Say “No” Like a Pro

“He’s dead.” These were the first words out of the mouth of the woman at the other end of the phone. All I wanted was the money, but my words evaporated like a fog in the morning sun. I put my head down on the old oaken desk and realized that my detective days were nearing an end. I had discovered that I, myself, was the culprit!

This sounds like an old piece of pulp fiction, I know, but there’s a lesson to be learned in the true story that you will read in a moment. It’s a lesson of self-discovery: a lesson about learning who I am not.

I’ve always hated fundraising. I still do. But it took years and years for me to discover that not only did it bring me no joy, but also that I was really terrible at it.

At 16, I was asked to participate in a phone-a-thon to ask for donations from alumni of my school. I responded with an enthusiastic, “Yes.”

And here is the result of my very first call:

“Hello, this is Cadet Tobin from Valley Forge Military Academy. May I please speak with Mr. Smith?”

Woman’s voice: “You can’t. He’s dead.”

(Okay, so I’m already off to very bad start. And it is about to get much worse.)

“I am so sorry,” I said.

Woman: “No, you don’t understand. He just died.”

Again, “I’m sorry, ma’am. If you will please allow me to update our records…”

Woman, now quite agitated: “No. You don’t understand. He just died. The paramedics are here right now!”


My very first attempt at a whole new world of opportunities exploded in my face like a cream pie on a candidate. Since then I’ve never taken any joy in fundraising, yet the strong pull of obligation has caused me to continue doing it for years.┬áThat is, until I discovered something. I’d discovered I was the culprit in my own failure.

Doing activities that go against the grain of your self, is like rowing your way against the strong and endless turbulence of a river. It’s exhausting. Progress, if any, is slow. You become frustrated, and – perhaps unbeknownst to you – your frustration becomes evident to observers on the shore.

Knowing who you are not is as important as knowing who you are. Do things against the grain of your self and you will waste time and energy, and impede your own progress.

Progress is best made when you power down the river of your strengths. When you are asked to participate in an activity that does not resonate with who you are, say so. Here’s how: “Thank you. I’m flattered, but I can assure you that I am not the right person for that job. I appreciate your interest in me. Perhaps I can help you find someone who is better suited.”

Use your detective cap and have a good look at yourself. Don’t feel embarrassed that you don’t excel in everything. Embrace your strengths as well as your weaknesses and get on with it.

A little detective work – and a bit of courage – is all you need.

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One Response to Say “No” Like a Pro

  1. Dave Getz says:

    I’m not a fundraiser either!

    I learned from a pastor many years ago that I have to say “no” from time to time. He said “Dave, I’ve buried too many men your age who could not say no and died from the stress.” Now THERE’S a life lesson!

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