Why Yoko Ono is Wrong About How to Run Your Career

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Apologies for the eyebrow arching headline, but, hey, it worked: You're reading this far! Bear with me for a second, because there's a story about how John Lennon met Yoko Ono that I think is symptomatic of the way a lot of people run their careers. It has to do with her piece 'Ceiling Painting 1966.' Here's Lennon, from Yoko Ono's official Flickr, of all places, that cuts to the heart of what I'll be talking about here: 

But it was another piece that really decided me for or against the artist: a ladder that led to a painting, which was hung on the ceiling. It looked like a white canvas with a chain with a spyglass hanging on the end of it. I climbed the ladder, looked through the spyglass, and in tiny little letters it said, YES.

So it was positive. I felt relieved. It's a great relief when you get up the ladder and you look through the spyglass and it doesn't say NO… 

Truth is, "yes" is a powerful word. It's an even more powerful concept. It allows things to happen. I've built my career on saying yes to all sorts of opportunities. There gets to be a point, however, where saying yes means you're starting to spread yourself too thin, working on things that really don't further your purpose, or even worse, can hurt you irreparably.

Job-talk site The Levo League has a fantastic post on this very topic, with the headline: "Just Say No: How 'Yes' Could Be Hurting You Professionally." The author writes about how she thought "to be the best employee possible, I believed, I had to be willing to do everything asked of me."

She tells her story of realizing the power of "no," but the part most relevant to entrepreneurs comes at the end with how to say it. This won't work so much for people who telecommute, although it might, if you use Google Docs or some sort of online organizational tool that allows transparency: Make your to-do list visible to all. Here's why:

Make your daily routine transparent to your superiors, and to those who would impinge on your time, to help prevent having to awkwardly turn down tasks in the first place. On any given day, your bosses have a lot to do, so they’re probably not fully aware of everything you’ve got going on in your agenda. That could explain why they expect so much of you, so put your “to do” list high up on the wall for all to see. 

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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