Why say no?

I’m listening to a podcast episode (Creative Giant Show #69, fwiw); the interviewee’s current passion is mentoring young potential entrepreneurs. And by young, he means middle-school-aged. His voice is full of outrage as he loops back again and again to adults telling these kids, “No. You’re too young.”

I’m there. I’m standing right next to him — why do adults dismiss kids’ ideas? What is the purpose?

Because I can tell you, out of my years of Girl Scout experience, there’s no upside to telling kids “no” like that. Want the selfish, adult-centered reason to stop blowing off these wild ideas?

Why set yourself up to be the ogre?

My teen years had plenty of this sort of “no” in them. I’m still outraged at being patronized. And I’m forever grateful to Girl Scouting, because there I got to stretch my ideas and see where they’d go.

My Girl Scout adults didn’t say “no.” They said, “Tell me more. Tell me:

how do you see it unfolding | what do you need to know that you don’t know now | what materials will it need | where will it happen | how will you cover the cost | who do you plan on helping you | how long do you think it will take?”

Not rapid-fire like that; that would be as bad as a straight “no.” But in bits, and always in friendly inquiry. Friends care about the things that interest you, and want good things to happen.

With each answer I gained a framework for fleshing out my own ideas…

…and the ability to see where my ideas would crack and fall apart. Maybe, at 13, I’m not interested enough in the evolution of Sueddeutch to do field research in Bavaria—after I found out that the city library didn’t have any books on the topic.

Maybe my ideas were far-fetched.

But these wise adults waited for my own answers to tell me ‘no.’ Or ‘not yet.’

Why tell my 10-year-old she’s not able to play pro soccer? Instead I described the routines for 10-year-old girls who played what we call “Select”—the multiple weekly practices, the distant games, the time in hotels. “I like to do lots of things, Mom. I don’t want to just do soccer.”

Why tell my boy at 11 that he can’t write video games—flight simulator video games—for a living, because the competition for the tiny handful of those spots is beyond tough? I can let the marketplace tell him.

Or not. Since that’s what the U.S. Navy now pays him to do.

Why be the one to say no?

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