x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Learning when to say no can be so hard - and so right

Turning down a business opportunity can be hard. But if you cannot fully commit to the project, it is the right thing to do, writes Manar Al Hinai.

For much of my life, I have prided myself on my determination in the face of obstacles and a refusal to give up on my dreams. Letting go of a goal felt like failure and a betrayal to myself - both unacceptable to me.

I have no doubt that perseverance has influenced whatever success I have had. Ironically, I have also come to realise that this same perseverance equates to a burden that I no longer feel is acceptable when it comes to ensuring the success of my business and writing career.

Letting go of a business opportunity is one of the hardest things to do, probably because it runs against any business and marketing lesson I have been taught about developing one's business, pushing one's career forward, as well as attracting clients.

A few weeks ago, an editor of a publication discussed with me the possibility of my becoming a contributing columnist. Her thorough email explained how I would be an asset to her group of talented writers.

"I am really sorry," I found myself replying. "I don't think that I can accept the offer at this point." The editor was stunned, and, quite frankly, so was I.

I could not believe that I had just let go of an opportunity and an editor who was explicitly interested in my talent. However, I was relieved - experiencing that lighter feeling one gets after doing the right thing.

I knew it was better for both of us, as I could not put my whole heart into it.

A couple of weeks later, a similar scenario occurred. A business person approached me with a proposal that we collaborate on a fashion exhibition in which I could exhibit my line of clothing.

Sure, it was an interesting idea, and an opportunity to expose my small business to potential clients. Two days into thinking it over, I declined the offer.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not inclining to any belief that the way to build a successful business is to regularly turn down opportunities. But I felt I had to prioritise more wisely, to make room for opportunities that were most rewarding on all levels and would ensure self-fulfillment.

Perhaps one of the most valuable lessons I learnt in my two years of managing my small business and writing career is that not every opportunity is right for me. I had to figure out the project for which I was most suited, and then be willing to say no to potential opportunities that would not serve me well in the long run.

I am learning to let go when it is clear that an opportunity does not match my aims. To learn how to say no not only saves energy, but perhaps also your business in the long run.

Allow me to illustrate. The father of a dear father was eager to become a leading businessman. After retiring from his government post, he decided to focus on developing his filter factories as well as establishing various small businesses. When people suggested ideas, he did not decline, even though he was not wholeheartedly into them.

Several months later, he had expended a great deal of energy and lost money.

He eventually had to sell his small businesses and focus on his factory - the activity he was good at to begin with. Now it is one of the leading companies in its field.

What some of my business peers find hard about letting go of a potential client or a business proposal is the assumption that they might feel an enduring sense of a lost opportunity, when in reality they could be making more room to focus on key areas that would make their businesses thrive.

Forgoing an opportunity may be less a sign of failure and more an indication of an intelligent sacrifice.

But how do we know when to back out, or jump in regarding a project or a client we are pursuing? Think about the answers to the following questions. How important will this be to me in a year? Is there a more productive project or client with whom I could be investing my time?

Once you answer those questions, you will know exactly what to do.

Manar Al Hinai is an Emirati fashion designer and writer. She can be followed on Twitter: @manar_alhinai