Yes or No? – Professional Karma depends on two little words
Yes or No?
Sigh. It’s a challenging question. When you’re building up your CV the answer is more obvious; it should always be Yes, right? Unless you’re already writing to capacity. Then No… definitely No. Or maybe it’s Maybe? Hmmm, maybe.
There are many factors to deciding between Yes or No. A while ago Canadian television scribe Denis McGrath’s Dead Things On Sticks gave us an insightful little post on taking the job even if you have misgivings about how good or cool the show is (Take the Damn Job). It talks compellingly about the benefits of saying Yes.
Whether you are working on A, B and C level jobs, you are learning, growing and making important contacts. The truth is everyone on every show is trying to make the best show they can. Factors like money, pride and an inability to see how to accomplish that goal can get in the way. But the underlying desire to succeed is there.
But when the dung hits the fan people remember a person who stayed fun and worked their ass of to solve problems and not add to them. And that results in building what we like to call, a “professional reputation”. And while you’re building your “professional reputation” you also learn the ropes, learn how to break stories, learn about the elements outside your control that affect your script, what “not to do” and what really helps motivate people.
Every job is a chance to grow, learn, develop your craft, network, and get better. But Yes has its downside. In a post entitled, Busy, Busy, Busy – Quality vs. Quantity, Stark Raving Adevntureblog wrote about how always saying Yes can result in being overloaded and unable to focus all your energies on producing your best work. And the truth is, when we grow accustomed to saying Yes to everything, we may find ourselves ignoring those alarm bells that warn us of troubled waters ahead.
“Oh, your company has changed names twice in the last two years and you have a reputation for not paying? That’s okay.” – Alarm Bell!
“You’ve gone through six development writers, want to pay half-price and you’re already six months behind schedule? No problem.” – Alarm Bell!
“You want your show to do everything – appeal to a demographic stretching from pre-school to pre-college with edgy irreverent humour, compelling drama, poop jokes and several moments to hawk toys?” – Alarm Bell!
Asking questions about a gig before signing on the dotted line is healthy and important. Just be sure you’re asking questions about what would be good for you about it and not arrogantly assuming you deserve a better assignment handed to you on a silver platter.
No, despite its undeserved negative connotations, can be a powerful zen tool as well.
I still remember the first time I was able to honestly say I was too busy to take a gig I knew would be a nightmare. It was the truth, I was too busy to add anything else to my plate, especially something that would require endless rewrites, dealing with undecided, flailing clients, didn’t pay commensurate with the workload, and likely would result in people placing much of the blame on me whether the show ended up being a hit or not.
It was literally like lifting a weight off my shoulders when I finally said No. The Zen of having an honest No in my arsenal was empowering and freeing.
That’s the Zen of a well-timed No.
No is also about being honest and professional. If you can’t bring your A-game to a project because you’ve already got deadlines to meet on another, you’re doing me a favour by letting me know. All story editors have tales of writers handing in work that was obviously a hurried, overnight first pass because they didn’t want to tell the SE they were too busy.
Result? The Story Editor has to spend days rewriting their so-called work and will likely strike those writers off their list of people they’ll work with. Even new SE’s have a short list of dependable scribes who deliver quality work fast and get in touch with them at the first sign of problems so they could work through them together. Why waste more time on someone who couldn’t, or wouldn’t do any of those things?
In this case, a simple No from the writer would have made both their lives easier. The least they could have done was explain the situation so the two could work an alternate approach of adjust the schedule.
The karma of Yes or No.
Two little words that can be your best friend if you use them well and your worst nightmare if you don’t.