I don’t need to spend more than one sentence articulating the struggle that most of us have with saying no. Let’s just say that there’s never been a greater use of the phrase: “the struggle is real”. Saying no is something that most of us approach with complete dread. For some reason, we’ve evolved into a culture of Yes-sers; we say yes to everything, good or bad, desired, or undesired. Why all the yes? Let me list the reasons:
- I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings
- If I turn that down then they may ask someone else to do it and what if it turns out to be THE opportunity that makes a career/parenthood/academic education
- I don’t want people to think I’m lazy or can’t cope
- If I say NO, I’ll have to explain why and I don’t think my why is good enough
- No one else will step up and do this so I guess I better
- I don’t want to make anyone’s life harder
- I was just raised to say yes to any request that was within my power to handle
The list probably could go on and on. But it doesn’t need to. Because if you look at this list what you’ll see is a list of things focused on what everyone else wants or thinks. There is no single reason in this list that is focused on what YOU might internally want. It’s all about everyone else. Which is how most of us live our lives – in fact, it’s how most of us are raised to live our lives! I’m not arguing that being kind isn’t a great virtue. But kindness that leaves us feeling depleted and overwhelmed is not really kindness. I always like to say that you can’t give from a dry well.
So far there’s nothing revolutionary in this article. It’s all been said before. But I want to introduce you to a concept that I learned a few years ago, that turned saying NO on it’s head for me (and I was a world class Yes-ser). I was in a class, and a fellow student said:
“My no is someone else’s yes.”
MY NO IS SOMEONE ELSE’S YES.
Mind blown. It’s not complex. It’s just a simple truth. Saying yes to everything actually (gulp) makes us a bit arrogant. After all it means we believe that if we don’t do it, no one will (or can). This is almost always completely untrue. In fact, when we keep saying yes, even when we want to say no, we are hogging things that other people may want. Just because you might have a reputation as being the go-to person for anything that needs to be done doesn’t mean others aren’t wanting a piece of the pie.
Let me give you an example of this. I love creative work. I hate detail-oriented work. Writing, reading, creating, teaching….YES!! Logistics, accounting, bookings, and reservations? NO. And yet, for a long time, I spent my life saying yes to all kinds of things that involved the latter. Not only was this stuff not enjoyable to me, but it left me feeling overwhelmed and exhausted, and therefore crushed the stuff that was enjoyable to me: my creative energy.
When I was willing to step out of my bubble of self-importance (the world needs me to do everything) I was able to fully understand that there were actually people in the world who live for the details. They live for logistics, and accounting, and booking, and reserving. And I was taking those opportunities from those folks so that I could do it with grudging hatred. Was it actually possible that if I just said no, someone else would jump in and say yes? The answer to that question is a resounding yes. We are all busy, but when we choose to take on more things, it’s infinitely more pleasurable if it’s something we actually enjoy doing.
One last word on this. If there’s a request out there that nobody seems to want to step up and take on, and it’s not in your wheelhouse, you may want to evaluate the legitimacy of the request. After all, if absolutely no one will step up and take it on, there’s a good chance there’s something wrong with the request in the first place. So, your job today is to find places to say no, and to realize that your no opens the door for someone else to say yes! You’re actually a matchmaker. Doesn’t that feel better?
Susan McCusker is the co-founder of The Circle Up Experience. She and her partner, Beth Killough, offer people the opportunity to interact with horses in order to learn more about themselves, reclaim natural elements of leadership, and transform their human herds. Visit us on Facebook for more leadership lessons learned the hard way.