Maybe is not an option

Yes or no, maybe is not an option. If you don’t want to say yes, say no. Maybe doesn’t cut it, maybe doesn’t do anything, maybe simply postpones the inevitable. It’s either a yes, or a no. If you don’t want it, just say no and move on. It might sound simple, but not many people do it.

Maybe is expensive, when a country chooses to leave a union and it can’t decide on an exit strategy for a definitive yes, saying maybe and prolonging the decision doesn’t do anyone any good, it simply prolongs the inevitable. If yes isn’t a good idea, why not just say no?

Sure, it’s not easy, hard decisions are never easy. But what’s the alternative? What are you sacrificing by saying maybe? You don’t need more data, you need to make a decision, a good decision. And most of the time, you already know what it is. You’re just afraid to shoulder the responsibility.

The pressure

Because her supervisor called in sick, the graduate has to sit in her supervisor’s meeting with all the big bosses. She has to do her supervisor’s job, present the case for their subdivision and deliver the bad news, news which her supervisor was supposed to deliver. What do you think went through the graduate’s mind?

In the workplace, it’s not uncommon for bad things to happen. Someone made a mistake on the spec sheet resulting in a lot of malfunctions, someone forgot to update the charts and it cost the organization some significant dollar signs, or some unexpected problem appears and no one knows how to fix it.

If the person in charge is you, or if you are the person who made the mistake, you’re going to face some serious pressure, pressure from the higher-ups, your boss, your boss’s boss and so on. And you’re supposed to be able to withstand all that pressure and make your case.

“This is what went wrong, this is what we’re going to do to fix things, and this is how we make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

That’s what all managers want to hear. But what if you can’t answer those questions? What if you don’t know what went wrong, or how to fix it, or how to prevent it from happening again? Or what if this is the same thing that happened last month and the month before?

Would you call in sick and let someone else handle the pressure? Your direct report, that new graduate with only two years of experience, would you leave it to her? And if you really are sick, would it justify passing on all the pressure and responsibility to her?

That poor young graduate, standing alone in a room full of people twice her age, people with more than ten times her experience. What do you think she’s going to do? What would you do if you were in her shoes?

Would you withstand all that pressure and face it head on? “We don’t know but we’re working to find out. Yes, we take full responsibility for that and we’ll work over the weekend if necessary. Yes, we will commit to a report by those dates.”

Or would you deflect it all back to your supervisor, taking zero responsibility for anything? “I don’t know, wait for my supervisor to come back. I’m not sure, let me try calling my supervisor. She’s not answering, can you guys ask her when she gets back? Can’t we reschedule this for some other time? I don’t know, why are you asking me?”

Or would you just protect yourself? “I’m not the one who made that decision. No, I wasn’t aware of that, or that. What’s that? Oh, we have that? Sorry, I didn’t know, I thought it was always this way instead of that. I don’t know really, I’m not the one responsible.”

You might think that it’s not your responsibility, that they can’t expect you to handle all this, and you’re right. You are completely right. But consider this. Sooner or later, it will be your responsibility and you will be the one expected to handle all this. And when the time comes, I hope you don’t pass it on to someone else.

We are only human, no one is built to be able to withstand such pressure straight from day one. The only way to build up your resistance is to practice. Stop trying to run and hide, start standing up for yourself and face the pressure. Face it head on, be comfortable with it and take the responsibility.

The graduate will get nothing but praises if she stood her ground, especially when she’s not even expected to. Society likes people who can lead and take responsibility, people who aren’t afraid of mistakes and failures, people who stood their ground and understood what they’re in for.

The world needs more people who can be counted on.


The inspiration for this came from what my friend went through a few years ago.

Taking responsibility

For too long, I’ve been doing things passively. Too long have I been simply taking instructions and executing on them. I mean, what can I do? I am but a kid with no authority, why would anyone listen to me? It’s not my call to decide on things, that’s what bosses and supervisors are for.

But what does it matter?

There were times when I was given authority. When my words could influence people and change how things will turn out. But I never used it. Why? Because I was scared. I was scared of being wrong. I was scared of making a mistake. Most importantly, I was scared of letting others down.

Aren’t you just trying to run away?

It’s actually very convenient not to have any authority. It’s the perfect excuse to not do anything, to not make any decision, and to avoid bearing any risks.

But authority doesn’t actually work, it merely asks others to comply, by force if necessary. Hardly do most people comply willingly just because of authority alone. Authority is even less attractive when you consider that it’s hard to get, in addition to being ineffective.

On the other hand, anyone can take responsibility. A certain magic happens when you take responsibility. People start following you, they start listening to you. Despite not having any authority, people do what you ask them to. Most importantly, they do it willingly.

Why is that? It’s because when you take responsibility for something you’re not responsible for, you’re saying that you care. That you have its best interest at heart. That you want to help make a difference. This isn’t something you can easily prove with just authority alone.

But taking responsibility is hard, it’s full of risks and takes a lot of work. And despite that, you are still going to do it anyway. Why? It’s because you know that it’s important.

You have your priorities wrong

It’s not that I have my priorities wrong, you have my priorities wrong.

You can’t tell me what my priorities are, I decide what they are.

My priorities are my priorities, not yours, I am responsible for them.

It’s a big responsibility and it’s okay to get it wrong. Lot of people get it wrong, but not many take the responsibility.

Whatever you choose to prioritize, no one can tell you otherwise. They can advise you, guide you, and try to persuade you otherwise.

But ultimately, you are the main character of your life. You choose your priorities, you are responsible for them.