How a Single Word Changed a Career

How a Single Word Changed a Career

Tom Hanks is one of the most recognized and honored actors of all time. But it wasn’t always that way. Like most of us, like Hanks at some point in your career, you started at the bottom.

Hanks began his career in the world of comedy, with highlights including the TV show Bosom Buddies and romantic comedies like Turner & Hooch, Splash, and Bachelor Party. He was building his career and paying the bills, but not doing anything that was memorable and Oscar-worthy.

The two-time Oscar winner admitted what he had to do in order to go from making box office bombs like Joe Versus the Volcano to critically acclaimed hits like Philadelphia in a recent interview with John Oliver at the Tribeca Film Festival.

And it started with a single word. No.

Speaking about the variety of film roles he was being offered, Hanks had this to say (as reported by Business Insider):

I realized then that I had to start saying a very very difficult word to people, which was “no.”

The odd lesson for that is I figured out that’s how you end up making the favorable work you do…Saying yes, then you just work. But saying no means you made the choice of the type of story you wanted to tell and the type of character you want to play.

Thinking about the type of character you want to play in your career, there’s a lot of wisdom in these words not just for actors.

Others have touted the remarkable power of that two-letter word. For example, Apple design chief Jony Ive remembers how Steve Jobs was able to stay focused on whatever it was that he was working on. Ive shared on stage at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit, that nearly every day Jobs would ask Ive the same question:

“How many times did you say no today?”

In Jobs’ opinion, the more “no’s” the better. To have extreme-laser like focus, Jobs, was always willing to reject a lot of opportunities, even if they sounded great. It’s that ability to decide when to say no, says Ive that made Jobs, “the most remarkably focused person I’ve ever met in my life.”

Wherever you are at in your career, or if you are an entrepreneur, team leader, executive or managing partner, saying no can be an asset to your career.  Before saying yes, think strategically about what advantage doing something has for you. Should I take this meeting?

Do I really want to take on this client or project? Should I focus on this task at the expense of the other?

I can only imagine this scene in Big, where Hanks’ character is gleefully playing on a giant floor piano, is what saying no feels like to something that doesn’t lead us to what we really want to accomplish not just today but for the future.