In What Got You Here Won't Get You There, the authors explain that the same behaviors that lead to our success are paradoxically the same that can hold us back. This paradox leads to a predicament when it comes to opportunity. We live in a sea of opportunity, especially with technical communication. We can serve in our local STC chapter, serve on a SIG, write articles for newsletters, submit presentations for conferences, start our own training or consulting service, record podcasts -- opportunities abound. We're often invited to serve, to participate and contribute in a variety of activities around us. But should we?
Sometimes saying Yes to these opportunities can lead to unexpected connections and benefits. For example, when I volunteered to be the chapter webmaster in Florida years ago, it was there that I discovered WordPress (tinkering around in the cPanel). My experimentation with WordPress prompted me to start blogging.
On the other hand, saying Yes sometimes doesn't bring fruit at all. Early last year I was invited to be a columnist for Elephant, an Israel-based community site. I wrote a few articles and, not finding any reward, decided to call it quits.
Committing to too many activities can limit your ability to go past your current level. If you throw yourself headlong into a dozen different directions, you end up without much time left. This is partly what the authors mean when they say, what got you here (accepting opportunities given to you) won't get you there (because you overcommit yourself and can't deliver). On the other hand, sometimes these activities build on each other and help you go farther than you could by doing only one or two.
I'm partly writing about this because I saw Yes Man last night with Shannon. In the movie, Jim Carey begins to say "Yes" to anything people ask him, turning from a sedentary life of inaction and self-centeredness to one in which he gets outside himself and connects with others around him.
As he says Yes, life begins to fall in place. The Korean lessons he takes (because someone invites him) help him lift a Korean woman from despair. His chauffeuring of a homeless person leads to a chance encounter with a woman who later becomes his girlfriend. His learning of the guitar helps him save a man posed on a ledge. His approval of every micro loan request lands him a job in corporate.
His life all starts to fit together the more he embraces the opportunities and invitations around him.
You never know how the dots of your life may connect. Perhaps it is better to say Yes more than No -- it gives you more dots to connect.
About Tom Johnson
I'm a technical writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.