Holly Ransom

Holly Ransom. Source: Supplied

Holly Ransom

It’s not now or never: How Layne Beachley taught Holly Ransom how to say no

Holly Ransom
4 minute Read

Holly Ransom’s new book, The Leading Edge, synthesises the best pieces of leadership advice she’s collected through conversations with the world’s highest performing leaders.

In this exclusive extract, she recounts the best lesson she’s taken from mentor Layne Beachley: how to filter opportunities and say no.

One of the mental challenges I always work really hard to overcome is the ‘if-not-now-never fallacy’. This is the mindset that sees us assume opportunities aren’t plentiful, won’t come around again or must be taken up with a ‘yes’ immediately as there may be nothing else. This gets the better of me often.

Seven-times world champion surfer, Surfing Australia chair, and motivational speaker Layne Beachley OA is well ahead of me on avoiding the pitfalls of the ‘if-not-now-never’ journey. Layne is one of the most powerful influences in my life and has taught me to have the courage to walk away from opportunities that don’t light me up, no matter how much I wish them to.

From her home in Manly, watching the waves roll in from the Pacific Ocean, Layne tells me, “I struggled with saying ‘no’ for many years, even into retirement”. As an adoptee, Layne admits to a massive fear of rejection, which starts with not wanting to let anybody down. Layne tells me that upon retiring from championship surfing, she filled up her life with worthwhile commitments to try to have that feeling of being ‘lit up’ again. What she realised was that actually, she had to let things go, one by one, respecting the need to fulfil commitments but more so, respecting a commitment to herself. “I needed to create the space mentally and physically to say no. And that’s been a ten-year evolution.”

One of the many things I have learnt from Layne is that when an opportunity is presented to you, you look at it, you feel it and you ask yourself, “Does this opportunity light me up?” When I tell Layne about a new endeavour, she often asks me, “Does it excite you? Does it fill you with a sense of curiosity? If it does, fuck yeah!” On the flip side, Layne cautions, “If it’s a shoulda, woulda, coulda, then it’s a ‘hell no'”. Layne’s advice in letting people down is simple. “I have to start by knowing that if I’m saying ‘yes’ to somebody else, I might be saying ‘no’ to myself.”

As a result of our conversations, I’ve developed a strategy called ‘filter criteria’ for thinking through choices. I work out what the most important factors are and then hold every opportunity up against those criteria in the light of day to see which one delivers. 

There are key three components to this strategy: when you set your criteria; stress-testing your criteria; and reviewing and updating them.

You need to set your criteria before you go opportunity hunting

Or at least before you allow yourself to engage deeply in investigating an opportunity.

For example, if someone calls you about a potential job, you set the criteria before you take the meeting rather than shaping the criteria afterwards. We are really good at post-rationalising (as Layne puts it, “telling ourselves rational lies”) to make things fit, so to avoid that trap we need to check in with ourselves before we check into opportunities.

Have a conversation with your imaginary lovers and your haters

This means you can work through the worst-case and best-case scenarios going on in your head. These can be real people or faux adversaries and fans — whatever serves your purposes.

A good way to do the latter is to do a take on a ‘pro’ and ‘con’ list and write down either side. Stress-test your criteria choices on your imaginary biggest supporter and then on your devil’s advocate to hear what they’ve got to say. You may even want to write down the plausible points from each side so you can weigh them up in the clear light of day.

Change your filter criteria regularly

Just like you wouldn’t want to drink coffee made with a filter that was months old, you don’t want to be saying ‘yes’ to opportunities that are the result of older filter criteria. Your criteria will and should change as your experience, life circumstances, priorities, and capabilities change and so, too, should your decision-making. 

Considering these filter criteria should surface the deeper questions below the choice itself. Are you answering the choice according to fear? Curiosity? Ego? What is holding you back in saying ‘no’? What is obligating you in saying ‘yes’? Are you being true to the role model you know you could be? 

For the record, I have still never beaten my Grandma at poker, but I have learnt to back myself and play my own game with the hand I’ve been dealt. 

A question from the leading edge:

When you next make a choice, consider: what are you really choosing?

Extract from The Leading Edge by Holly Ransom, published by Viking on July 20, 2021, RRP $34.99.