Koan #15: Can I Take The Opportunity

We usually send the situation in one newsletter and results in a following newsletter. Here the situations and results are copied verbatim into one post. Hence, when it says 'you' - it means the subscribers who voted in newsletter, not readers of this archive.
This situation was published in the 10 May 2021 newsletter.


You are offered the opportunity to lead a short project which will run for the next month, in an area you recently told your boss you would like to develop. When you look at your calendar, however, you realise that you have very little time to fit in this project due to your other commitments. What do you do?

Option A - Politely decline the offer this time in the hope that a similar opportunity will arise soon.

Option B - Agree to lead the project, as long as it can run for an additional week to take into account your other commitments.

Option C - Agree to be involved in the project, but be clear that you cannot lead it because of your other commitments in the next month.

Option D - Reply to ask when you need to let them know by, and look again at your calendar to work out if you have the capacity to fit it in as lead or as a contributor.


In this situation, it is important you do not miss out on being involved with a project which could develop you whilst also being realistic about how much you can take on. Especially with a short project, you want to ensure that you give your best and get out of it what you want too. One subscriber said that they would really struggle with this situation as they said that they would theoretically have boundaries and stick to them, but in reality they often take on too much and regret it. We have probably all been in this position at some point and this is key to this week’s situation.

Option A, which no subscribers chose, was deciding to decline the offer altogether. Whilst this may not have much of a short term impact, it could lead to you not being asked to be involved with similar projects in the future, as well as a missed opportunity to develop yourself in a new way. Option D is also not a choice we would recommend, as if you already know you do not have much capacity, procrastinating about the decision will not make more time. That said, we acknowledge that there was not much context given, and thus we understand why one subscriber commented that they would choose Option D, as did 14% of subscribers, in order to find out more information before making a decision.

Now to Options B and C. Option B was offering to lead but with a longer time frame, and Option C was to keep the suggested time frame and to take on a contributor role rather than lead the project. 5% more subscribers chose B than C, with around a third of us choosing each. We would challenge you to ask yourself if having a week longer would definitely ensure that you have enough capacity, and how you can know this. The likely answer is no, unless you are in a position where you have no other possible opportunities and challenges that might arise at work or at home in the coming weeks. The other question to ask yourself is what could be a benefit of taking on the contributor role rather than the lead. For example, you could focus on a skill you want to develop, rather than having to consider others as the lead. It may also leave you more time to rest, learn something new or simply to have a little more breathing space in what will probably already be a busy month.

Thus we would recommend Option C. You are saying yes in that you want to develop and be involved with the project, but are exercising your ability to set boundaries as to how involved you can be. This ensures that everyone knows that you have taken on a commitment that you will deliver on, and also displays maturity, confidence and strong self-management skills. Getting involved with less responsibility does not show that you lack drive or ambition but shows that you can and want to add value but also prioritise the commitments that you already have.

If you know you struggle with this sort of situation, saying no or taking on too much, we would recommend listening to the most recent episode of the Lead to Win podcast about the idea of the ‘Double Win’, in your career and home life, where they discuss the importance of deciding your non-negotiables for self-care, relational priorities and professional results. Setting these, and always have them in mind when making decisions, will support you to make decisions which allow you to succeed at work and take your whole self home again.