Both scenarios are ultimately rooted in a lack of confidence, and can be addressed with some simple actions.
The case for yes
I've always held the belief that it's better to regret the things we have done, rather than the things we have not. True, I haven't always acted that way.
Many years ago, I was offered the opportunity to do my second year of University on an exchange in Norway. I considered the finances, my boyfriend at the time, my lack of adequate winter wardrobe, and the fact that I didn't speak Norwegian. I said no. I've always regretted it.
A few years later, I had the chance of a job in Switzerland. Although I'd just bought a flat, and started a new job just 4 weeks before, I jumped at the chance. This was the start of a big change for me. I'll always wonder who I might have been had I studied in Norway, but at least now I know I can go and live in another country, make friends, learn a language and face unexpected challenges.
Life's opportunities aren't always as obvious as moving to another country. You might be offered the chance of a new project or responsibility at work. If you find yourself doubting your ability to handle it, ask yourself if 2 years before you'd have believed you could do what you're doing now? Humans are built for growth and learning. Our giant brains are highly under-active and we all have more potential than we are using. Ask yourself too, how you'll feel if you see your colleague giving it a go, and taking the job that was "rightfully yours".
If your lack of confidence in your abilities holds you back from grabbing opportunities with both hands, next time, try saying yes. In a previous blog, I've explored strategies for gaining confidence in a new activity.
Trying new things can be scary, but it can lead to some of life's most memorable experiences. The only way to avoid failure completely is never to do anything at all. Is that the life you want to lead? Just Say Yes.
The case for no
Yes can be empowering. Yes can lead to great adventures. Yes can mean emotional freedom. Yes liberates us from our mental shackles. Yes takes chances. But the wrong kind of yes can leave us exhausted, frustrated and resentful, wondering how we'll ever get round to all those things we really want to do.
We want to be seen as helpful. But "can you just..." can end up as a lot more than it first looked. In business, it can lead to you doing extra tasks that you don't get credit for (or worse, don't get paid for if it's your own business). In a world where good customer service is highly rated, and going the extra mile is expected, it can be hard to say no.
You say yes. You end up losing focus. Are you really helping the majority of your customers?
No one can make you feel guilty for not doing something. You make yourself feel guilty. It's your life. You get to choose.
Try saying no by offering an alternative: "I'd love to help, but I know that X could do it better/faster/cheaper".
Try saying no by deferring a decision: "I don't think that's going to work for me, but I'll think about it"
Try saying no by being truthful: "Thanks for the opportunity, but that doesn't fit with my priorities right now".
Try saying no without offering any explanation: "No thanks".
A simple no thank you can be the hardest of all to practice. What if they never invite me again? (Invite yourself). What if they think I'm rude? (Do you prefer to be thought of as a doormat?) What if they just say, "okay then, just thought I'd ask".
The point is, you have to do what's right for you. Of course there are obligations in life, and getting along with others can mean compromises. Remember it doesn't always have to be you who makes the first compromise. Just Say No.