Sometimes saying yes can seem scary. But if you say no you close yourself off to opportunities. And some of them might be amazing.
Photo illustration by News Decoder.
That’s Emma Bapt’s advice to high school students, especially girls.
“I think there’s this tendency in high school to say, ‘Oh, I need to find what I’m interested in and then I need to do that.’ Well, actually, no,” Bapt said. “Say ‘yes’ to opportunities.”
A News Decoder intern in 2016, Bapt joined two other former staff members of the educational nonprofit last month to share tips and advice for teenagers. Bapt, Savannah Jenkins and Dylan Carlson-Sirvent are all in their 20s, so it was not so long ago that they themselves were in high school.
Jenkins, who served as News Decoder’s Communications and Community Engagement Manager in 2018 and again in 2020, agreed with Bapt that it’s important, especially for girls, to capitalize on opportunities even if you are not quite sure whether they fit into your long-term plans.
“Say ‘yes’ to small opportunities, because those are the things that will take you places,” said Jenkins, who is working for a charity in London and is a News Decoder advisor. “Take your time with the big things but really don’t hesitate with the small things, because you never know who you’ll meet.”
Reluctance is not gender-neutral.
Carlson-Sirvent, who interned for News Decoder in 2020 and is entering his final year at Yale College in the United States, did not entirely agree that a high schooler should necessarily jump at numerous opportunities.
“The best advice that I got in high school might have been the opposite advice, which was, ‘Don’t say ‘yes’ to everything,’” said Carlson-Sirvent, 21.
A three-person panel is not a scientific sampling, but perhaps the difference of views reflected the results of a study that concluded that women are 16% less likely than men to apply for a job after viewing it, and also apply to 20% fewer jobs than men.
“It starts way before high school, but already in high school it’s ‘make sure that this is what you want to do’ or ‘make sure you’re qualified,’” Bapt, 25, said. “There is this huge fear of failure, I think, which is extremely gendered.”
“I have definitely seen a much higher propensity to apply for higher level positions among men than among women during my studies, after my bachelor’s and especially after my master’s,” said Bapt.
In her view, many women hesitate to apply for jobs because they don’t feel quite qualified and balk at negotiating their salaries or asking for career advice.
Don’t undervalue your qualifications.
A report by the U.S. information technology company Hewlett-Packard concluded that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them.
“This difference between men and women also continues in the workplace, where I’ve seen and experienced women holding back from asking for more responsibility, a raise, suggesting male staff members share the burden of an office’s administrative tasks,” said Bapt. She now works on migration and humanitarian affairs at the European Union Delegation to the United Nations in Geneva.
All three of the former staff members agreed that teens should anticipate facing many more choices after high school — which may sound great to someone who feels constrained in high school but which can stir anxiety even among the most out-going.
“Freedom is scary,” Bapt said. “I found it more anxiety-provoking sometimes than not, because there are many different directions and society will say what you should be doing. Family may or may not say what you should be doing. At the end of the day, you do make your own choices, and so it’s really up to you.”
Chance opportunities can lead to career choices.
Capitalizing on opportunities can lead to unexpected results, Bapt and Jenkins agreed. They urged teens to trust their instincts once they reach university.
Jenkins, 28, said she disagreed with adults who say that “nothing is easy in life.”
“The older I get, the more I resent that phrase so much,” Jenkins said. “I just do not believe in that at all. I really do think the things that are meant to work out just do, and they’re effortlessly, almost just ridiculously easy.” After receiving her master’s degree, she had no idea what she would do and ended up with an unexpected opportunity in London, she said.
All three said it is good to have mentors, family or friends who can remind you of what you’ve found to be most rewarding as you tackle different challenges. That can help keep you on track so you don’t get overwhelmed and so that later on you can narrow your choices.
Their propensity to lend a helping hand at a small, personal scale led each of them at separate times to refugee camps in Greece, where they helped take care of migrants.
“It took away a little bit of that feeling of helplessness and feeling overwhelmed,” Bapt said. “Every time I feel very, very overwhelmed with something, I think about really small, practical ways that I can do something without having the illusion of changing the world.”
Questions to consider:
- Why are some people reluctant to jump at new opportunities?
- Why might freedom be scary?
- Have you ever said no to an opportunity and later regretted it? What happened?
Emma Bapt is a graduate King’s College London where she earned degrees in Arts in War Studies and History. She obtained a master’s in Conflict Management, International Economics and Arabic at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna and Washington, DC. She has worked at the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin where she specialised in chemical weapons in Syria. She has conducted fieldwork in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the United Nations University Centre for Policy Research and is now in Geneva working on migration and humanitarian affairs at the European Union Delegation to the UN.
Dylan Carlson-Sirvent is entering his fourth and final year at Yale College where he is pursuing a Political Science major. This summer, he will be the co-director of the U.S. Grant program, a summer academic enrichment program for New Haven middle school students. Currently, he is traveling in Taiwan before he starts working this summer. Carlson-Sirvent worked for News Decoder in 2020 during a gap year in Paris and served as a judge for News Decoder’s ninth storytelling contest.
Savannah Jenkins is a graduate of the American University of Paris. She has worked and volunteered for international organisations and charities in France and Greece. Savannah has a passion for human rights and international affairs and helping third sector organisations with creative and effective communication. She lives in France and the United Kingdom.
Nelson Graves is founder and president of News Decoder. An experienced educator and administrator, Graves was a correspondent, bureau chief and regional managing editor at Reuters for 24 years, holding posts in Washington, Paris, New Delhi, Kuala Lumpur, Milan and Tokyo. He later served as admissions director at Johns Hopkins University’s graduate program in international relations in Italy.