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Never Let a "No" Be a Dead End

I interviewed Beatriz Buarque last week about resilience and not letting go of her dream of working for Globo TV from the time she was a little girl. She didn't even frame it as she wanted to work there one day, she said she told her little friends that she would work there one day. It wasn't a matter of "if", it was "when". She stuck to her dreams even though she found out she was pregnant before the interview. She stuck to it even when a nurse in labor and delivery told her she was crazy for doing interview prep work while in labor. She later stuck to her dream of getting a master's degree despite getting rejected from the first three schools she applied to. Beatriz pivoted and moved overseas so she could go to school in the UK.

Resilience means not giving up even when it seems impossible, even when the world and all your friends and family tell you it's time to give up. It means interpreting roadblocks as a sign you need to pivot or maybe even break society's rules to keep moving.

I know a young man who's applying to dental school. He wants to go to dental school more than anything. I guess he loves teeth. Before he can apply, he has to sign up to take the dental school entrance test. It's like the MCAT or LSAT for dental school. With COVID, all the exam slots in town were booked for months. His face was hang-dog when he told me he guessed he'd have to wait to submit his application because he wouldn't have the test results in time. I practically yelled, "Are you kidding? Why can't you drive your happy butt to another town? Even if you have to drive to South Carolina or Florida, wouldn't it be worth it?"

The next time I saw him he'd signed up to take the test in a nearby town in June. This time he was moaning about not having enough hours of clinical experience or shadowing. He said because of COVID, "no one" would let him come shadow. When I asked him who had actually refused him, he said he hadn't asked anyone yet, but all the students on his FB predental group were telling him it was impossible to find someone to shadow. I asked him how badly he wanted to get into school. I reminded him he should do whatever it takes to get in. He could ask his own dentist, he could get his parents to call their dentist, he could take biscuits to the new pediatric dentist in town. He could volunteer to be a free helper/receptionist/paperwork filler-outer/guy-who-walks-patients-to-their-car. Do whatever it takes to get some experience with a real dentist's office. His response was, "Oh, I hadn't thought of that".

An example from my own household that drives my husband insane is when my kids whine for something after I've given them a clear "No." They start whining louder or stomping their feet. Instead of getting mad, I remind them, "Don't have a meltdown. Problem solve." This drives him crazy because, in his world, a no is a NO, especially if it comes from an authority figure. For me, no means not this exact thing you're asking for, or No, not right now, or No, but something else might work.

For example, if Ollie is whining about how hungry she is and begging for a snack bar, I might tell her "No." She melts down. I tell her to problem solve. One idea is to ask if there's another snack she can have (yes to fruit!) Or she can ask if we can eat supper early. Or she can ask if she can have dessert later if she's patient. Or she can ask for a glass of kombucha to tide her over.

Another example is when Ollie is bored to tears. She'll beg me to play with her. If I'm busy, I say "No." She gets mad and stomps off. I tell her to problem solve it. She could ask for a playdate, ask if I can play later, or ask if I can get down the big lego box from the attic. The bottom line is to never let a "no" derail you until you've exhausted all possible options.

If you don't get into the school you want or don't get the job you want or your story/book/article doesn't get published the first time, start brainstorming. If your life depended on getting this job or this thing, what would you be willing to do to get it. In the movie Pursuit of Happyness, Will Smith's character exemplifies resilience like no one else. He will literally lose his son if he doesn't make a sale. He and his son live in a different homeless shelter every night (if they're lucky). When he gets a chance to do an internship for a big stock brokerage firm, he does whatever it takes to get to the interview.

I was at work on Monday when a patient walked in and wanted to be seen. At our satellite office, I sit close enough to the lobby to hear what's going on. The receptionist told the patient we were fully booked.

The patient could

a) leave in a huff or

b) problem-solve

Here's what I mean: He could ask if there are any cancellations. There may be, but the receptionist isn't automatically going to offer up that info. He could ask if a nurse could pop her head out to chat with him and see if his problem warrants a visit (this drives us crazy, but we do occasionally acquiesce).

Or, he could ask if there are any openings the next day (we often get cancellations). Lastly, he could ask that a message be passed along to his PA (me). Now, if I'm totally busy, I doubt I can do anything about this walk-in situation. But, let's say he's having a reaction to a cream I gave him. I'm much more likely to stick my head out and see him.

Never let a "No" be a dead-end for you. It might mean you have to backtrack; it might mean "not right now." It might mean getting creative and finding a compromise.

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