Why Every “Yes” is actually a “No”: The Power of Prioritizing Zoia Kozakov

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About Zoia

Zoia Kozakov is a brand strategist, currently getting her masters at Columbia University. She is also the Global Marketing Lead at a non-profit called Women in Innovation, which focuses on closing the gender gap in innovation industries. She has previously worked on digital projects for brands including Cartier, EY, Van Cleef & Arpel, GUESS, and Michael Kors. .

Why Every “Yes” is actually a “No”: The Power of Prioritizing Zoia Kozakov

We’ve all been there. Someone turns to you for help, an exciting project arises, a seemingly unique opportunity lands in your lap. It can be anything from a LinkedIn message asking for a “coffee to pick your brain” or an old classmate who wants to reconnect and catch up on their latest career move. It feels good, so you say “yes”, time after time.

What we often don’t realize is that stretching ourselves thin can significantly derail us from achieving our most important goals. Saying “yes”, over and over again, may be the very reason why at the end of the day you are not getting that promotion, raise, or why you’re skipping out on vacations and personal time. And according to a study from the American Economic Review ([link to article]), womens’ careers are taking a hit as a result.

Why? Because every “yes” is actually a “no” to something else. When it comes to getting promoted, the company president will not remember how you agreed to help organize gift-giving at the holiday party. They will instead remember how your colleague was taking clients out for dinner and bringing in new business or raising the next round of funding.

As we make these choices that may feel insignificant to the grand scheme of things, ultimately they can contribute to creating a pattern of behavior that slows down the progress towards a more gender-equal world. As a young professional, I have struggled with finding the balance between taking on projects that will help me get where I want to be and feeling inclined to say yes. I spent my first semester in graduate school barely coming up for air and sacrificing my sleep, and ultimately, well-being.

These days, I consciously block out the time for things like self-care, movie nights, and even sleep. A lot of my emails went from “Sure! When’s a good time for you? I can work on this over the weekend, since my week is swamped.” to “I currently have limited bandwidth for this type of project, but if you email me with questions, I would be happy to give some feedback.”

It can therefore be beneficial for us to to reflect on why we feel the need to be affirmative, even when it doesn’t serve us. Some may crave the feeling of being needed or acknowledged. Others enjoy the opportunity to be kind and selfless. For most, it is probably a mixture of all of the above and more.

Next time that phone rings with a “quick favor” or “awesome opportunity”, ask yourself: “If I say “yes” to this, what am I saying “no” to?”


You can learn more about Zoia Kozakov and connect with her on LinkedIn here.

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