Part of growing up seems to be learning how to say “no”. Everyone and their mother need to get things done, whether they’re completing projects at work, doing chores around the house, running errands, or just talking through their problems, but at some stage a lot of people begin to realize that instead of doing their work themselves they might be able to convince other people that they should do the work for them. In some cases this happens in grade school with bullies, but in its more advanced forms it can hide itself in “grown-up” relationships and professional organizations. For instance a coworker walks up to you and says, “I’m really swamped, could you fill out a couple of TPS reports for me?” or a professor approaches you as a student and says, “I have meetings all this week, could you do some research for this paper I’m writing?” or Billy the only 7th grader with a five o’clock shadow saunters up to you and says, “Hey, do my homework for me…or I’ll beat the crap outta ya.” Not comparable? Only by degree, I figure. All three are trying to get someone else to do work for them, all three are providing you with incentive to do it, and all three are hoping that you will accept based on your personality and goals. In some cases these include fear and not wanting your face to get pummeled, but in others the things at stake could be a matter of pride or a desire to be liked by the individual requesting your time and energy. Should you say “no” all the time, or in all three of these situations? No (ironically). But I think you should ask yourself why you say “yes.” Is it because you are afraid of what will happen if you say “no” or because you think saying “yes” is beneficial for both of you? (Hint: Saying “yes” to a bully isn’t beneficial to either of you).

Synergy is the idea that two people can work together and create a result that is greater than the sum of what those two people could have created separately. For instance, it’s why geese fly in a V. Did you know that geese can fly 71 percent farther in a V than if each bird flew alone? It’s also why two 2”x4” boards on top of each other can support more than double what one 2”x4” can. One 2”x4” beam can support 607 pounds, but two 2”x4”s can support 1,821 pounds and if you nail them together they can support 4,878 pounds! In general, synergy is the idea that 1+1=3. It’s why helping your professor with research could be great for both of you, if it matches your goals, and why filling out those TPS reports could really help your coworker out and allow you to get even closer to them as a friend. But synergy doesn’t always happen when you say “yes” and in fact, I think syngery is quite rare. It requires people to be very honest with each other and to be confident in their goals, both of which are difficult for many people. If your professor doesn’t actually have meetings all that week and your coworker really just wants to leave early from work that day, neither of them were being honest with you. And if the professor is doing research in a field that your not even remotely interested in and your coworker has used you to fill out TPS reports again and again in the past, it’s quite likely that your goals are not in alignment. Helping in those situations wouldn’t only not be synergetic, it would be detrimental and based more on fear than anything else (0+½ =½ or less). “No, I would rather not,” would be a reasonable response in these situations. Save your time and energy, which by the way is just about all you have to give to this world, and use it for things you really believe in. For instance, write a blog that’s a little too long about a topic like synergy hoping that one of your friends will read it and say “no” just one more time, choosing instead something more valuable to spend their time on. If that’s your sort of thing, of course.