Yes and No: The Most Powerful Words in Your Career. And Life.
It’s the year of Y2K and we’ve all survived the end of the world. Adam, a goofy college freshman galumphs slowly down the hall of the girl’s dorm at his art’s conservatory. One room emmits the scaling vocals of an opera major. From another the sounds of calamity as a dancer drunkenly twirls, narrowly avoiding the destruction her computer desk by pure ballerina force. In the visual artist’s room, a sketching subject obeys Petey Pablo’s blaring lyrics. She’s taking her shirt off, twisting it around like a helicopter. As Adam approaches the room of the lone film major on this floor of noisy hoodlums, he thinks he might find some respite from the constant loudness and chaos of that are realities of any arts conservatory.
Silence rings loudly in the hallway.
And this was what happened when me, the always-say-yes person, learned to say no one sleepy afternoon in my freshman year of college.
Dispelling TV Stereotypes
Before I begin spewing my deep thoughts associated with the Power of Yes and No, I want to talk about stereotypes. So often in TV Production we see the producers as ‘yes people’ and the production staff as ‘no people’, or even killjoys. I’ll talk more about how this plays out in the field later in this post, but for now, if you work in TV, think about that stereotype. If it rings true for you, no matter which role you play, think about why that is the case. What is inherent in the job responsibilities that make this so? Is there anything you can do to help turn around this stereo-type in a real world way? Read on, my friends.
In this same vein, I was once at a company bar-b-que. We held these weekly in our parking lot and sometimes invited various vendors to come say hello. The owner of our production insurance agency came to one and showed up with a six-pack of beer. I was in shock. The guy whose company carries the responsibility for keeping our asses out of court -and potentially jail- was bringing beer to a company sponsored event taking place in the middle of the work day! Aren’t all insurance people ‘no’ people? Killjoys? What was going on? I gave him a side-eye on the beer and he winked. “I got you covered” and pulled out the clause in our overall policy on his cell. I guess he gets this a lot.
The point is that even if your job responsibility is seeming to be a killjoy – to weigh every risk and to keep everyone in line, you can still be a yes person. I truly believe that if you are a no-person and can change into a yes-person, you can change your career and life for the better, especially if you work in management.
So, why do we think producers are so often seen as ‘yes’ people and production managers as ‘no’ people? In my mind, it’s simple: Producers are tasked with getting crazy antics on the screen while production personnel are tasked with keeping everyone safe, sound, and out of jail. In short, its a producer’s job to think outside the box and a production manager’s job to herd those cats back in side of it.
But truthfully, the Line Producers and Production Managers I know are just as or more creative than their producing counterparts. They don’t herd people in the box; they draw a bigger box. These guys think ‘Yes and…’ They are excited about the prospect of doing whatever crazy shit the producing team has dreamed up and actually want to push the ball further. They possess the confidence of a superhero, get shit done, and make the impossible happen.
The Power Of Yes
More often than not, I’ve worked with production personnel who are ‘no’ people. There seems to be this constant battle between the producing teams and the production teams, a war that, in my eyes, is mostly perpetuated by production teams. Production Managers who want to play by all the rules, not just for the safety of the crew, but because they don’t have the desire to think creatively about what other ways requests can be accomplished. Sometimes its producers who just can’t think creatively about how to make their vision happen in a way that a) doesn’t cause massive overtime and b) put the crew in harms way.
No matter what side of the fence you are on, the core of the problem is the same: the fence. It’s the notion that fence even exists that is the problem. There is no fence, we are all on the same side. In this situation, the Production Manager shouldn’t just say, “no”. That’s frustrating. It makes me as a producer feel as if you, the production team, don’t respect my vision of the show. Shouldn’t the PM’s first instinct be to say, “Yes. Can we accomplish this safely without adding overtime?” As a Producer, you shouldn’t become a no-person here. Don’t huff and puff, acting as if asking you to complete your request within normal production hours is stifling your creative vision. You need to use that noggin you get paid for to come up with a better solution. You need to respect that the production can’t afford overtime and no one should get hurt producing reality television. In essence, anyone in management (whether its story management, production management, or office management) needs to learn to say “Yes and” or “Yes if” and knock down that damned fence.
So how does this relate to advancing your career? When are a yes person, you become indispensable. You become a dreamweaver. All members of the team from camera operators to showrunners to production assistants can come to you with their needs and vision because they see you as their partner-in-crime. No matter which department you are in, you are on their side because you embody the notion that THERE IS NO SIDE; that we are all on the same team. Now, you’re being picked first for every job because everyone wants to work with you. Everyone knows you’ll back them up. You’ll also become a great mediator because you’ll be in the know. You’ll start to overhear gripes and grumbles, and just like magic, you can mitigate this negativity by either solving the problem or constructively explaining the challenges in front of everyone. You are effectively everyone’s best friend.
Another awesome side-effect of making the adjustment to yes-person is that you start to have a more positive overall outlook on life. It may even bleed into your own motivations both personally and professionally. Once you begin to think about how to make things happen instead of why they can’t happen, you begin to believe you can do anything. This residual positivity may even help you live longer. #yourewelcome.
The Power of No:
I once worked with a Production Manager I loved. She was a ‘no’ before ‘yes’ person. It drove me absolutely crazy. She was GREAT at her job, but I always felt like I was convincing her to do things. Things that with a little thought, creativity, and perhaps a ball of string could easily be done.
This is not the type of ‘no’ I’m talking about, I just spent over a thousand words talking about that. Now, I’m talking about the power to say no to the things standing in the way of you living a full and fulfilled life. While there are a million benefits to being a ‘yes’ person, there are drawbacks if you take it too far. Sometimes us yes people have a tendency to say ‘yes’ too much. If you are saying yes to everyone and everything, it likely means that you are not giving proper attention to the tasks and people that matter, whatever you determine those to be.
Remember that story about the door slamming in Adam’s face? Now you’ll see how its relevant. When I was in college I was an uber yes-person. I left my dormroom door unlocked (I had a single) for people to eat my snacks, relax in between classes, or even take a nap in my bed while I wasn’t there. I wrote term papers for people. My room even became a meeting place for activities to which I wasn’t even invited. Yeah, it was that bad. But I loved it! At first. I felt like I was in the center of things. That people needed me.
Eventually being constantly surrounded by guests was too much. I was giving too much of myself and my alone time away. I was overwhelmed and didn’t even know it. One day, after an intense ugly cry session, my college best friend who lived across the hall had a good talking to me about my right and obligation to myself and my art to say NO. Five minutes later, in a raw emotional state, my dear friend Adam showed up at my door just to say, ‘Hi’. I screamed ‘Nooooo’ in slow-motion and slammed the door right in his face. It was not my finest moment.
But I learned an important lesson, I needed to have some shut door time. Just to myself. And you know what, Adam was still my friend the next day. Saying no didn’t mean I didn’t want to hang with him, it just meant I didn’t want to hang with anyone at that precise moment. In the future, Vanessa would teach me much more about putting me first so that I can actually help the people and causes that are dear to me.
So how does this relate to you? In a broader sense, saying no can be important to your career. Let’s say you are ready to make that jump from Associate Producer to full blown Producer. You know in your heart you are ready, but you’re still getting calls for AP gigs. You can and should say no to those opportunities. At first, it will cause you some anxiety, but hold out. In the downtime, jazz up your resume. Volunteer for something cool. Do something interesting. If you have to, get a part-time job you can quit at any time. When you know are ready to make that jump, don’t be afraid to say no. It will show even the employers you say no to that you know your worth. They will be more likely to call you for roles that come up in the future, at the title and salary you want.
We are so often sold the like that we have to stay relevant. That if you take away from Hollywood or say ‘no’ to that gig, you’ll be replaced. NEWSFLASH: You are, and will always be, replaceable. On the flip-side, you are, and will always be, relevant! You’re worth is not decided by which job you take and which you turn down. You are relevant because you are you, the sum of your experiences and desires. Only you are you. And that makes you valuable. Just remember your worth.
This really hits home for me. I talk about traveling ad nauseum. I am quickly becoming these guys, but I do think my recent travels have some relevance here. I was terrified to leave my job. I was moving up at a great company and working side-by-side with one of my greatest mentors. I produced about a gazillion hours of TV every week and was developing shows on top of that. But when it came down to it, I knew in my gut that I didn’t like my trajectory. I needed to “see other lands, big cities, big mountains, big oceans” (if you can name that movie, you’re awesome).
I said no to a blossoming career path in order to say yes to my heart. I left the US and spent the better part of two years traveling the world. I saw every continent except for Antartica. And you know what I did in between? I got my first Showrunner job! I quit my job, left Hollywood, became irellevant, and somehow still moved up. I’m not an anomoly. You can do this too.
We all get into the TV industry for different reasons, but I think at the heart of it we all want to tell stories. In this way, I think it is every producer’s duty to travel. See the world and get inside stories you wouldn’t ever see if you stayed in one place. If you can’t travel, get out of your comfort zone. Do something outside of your work that is unique. Something that makes your heart sing. MEET PEOPLE FROM OTHER CULTURES! Take it from me, this is where the stories are.
At the end of the day, life is just a series of yes’s and no’s. They both have the power to burst open doors or slam them shut (sorry Adam!) You need to develop a balance. I know that I will always be more of a yes-person than a no-person; I like myself that way. But the next time, especially in the throes of a show, think about your yes and no answers. Your ability to say yes can make you someone else’s superhero and your ability to say no can make you your own superhero. Now go save the world!