starting, you have a lot of time available. You can afford to pursue things that might not pan out.

    I find myself saying ‘no’ to most things now days because I don’t have the time, and most proposals really aren’t that compelling. They don’t move the ball forward for me as much as it does for whoever is making the proposal.

    You should say ‘yes’ to as much as you can, but not more.

  • Jon Stallings says:

    What makes this such a hard challenge, is we often have to say no to good even great opportunities. I tend to fly from one thing to the next. I have to work hard to focus, and no is the best word to make that happen. A lot of the time I am having to tell myself no to that great idea I just came up with. I can always be more effective when I focus on the mission, so when something comes along, I ask does this fit within with my mission and goals? If not, then the answer is almost always no.

  • Nate Lacroix says:

    When you’re hungry you NEED to say yes to everything. I’ll consider it an achievement when I get to the point where I HAVE to start saying no. In the mean time I’ll work on creating my own opportunities.

  • Dana Leavy-Detrick says:

    An interesting way to look at it, is that if you’re going to say yes to new opportunities, it’s also going to force you look at what you can let go of to make room for that new piece – in terms of time, finances, energy, effort. So in a way, you’re constantly upgrading. And if it isn’t an upgrade, and you make a mistake, at least you learned something. I’ve spread myself thin way too many times before I learned how important it is for me to be willing to let go of something in favor or something that might work better.

  • Natalie the Singingfool says:

    Hmm, seeing as my business is just starting and my opportunities have been nil, I’m definitely saying yes to anything that comes along (as long as it aligns with my vision and they aren’t asking me to sell diet pills or something). I imagine there might be a point when you say no to things, but I’m definitely not seeing it from where I’m at currently.

  • Sheila Lawrence says:

    Here’s a thought: If you can not say “yes” yourself, try to think of someone who might be the perfect fit and pass it on.

  • Anita Chase says:

    I tend to say yes to as many things as possible, which has led to very interesting opportunities and adventures, some of which have been more fruitful than others.

    However, I am at a place where the majority of my time is booked – I am in 2 bands, one of which is taking off, the other of which I have been in for 11 years and is more the style of music I prefer. I have a full time job where I asked for new duties and now am working for two departments and have almost more projects than I can keep up with – but it’s all interesting work. I have a blog I started and stopped for awhile, but now I am getting some good feedback, so I want to pick it up again.

    It’s all great stuff and I am VERY fortunate to have these opportunities and encouragement from those around me – but I have to confess I am starting to feel quite overwhelmed. And I have people asking me to join other projects which I am curious about too..

    I know I am going to have to choose what I am going to dedicate my energy to, because it is starting to affect my health. So, I appreciate this question – I still want to say yes, but I have to step back most of the time and realize that I honestly don’t have any time.

  • Joseph says:


    I think whatever the opportunity is needs to ‘feel’ of value to your community even if the connectivity is not so clearly evident The filtering process you employ to distill value to your community is the firewall. What you may see as a waste of your time for your community may in fact contain real gems.

  • Roman says:

    Real good question to think about. This month, I have begun thinking about how new opportunities effect commitments I’ve already made, but this is good to be reminded of.

  • Philip Jackson says:

    I have discovered that when we are following our true calling and moving in the space we are meant to fill in this universe the doors keep opening to more and more synchronicities. The right doors open and we dont ever even need to make a decision about yes or no’s

  • Ernest Dempsey says:

    The thing we should always remember, in regards to new opportunities and whether or not to say yes or no, is that it isn’t just about us. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in what WE are doing or what OUR business needs. This takes away from something vital, which is the essence of your question about “service to your community.”
    The community is your network. And the best kind of networking is helping others. By saying “yes” more than “no” (with some exceptions)), you are not only helping others, but increasing your network. By increasing your network, you are also expanding your business.
    That’s how I see it, anyway. Hope it helps.

  • Stephen "Steve" Q Shannon says:

    Sheila comes closest to my mind-set. With 22 contiguous years doing what I love to do 99% of the time, lately I put a “governor” on my responses by saying what I am told they say in Tennessee, “Let me think on it”.

    What happens more often than not is that one of the Chrises, Seth, Meg, Valeria or an outlier post will provide the germ for saying “yes” or “no”.

    Then I tend to feel more confident, enthusiastic, and ultimately more effective in “shipping” the end product. Finally, woven into all this is the promise I often make to me, “Push your strengths (gifts)”.

    Nearly as joyful is recommending others who WOW the questioner, big time. That is a secret thrill of mine, howabout you? sQs Delray Beach FL

  • Jussy says:

    The question is part of a review cycle of all commitments and opportunities.

    This isnt a one time opportunity. If you say yes you can always try the opportunity and say no. You’re free to change you mind.

  • moom says:

    Actually, Steve Jobs was all about saying no to bad designs and ideas. Read the new book anti-fragility by Nassim Nicholas Taleb and the idea of “via negativa”.

    You are right that when you start out your career you want to say yes to lots of things and see what works. But after that you need to get more selective and put your energy into the things with the highest payoffs as everyone only has limited time. I think a lot of people don’t do that and get stuck doing mediocre stuff.

  • Heather Allard says:

    Chris – I love this way of looking at opportunities and I have especially enjoyed Chris Brogan’s latest newsletters on building a “human business”. I’ve been at it for five years and have gotten a *little* bit away from the human side of it and from putting my community first, and you + Chris B have put me back on the righteous path. 🙂

    Thank you! And enjoy your visit to the last two countries on your list!


  • says:

    At the moment I’m straddling two roles – one as a senior level employee and one building my own business.
    On the entrepreneurial / business side, I totally agree – yes is always the way to new and important paths and opportunities.
    As an an IN-trapreneur / employee, when someone wants a piece of me, my filter questions are: Am I the ONLY person who can do this? Am I the BEST person to do this? How well does it sit with the path I’ve laid out for my role? How wide will the benefits / impact reach if I do this (is it just that person, or their team, or the entire business)? And finally, how soon will this benefit / impact be realised?
    By the time I’ve filtered it through those questions, it’s crystal clear whether I should, can and will do it!

  • Warren Talbot says:

    An excellent question Chris, and one we embrace with a yes with each and every opportunity that comes our way. Whether it is saying yes to a radio interview, a new potential direction, or an offer from someone to come to spend time in Slovenia – we’ve said yes to all and have great memories and business results to show for it all.

    Saying yes, especially when it makes you uncomfortable, is the difference between success and mediocrity.

  • The Livewell Playground says:

    Whether saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ I think the important first step is to assess honestly where you are coming from when deciding. What inside you is really driving the decision? Are you being authentic to your values and goals? Are you making decisions out of fear? panic? greed? lust? etc.
    Start with the self and if you are perfectly comfortable with your agenda, you will be perfectly comfortable with the outcome – if it works or doesn’t.
    Love your musings Chris.
    A delight and a gift.

  • Bobby Galvan says:

    It’s always a dangerous mindset to be absolute with anything. Rather than commit to a philosophy of denial or agreement, it is far more effective (and challenging) to weigh each opportunity as it arises and rely on your judgment in the moment, not some decision you made weeks ago about how you plan to react to new opportunities.

  • P. Cruickshank-Schott says:

    I did not see the focus of the original challenging question as you seem to, on commitment, but rather on expanding opportunities for service within one’s circle… This doesn’t, of course, demand that you stay only ‘within’ your circle emotionally, spiritually, or even geographically… As we know, any pull on the tiniest piece of the web affects (and effects) all other parts of the web… so with planning and focussed intention, once and benefit and serve one’s community while hiking in Nepal….

    I hope I am moving toward the question – How can I make every one of my efforts be another pebble dropped in the river of relationships in ways that will ripple out further and further into the world…. How can I serve others, especially those near and dear.. but always knowing that when successfully doing this, one most often also creates benefits for those near and dear to the ones who are near and dear to me… and so it goes, good spreading ever outward… opportunities creating opportunities… caring for one’s self, serving one’s community, loving the world… and all benefiting…

  • gary Sanchez says:

    Who you serve, just like who a business targets, is a choice that needs to be weighed against your own goals, resources, and developmental / growth desires. Chris may prefer to invest / serve as deeply as possible into his own tribe, but why wouldn’t serving new people be just as valid a choice? Your gift is yours to offer to those you already serve, or those who await your service. Do you want to be a pastor or a missionary? They are both honorable choices.

  • Sea says:

    Learning to say no was such a huge thing for me to learn. I’m glad I’ve gotten the hang of it. But there is no growth without the occasional ‘yes’.

    My goal is for the community I serve to become serving within themselves. They cannot need me forever – that’s not mine to give and I have to respect their need to grow, as well.

  • Jeanette says:

    So here’s another exactly-the-right-moment reply to your most recent blog.

    Just a few weeks ago I was offered an AMAZING opportunity to travel the U.S. as an aerial performer with the Beatty Circus. It is a 6-month contract in a show catered to classic rock music (I know!); all expenses paid and a $1,500/month stipend. So, what’s the problem?

    I’ve got a 20-month-old and a husband at home. Both of them in casts (my son was born with a clubbed foot and my husband the victim of a violent crime).

    This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity as well as one that will obviously enhance my career (I’m currently an aerial and dance choreographer looking to open a brick-and-mortar business next year). But … I have family obligations.

    What would you do?

    Thanks in advance!

  • kathryn says:

    I’d only say yes to something if I was absolutely sure I could commit, having been on the other side. it’s better to say no and not screw people over or work your guts out to make sure you do what you say you would do.

  • danabeesvoice says:

    No. I am so stretched at this point, a yes would mean a no to what I’m already doing. Serving no one. Hard to say no, but sometimes it means a yes to something that matters to you and that needs your attention now.

  • Kris Ferris says:

    This very question has been on my mind for some time. As an aging musician I am seeing the writing on the wall as to the fact that the quality of my performance is diminishing and as is my stamina . So, I am reinventing what I do while staying in the music world. I am trying on some new hats and, though I am enjoying them immensely, I do often check in with myself by asking how this serves those that already follow me. Fortunately so far I have received positive feedback which spurs me on.

    I am saying YES to new things and NO to old ones!

  • Idaho_Common_Tater says:

    Life changed a bunch when I retired. The old structure went away pretty dog gonned fast. I find trying new things is something to be open to, but also being ready to drop things in a heart beat after a taste, when you know it isn’t for you. Life as tapas. As you get older you don’t want to hang on to time grinders that aren’t satisfying, “just because.” Dabble. Stay with wat satisfies, dump what doesn’t. Life is short. Use what you have seeking the best and not trying to turn clay into gold or frogs into princesses…or some such metaphor.

  • Nicholas Kahler says:

    The trouble with opportunity is that people put too much emphasis on the outcome. Where does this fit, what is the impact, and how will my tribe and I benefit?

    What you should be focused on, are the actions that lead to the new circumstance in the first place. Opportunities exist everywhere, it’s the choices we make that lead us to the right ones.

  • Who says:

    Excessive “yes” = foolishness
    Excessive “no” = stagnation
    Discernment between the two = wisdom

  • Nicholas says:

    The crux of your question: is not to say “no”, but to embrace “yes”, and then you go on to say that SJ and RB were “somewhat selective out of necessity at some point”.

    I have read a little bit about S. Jobs (nothing about Branson) and it was obvious that he was not interested in “serving the community I already have.” Rather, he wanted to create a new and like-minded community around his vision He was a fanatic and oftentimes not even respectful of the accepted wisdom – he was a zealot and uncompromising.

    According to his biographers he said “no” and alienated people regularly.

  • lisa says:

    Many thoughtful responses.
    Earnest’s comments ring so true for me these days. It is easy to be so wrapped up in your own stuff that 1) you do miss opportunities to say “yes” , and 2) I’m feeling this a lot lately, if it’s not good for others too it’s not so fulfilling.
    Happy New Year every one!

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