Saying ‘Yes’ Pays Off

Susan Gregory Thomas

When I moved to Philadelphia a year ago, I was broke—25 years of living in New York, the past five of it as the breadwinner for my family, can do that. Don’t focus on making new friends, I told myself: “Make money”

Yet my first move was the opposite. I did want to meet people with like interests: my tribe. So when I was asked to teach fiction writing at a local literary center—$240 (total) to teach a six-week course—I agreed.

My husband was appalled. How could I waste my time for so little money? I’d practically taken on a volunteer job, he said. I know, I sighed, but I really like the students, their work is so ambitious, and I want to help them.

Weirdly, saying yes (when I could–and financially, should–have said no) paid off. Within months after the course ended, several former students hired me to work with them on a one-on-one basis. Those who can afford to pay my $130/hour fee do; for those who can’t, I barter services (one student’s husband is a sculptor and teaches my girls art).  

It’s given me something to think about, as I reinvent my life, and my career, in a new city. So often, especially when money’s tight, and the anxiety over work (as in getting it) is high, there’s an impulse to say “no” when the immediate economic benefit isn’t apparent. But if saying “yes” might introduce you to your tribe—and potentially, earn ancillary cash—my advice is: Do it.    

I obviously can’t afford to take every low paying opportunity that looks worthy. But I’ve revised my strategy to a more open-minded “say yes whenever possible.” You never know what the unintended gains could be.    

Susan Gregory Thomas lives in Philadelphia, and is the author of “In Spite of Everything,” a memoir.

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