The Power of “No”
There’s a movie with Jim Carrey called the Yes Man where he is challenged to say yes to everything in his life. It seems like a reasonable hypothesis to say yes to life. How often have you said no to something because you were afraid? Probably too often to count.
I remember being asked to talk about writing at a local school and my initial reaction was no. I was afraid. Writing is such a complex business. How was I supposed to teach a group of 5th graders how to write? But in the back of my mind, I knew it was a wonderful opportunity and I really did want to do it. Fortunately, as the teacher kept talking to me, I started to see that perhaps it was possible for me to put something together that children would understand and be able to incorporate into their own writing. This was an instance when I said no because I was afraid, when I really wanted to say yes. But what if saying no had been in my best interests?
Sometimes we get overwhelmed with all the things we have to do: work, family, housework, fitness, carpooling, and committee work. We want to do it all. In fact, it feels good to move from one thing to another and keep it all together. We feel powerful, strong, and in control. But suppose someone comes along and asks you to do just one more thing, because they know you’re the person who can juggle many things at once? But that one more thing might break you, place you up against the wall where you can’t move, and you run out of hours in the day. It may be a good time to say no in order to save yourself. Note: I’ve always questioned the notion of multi-talking. Does this mean that we’re not fully present to what’s in front of us because we’re trying to do more than one thing at once? Yet it seems to be an admired trait in today’s world. Why is that?
Sometimes saying no, is a no brainer. Other times, not so much. You don’t want to disappoint your kids, that committee you work on, the teacher in the classroom who wants you to bring cupcakes for the class at the last minute, or the friend who needs a favour. Sometimes it really is the best thing for you to answer in the negative.
There are times that I have to say no to my family when I have a deadline. This is when it becomes necessary for me to educate them about what’s going on in my life and to ask for help. Once they understand that I am under pressure to get something done, they are happy to support me and find ways to pick up some of the slack so that I can focus on my work.
On another occasion, saying no had been harder. I recall being on a committee that decided that I should take a leadership role. It wasn’t something I wanted to do because the committee wasn’t unfolding in the way I had hoped. It became necessary for me to say no to their offer, or be stuck being part of something that wasn’t fulfilling my need to be of service, in the way that I wanted it to be. I knew that saying no would disappoint the head of the committee. She had plans for me, that in the past, I felt I must comply with if I was to make her happy, or perhaps even so that she would like me. I felt such guilt when I sat in her office and told her I wouldn’t be heading the committee, and here’s why – although I suppose you don’t need to give a reason. By offering a reason for saying no, you may be giving the other person a way to convince you to change your mind. It’s perfectly fine to simply say, “No thank you. I’d rather not do that,” and repeat as necessary. Though it was difficult for me to say no, it was the best thing for me to do at the time. I would not have been happy if I felt forced to do something that went against what my heart wanted.
Saying no can save us for the things we really want to do. At that time, I wanted to use my skills in a manner that would serve not only me, but the people I would potentially work with. If I couldn’t do that, I was of no use to anyone.
There are times when we want to say yes to all the opportunities that come our way. And, as if often the case, those great opportunities tend to all come up at the same time. In order to do a good job at any one of those things, it becomes necessary to pick and choose what you can do now, and save the rest for another time. Perhaps you may even have to let go of something for all time — not all opportunities will come your way again. This is especially hard when you have dreamed of such opportunities, only to be forced to choose one over the other. But in the end, it may be in your best interests to know your limitations, and do only what you can to make the most of the opportunity in front of you.
It’s a wonderful thing to able to say yes to life. But in order to be able to the things you truly want to do – those things that make you happy, your life’s work, or a passion, you may have to say no from time to time. Don’t feel bad, because by saying no, you are saving yourself for something better. When that happens, you will be free to offer a wholehearted – YES!