Push So Hard You Get A No – My Story of Persistence and Success
Close your eyes. This is you. A young girl in a rural town. A ranch kid with lots of grit and little finesse. Big dreams. Big goals. No direction. You have fire in your belly about changing the world and even though you don’t have a plan you know you’ll make it happen someday.
Living in a small part of the world, you’re surrounded by people who chuckle when you say you’re going to make big waves. They clap you on the back and politely and patronizingly smile and say, “Well good luck to ya, we’ll be here when you come back”. Of course, that sends you into a tailspin of internal questioning about your own goals.
I was challenged and questioned my whole life about my zany personality, about my desire to get out of my hometown, my ambition to be a badass. There were several times when I thought they were right. Perhaps I should change my desire to reflect what the other girls wanted. But, at the end of the day and with lots of support from my parents, I decided to follow my path. That’s the first lesson in pushing hard – be sure you’re living your dreams, not someone else’s.
Don’t choose to live by other people’s standards, expectations or dreams. Think about what you want. It doesn’t need to be practical or rational; it only needs to be yours.
I headed out for Creighton University in Omaha, NE. Scared to death and with crocodile tears in my eyes I peered out my rear-view mirror at my dad and my little sisters who were all crying, and I thought, honestly – this sucks. That was the first and hardest “no” I got. I wanted to give up, to change my mind; I wanted to enroll at a college in my backyard and be there to watch my sisters grow up. But I wouldn’t let myself, I said “no”. And it was, arguably, one of the best decisions I’ve made to date.
At Creighton, I was surrounded by successful professors, entrepreneurs, global students, and hard workers. If you want more, better, stronger, faster, you have to be around those people that think and act that way. At school, I learned how to give and take a “no”. The lessons didn’t come without some tears and frustration but learning how to gracefully take a “no” and turn it into an opportunity was a major win for me in my career.
The Wonder Years
Have you ever looked back at a part of your life and wondered what in the world you were thinking? I call those the Wonder Years. After several years as a career woman, I still felt unfulfilled. I was capable of more but I felt like, being a young female in a rural midwestern town, the universe was giving me a “no”. I finally decided not to let the universe decide my fate.
I started asking around about opportunities for work and one night in a bar at a wedding reception an acquaintance told me about the perfect opportunity. Well, almost perfect. It was about an hour’s drive from home and that seemed untenable for my new mom brain. I had to do some fast talking internally to convince myself it was the right decision.
I remember talking to one of my friends about it and I pushed so hard on the idea that it might make me a bad mom I got a “no” from her. One of those “should have had a V-8” kind of no’s. Sometimes you must be unreasonable with your trusted advisors to get them to push you.
So, uncertain and nervous as hell, I took the job.
I was pushed to many no’s when I first started. I was hired as the HR Generalist and when I discovered that my supervisor thought one of my most important tasks was to show up early to make coffee for other capable, able-bodied adults – yeah, no. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “Well Sue used to….for me.” And I would assertively respond, “Too bad she’s not here anymore then, huh?”.
Here’s the thing, women have a bad habit of solving too many problems for others. We’re worried about what the consequences might be if we push until we get a “that’s not how it used to be”. Push until you make people uncomfortable; they won’t thank you that day but eventually, they’ll look back and be happy that the experience changed.
Now, one of my favorite and defining moments of my career was explaining (not asking) for a promotion. I had been working in this role for a year-and-a-half and was spinning out new ideas and improvements. I had certainly outgrown the salary associated with the “coffee-making” expectations.
I developed an argument with examples to explain why I deserved a promotion and I got a “no”. So I revamped my message and pushed again and…I got it! It worked so good I did it twice more and, when I left, I was the Human Resources Manager with a comprehensive compensation package. You have to be willing to push for a “no” and BEYOND!
That role made me brave enough to push for no’s elsewhere. I decided the final(ish) frontier of no’s must certainly be entrepreneurship. I was right. From bossy book agents only concerned with social media following to potential clients telling you your own business, I have heard lots of no’s. Those no’s have made me stronger and more diligent. It’s important to look for those no’s. They help you set your expectations and follow your heart.
Frankly, those no’s are the only way you know you’re trying hard enough to be satisfied with yourself.