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The Power of No

No. It’s a simple monosyllabic word. Perhaps the first word you learned to say. Imagine your 2-year-old self, standing defiantly before your caregivers as they tried to make you put on a coat or wear boots or, God forbid, leave the playground. 

“No!” Can you hear it? The clear, true sound. The word that helped you take your stand. The word that, in one syllable, said,“I’m here and you’re there and I’m NOT going to do what you want me to and believe me, Bub, I’m more than okay with that.”

Toddlers get drunk on the power of No. They alone seem to realize it’s strength. This small word, uttered from a small body, changes their world, a place they typically have little say. 

Told what to do, how to act, and what to eat (Broccoli? Heck no!) from the moment they wake up until bedtime each day, this word gives them authority. It causes adults to lean down and whisper feverishly in their ears, it starts the negotiation, it tilts the tables toward the thing we all want more of: freedom. 

I remember one specific time in my childhood when I harnessed the power of No. I was four years old and my extended family had hired a photographer to take family pictures. For whatever reason, I decided I was not going to smile that day. 

I remember watching the photographer sweat as he tried to coax a smile from me. Nope, not happening. 

My uncles and grandma even got involved. No and No. 

My parents, of course, were angry: Everyone’s here and dressed up and we hired the photographer, SO JUST SMILE. 

NO. I forced my mouth into a deeper frown with each request. I knew my stance was ludicrous. There was no reason not to smile, but as the situation escalated, I was too far in to back out, so I stood my ground on pure principle. I mean what I say, people. Learn it now. 

It was fascinating to watch all the adults run around, paying attention to me, a middle child, one of many cousins, the quiet little girl who rarely caused a fuss. 

The resulting photograph, by the way, is a family favorite.

Clearly, young Rose understood the power of No. While her choice of time to use it was questionable, there’s no doubt that she was able to take a stand, draw a confident line in the sand, and step solo onto side NO, even while every important person in her life stood on side YES. 

We are confident with No as children. Why then, do the adult versions of ourselves shy away from this word? When did we stop wielding its power? When did we begin believing that, instead of making us MORE powerful, it somehow did the opposite? 

If you’re an overachiever like me, at some point in your life, you became the perennial Yes Man or Yes Woman, the one who chaired the committee, the one who smiled as your boss added extra projects to your already-full plate, the one who volunteered your time for the insert-worthy-cause-here. 

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with volunteering or going the extra mile. These are wonderful things that help a lot of people. 

The problem starts when we say “Yes” not out of excitement for the opportunity or a desire to make a difference, but out of fear that saying “No” will somehow make us bad or wrong or that terrible word we never want to associate with ourselves… a disappointment. 

We’re so afraid of disappointing others that we say “Yes” to make them happy, not ourselves.

This is not a unique problem. Most overachievers suffer from “Yes Syndrome,” extending ourselves until we are exhausted, burnt out, and miserable. The confusing thing is… we are heartily applauded for it.

I remember the first time I heard this phrase:

“If you want something done, ask a busy person.” 

My mind went through several reactions. First…

Why would you ask a busy person? They’re already busy! Give them a break!

After a little more reflection…

Heck yeah, ask a busy person! Because we get stuff done! 

More recently, after A LOT more reflection…

Of course you’d ask a busy person. Not because they’re amazing or awesome or better at doing things than other people. You’d ask them because…

Busy people have no boundaries. 

I know. I’m a recovering busy person. 

“Busy” has been my default answer to “How are you?” for most of my adult life. I’m guessing you can relate. 

Oddly, this word is not a proper answer to the question. Busy is not an emotion or state of being, it’s a description of your schedule. It would make sense to answer “Busy” if someone asked, “What does your calendar look like?” or “Could you describe the state of your schedule in a 2-syllable word?” 

But when someone asks How you are and you answer Busy, you’re equating your schedule with yourself. Those are two very different things. 

Thus, to un-busy ourselves, we must do two things:

  1. Accept that the fullness of our calendars does not equal the fullness of ourselves
  2. Learn to say “no”

Ironically, these are two things you were really, really good at when you were two. 

So I encourage you… return to your toddlerhood. Harness the power of No. It will free you and open your life up to beautiful possibilities. 

What do you need to say NO to in your life right now? I’d love for you to email me personally at [email protected] and let me know, so I can support you! 

To saying No…

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