Best Advice: Find someone who says Yes

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This week LinkedIn has been running a feature in which its commentators are writing about the best advice they ever got. I got mine on my second day as a freshman at the University of Michigan. (If I had realized at the time that my college education had just peaked, I might have saved myself four years and a lot of money.)

The dormitory resident advisor for my floor was telling us freshmen about not just surviving, but thriving in a university with 35,000 students and at one point he said, “Michigan is a big bureaucracy. And when you want to do something, the first person you ask will often tell you No. So just keeping asking people until you find someone who says Yes, and take that as your answer.”

Whether in sales, or running a business, or dating, or so many other things, that simple, optimistic phrasing of persevering has been invaluable because much of the time, maybe most of the time, people won’t initially agree with me. (Every great idea starts out with a following of one.) In some cases I can convince them to change their minds. But in many cases that’s a dead end and it’s simply faster, easier, or more successful to move on to find the people who do agree with me, and ignore the naysaysers.

That doesn’t mean that it’ll necessarily be easy, of course. When I decided I wanted to break into the professional video field in Boston in the ’80s, in which most of the jobs were short term jobs whether on  a crew, writing a script or directing a piece, I started to network. And one person I met early on said that it typically would take 18 months for a new person to get their career going. That was about what it turned out to be for me, too, because with so many other young people trying to also get jobs I had to be seen more than once and get known before people were going to take a chance on hiring me. But eventually some people did start to say Yes, and I was off and running.

So don’t be afraid to ask. And if it’s important to you, don’t take No for an answer. Find someone who says Yes.

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