For students who are in graduate school, saying “yes,” can feel like a must. Graduate school, for most, was our identity, life, and job. Upon graduation, our roles change, we further develop our professional identity and our hours change. In this new chapter of our lives, as early career psychologists, saying yes becomes a choice. We are no longer matched; we not only choose our place of employment, we have more control over our role at our job. Thus, we do not have to feel the pressure to say yes to boost our curriculum vitae or impress an advisor (Toor, 2010). However, navigating this transition can be challenging for some; therefore, here are some points to consider in helping us when deciding whether to say yes.
Saying yes can influence numerous areas of our professional and personal lives. Deciding whether a yes is warranted requires deciding how much of an impact such an obligation would have on our lives. Therefore, it is important to consider the outcomes when making that choice. Before moving forward, we need to start this discussion by saying it is okay to say no. For some people, no is a “four-letter word,” but this reflection is about giving us the freedom to say no by focusing on when to say yes. So, as early career psychologists, we will have multiple chances to say yes. Examining why and when we will say yes can increase the fruitfulness of the times when we decide to say yes. Similarly, as we move from early career psychologists towards becoming mid-career psychologists with more ease defining our direction (Markin, 2014), we can use our current vision for ourselves to help guide which opportunities to which we say yes.
To begin, we should look at all the positives that can come from agreeing to take something on—such as how saying yes can help us in achieving our career goals, building relationships, and increasing personal growth. In addition, saying yes can be personally rewarding, as well.
First, saying yes can build relationships within our places of employment, increase referrals, and give us a greater presence in our communities. An ECP may benefit from both current and future prospects from these relationships. By networking, we can open new pathways for our careers, research, and mentorship. Thus, we should ask, “where does saying yes take me?” Accepting opportunities can help us garner more administrative exposure as well as help us gain more responsibility in our workplaces. Consider saying yes when it gives you the chance for career advancement in a desired direction. For example, McCarthy’s (2014) advice to “never turn down the opportunity to give a talk” (p. 27) rings true when discussing the importance of saying yes. This is due to the multiple ways presenting can benefit us outside of the presentation itself, which can include networking, demonstrating expertise, and personal growth. New career doors or possibilities for advancement might be other benefits from saying yes.
Knowing about and reflecting on these benefits is an important step in making decisions about how to spend one’s professional development time as an ECP. “Yes” could allow us to be a part of an important grant, obtain a teaching position, or offer other unique experiences that could have substantial positive effects on our careers.
Next, we are in this field to do many things, personally and professionally, but the cornerstone of our field is changing people’s lives and having a positive impact on others. Therefore, when yes involves impacting others in a significant way, saying yes should be easier. Whether yes is volunteering at a soup kitchen or participating in awareness walks, our presence and empathy can greatly impact individuals’ lives. Think about the talents we have to offer as professionals in this field: By saying yes to certain things, we are able to use those talents/skills/expertise to improve others’ lives.
We should also ask ourselves if saying yes will expose us to new cultures, values, and diversity in experience. These kinds of opportunities will assist in our cultural competence and broaden our experiences with differing or new worldviews. Understanding and appreciating other cultures is a positive result from saying yes, and recognizing this as a chance to give and learn is a major benefit professionally and personally.
Finally, saying yes has an impact on who we are as a person. In addition to the impact we can have on others, saying yes can have a positive impact on us individually. The right opportunity might help us overcome confidence hurdles, self-doubt, and imposter feelings. “Yes” can allow us to further build/apply our expertise in areas we have developed, show our willingness to be team players, and help cement our professional identities. As McCarthy (2014) noted, saying yes to talks allows individuals to deeply engage in their own expertise and changes individuals on a professional level, which then can be generalized to other situations.
Therefore, there are significant reasons why we would benefit from saying yes, which can include career advancement, creating new career opportunities, networking, increasing diversity experiences, positively impacting others, and growing personally as well as professionally. There are multiple reasons to say yes, and these should be considered carefully when opportunities arise. However, like every coin there is another side. Therefore, other aspects of our decision-making should be explored to better understand the limits for when we say yes.
When thinking about all the reasons to say yes, ECPs should also think about any potential pitfalls from doing so. First, how are we going to plan self-care after saying yes? Are there time-related issues which would result in us feeling pressured, burned out, or rushed to a final product? We must also consider how this new responsibility may take us away from other regularly assigned duties or responsibilities at our main place of employment. Then, we should contemplate whether the tasks to which we are saying yes are reasonable or may take more time than available or pull us away from personal and professional goals. If so, would we feel comfortable saying yes?
In addition to the impact saying yes can have on us, we must also think about how it impacts our significant others and family—which may outweigh the benefits of saying yes. Is it possible to say yes and maintain our healthy relationships? We will need to plan how to work this new opportunity into our lives in a way that does not create ruptures or undue stress on our relationships. Consequently, thinking about how saying yes would impact our relationships is vital and must be something to consider.
Before agreeing to a new obligation, we should ask: Does the time commitment take up weekends or nights, and will there be increased stress from work? If we still say yes to the opportunity, we will have to think about how it fits into our personal lives. This is important because multiple factors in a psychologist’s life, such as work-life balance and spending time with family and friends, have been found to impact psychologists’ level of satisfaction in their careers (Rupert, Stevanovic, Tuminello Hartman, Bryant, & Miller, 2012). We will need to find ways to integrate the additional task into our balance between work and our personal lives. Thus, consider how long the commitment is to the task. Is the experience temporary or is it a shift in roles? These considerations help inform us about potential issues with time commitments and how new commitments may impact our lives.
Finally, as ECPs we must be mindful of any ethical issues or dilemmas that may result from responding with a yes. We must be conscious of any blind spots the requesting person (or we) may have about any ethical issues that are present or could arise. We should ask, is the person making the request someone who passes the buck? A mentor or possible mentor? And does this individual have our best interests in mind? The role of the person doing the asking in relation to our existing job structure can indicate something about the priority of the task, the value of what is being requested, and the impact yes (or no) might have on our organizations as a whole.
As ECPs, we must consider what will be the end result of saying yes. Is saying yes in line with our career goals and aspirations? Knowing what the end will look like can give us greater insight into the value and worth of the task we are considering to engage in to grow. We then will be better equipped in planning and knowing how impactful our endeavors will be for us. Thus, saying yes has many advantages and knowing when to say yes can maximize those benefits. Considering when and why we are saying yes allows us to feel confident in our decisions to say no. Thinking about yes gives us options, and knowing we have those choices is empowering at this stage of our careers. Examining all the positives and potential pitfalls of saying yes gives us more data points and a better idea of possible outcomes. So, good luck with your decision-making and may you be successful in all the future opportunities you choose to take.