3 Lessons in Saying No

When I first started my business, I would say yes to everything in hopes that one of those things would be my "big break". Do you want to collaborate on this? Sure! Do you want to speak at my function even though I won't pay you? Sure! Do you want to offer a free session? Why not! Does that sound exhausting? It was. 

When I said yes to everything, both personally and professionally, I quickly became over-committed, tired, and resentful of living to take care of everyone else. My life wasn't fulfilling so I made some painful cutbacks to get back to living my very best. When I did that, I learned three major lessons on why saying "NO" isn't scary or mean, but rather freeing and kind.

Here's what I learned and how you can apply it in your own life:

Lesson 1:
Saying NO to the small things will allow
you to say YES to the big things

If your schedule is full of things you don't really want to do but feel obligated to do, you no longer have time, money, energy, or space for big opportunities of things you actually want to do. 

In the case of budgeting, maybe you spend $10 here, $10 there on things you bought on a whim, but don't actually need, then you're suddenly not able to afford those concert tickets with friends or the trip of a lifetime. 

Do you remember how I talked about how I was searching for my "big break"? What if I filled my schedule with small commitments, mundane obligations, and "quick" favors, and then my schedule was too full to attend a conference that would have done more for my business than all of those other things combined?

When we say NO to the small things, we open up our schedule, time, and finances to saying YES to the big, fun, important, life-giving things.

Lesson 2:
Saying NO doesn't have to create conflict

I had coffee with a woman a couple months ago and told her how I often feel like I'm too much; that speaking my truth made others uncomfortable. She reminded me of something I tell myself all the time, but often forget: 

As long as I share my truth honestly and gracefully, what other people feel is not my concern.

So how do we do this? How do we say no to business opportunities, friends, family, or work obligations?  You tell them your why.

If you get invited to go out to dinner with friends but you're broke as a joke, simply say "Thanks for inviting me! It's not in the budget this week,  but..." and that "but" is important! This is where you offer a solution in place of your presence. 

"It's not in the budget this week, but I'd love to have you over for coffee next week!"
"I don't have the availability for that right now, but I'm excited for you and would love to support you by sharing your work in my e-mail newsletter!"

I recently got to practice this with a colleague who asked if I would collaborate on a project she's working on. The opportunity sounded amazing and really fun, but I needed to keep my "YES" for another area of my life that needs more focus right now. Here's what my response to her was:

"Unfortunately, I'm going to gracefully pass. I'm working on creating a new sector of my business and it's taking up SO much time and space in my brain that I don't think I could give enough attention to this particular project. I think [your idea] is SO good so I would definitely open that up to [a certain Facebook group] and get a huge library of content."

No + Why + Solution

People value honesty and kindness so combine both, say no graciously, and don't worry about what they may think of you; it's not your concern.

Lesson 3:
Say YES to things that matter

Sometimes things come up that we really do not want to do, even though we should. These are things like helping a friend move, dropping everything to be with your best friend post-heartbreak, driving your grandma to the doctor, or buying lunch for a stranger. While these things aren't the most fun, they serve others in a selfish world. 

The problem comes when we've said YES to too many other things. We then don't have room to serve others with our time, finances, or business because we've already used those resources on less-important things.

When we keep space in our schedule to mentor others, cash in our wallet to help others, and energy in our lives to help others, we have the capacity to make the world better. If we say yes to everything that comes our way, we're draining not only ourselves but also opportunities to love and serve people in ways that matter.

Let's take some action, shall we?

If you find that you need some serious growth in this area, here's a helpful practice to determine where you can cut back and make room for your best "yes".

First, write down a list of everything you are committed to, even if they're things you've committed to yourself like going to the gym or volunteering at church. Then place a star next to the top 5 most draining items. Finally, out of those five items, choose two to cut out of your life.

If you need to take time to think about it or make alternate plans for that commitment, set a time to have that done by (i.e. one week) and put it on your calendar.

When you get everything on paper, you can see an overview of where your time, energy, and resources are going. This will help you say NO so you can say YES to what matters.

I hope this has been helpful for you! This took me a solid year to get down, but I'm so thankful I did it because now my life is filled with my best yes, which is the "big break" I actually needed.

If you'd like more resources on this, I highly recommend picking up Tim Ferriss' "Tribe of Mentors" where the world's most successful business moguls share tips on how they say no.