At long last, your years of dedication and hard work have paid off. You've just been offered a plum assignment.
Anybody with a grain of sense would be pleased and proud to accept this golden opportunity . . . unless, of course, she already was spending too much time away from her children; or she was a single parent, with no one to pinch-hit for her at home; or she was already caring for elderly parents.
Then, for these and a dozen other perfectly reasonable reasons, you might decide (with regret) that this simply is not the time to cope with the added demands that this particular plum would make on your emotional and physical energy.
The problem is that, despite all the rhetoric about corporations being more "family-friendly" nowadays, even a justified and temporary decision to turn down a promotion, transfer or enviable assignment can permanently sideline a career.
Here are 10 steps to help ensure that your climb up the corporate ladder is stalled only as long as you want it to be:
* Be certain of your decision before you even hint that you're having mixed feelings about accepting this offer. If there are certain conditions under which you would accept it, negotiate for them -- but don't turn down the offer in the hope that they'll be offered.
* Tell no one at work about this offer. This matter should remain between your boss and you until your boss chooses to share it. How professional and discreet you are now can determine whether you're ever offered such an opportunity again.
* If you've gathered all the available information about this new position and explored all your options for handling it in a reasonable fashion, and you're absolutely sure that nothing can induce you to take it on right now, it's time to ask for a meeting with your boss.
* Thank your boss sincerely for the opportunity you've been offered and the faith in you that it signifies, then come right to the point in a clear, concise, businesslike manner. Something like: "However, I regret that I must turn down this promotion at this time because of my responsibilities at home."
* Don't over-explain. Don't drizzle on about your child-care difficulties or the fact that your husband works two jobs. Don't wring your hands, apologize excessively or spend a lot of time describing how difficult it was for you to reach this decision.
* Make it clear that you made this decision on your own. "My husband would divorce me!" isn't going to help your professional image.
* Make it clear that you want to be offered a chance like this again when your situation has changed. Say so! And if you're sure about the time when you'll be able to accept such an offer (perhaps when your children are in school), provide this information, as well.
* Ask if there's a lateral move you can make instead, one that will help you to broaden your base of experience.
* Ask for your boss's reaction to your decision because it's important to be sure your words have been received as you sent them, and to correct any misunderstandings on the spot.
* Finally, don't second-guess this decision once you've made it. If this is the time for your responsibilities toward your family to be your top priority, just pat yourself on the back for having the courage to act on this knowledge.