I don’t know about you, but I find saying ‘no’ one of the hardest things in the world. But I do believe that being successful, or even just simply not getting a burn-out, is to say ‘no’. Today I received a beautiful, hand-made wedding invitation in the mail. I want to attend that day and share in the joy of a new chapter in the life of friends, but on the same day is important family event celebrating 60 years of marriage of my grand parents. Both on opposite sides of the country. I can’t be in both places at the same time, so I am going to have to say ‘no’ to one of them.
Having two events at the same time, but in different places forces you to make a choice. You simply have to say ‘no’, because it’s physically impossible to do both. But what about those events, projects and choices that could potentially fit in your schedule? How do you know when to reject an offer. I have written before about the butterfly-feeling. For me that is an indication of when to say ‘yes’, but it doesn’t mean that I find it just as easy to say no.
Over the past two years, I have spend quite some time abroad. I lived in Spain and Germany for my Masters and worked in the United States. Being away physically makes it easy to say no. Because people immediately understand why. Let me give you an example. It’s like saying you can’t come to a dance party if you have a broken leg. People think that’s logical and see that you are honest about your situation. Saying you can’t come to a dance party, because you had a bad day in recovering from a depression is a lot harder to accept. People can’t directly see what’s going on in your head.
I am the type of person that wants to do everything, all the time. I’ll tell myself to toughen up and just go out there to that metaphorical dance party. At least then I don’t have to disappoint others and feeling guilty. But I know just as well that I need stillness and rest. I can’t be productive and feel useful, if I am careless in taking care of those moments of peace on my own. For me that’s where the secret is. I always come to terms with decisions in time that I spend in solitude. By being alone I have learned, I am much capable of listening to my own heart. For me, knowing myself, starts by being in solitude.
“Blessed are those who do not fear solitude, who are not afraid of their own company, who are not always desperately looking for something to do, something to amuse themselves with, something to judge. If you are never alone, you cannot know yourself.”
– Paulo Coelho, Manuscript Found in Accra
And then what? The process of saying ‘no’ essentially always comes with a critical evaluation of my own arguments. Why do I make this choice? Who is it benefiting and is there maybe another way to make things work? Usually those answers are pretty clear, not always rationally explainable, but honest and truthful. I think saying ‘no’ is going to be another one of those life long lessons.
What helps me to realise is that saying ‘no’ doesn’t mean it’s never going to happen or you are forever letting someone down. Maybe a ‘no’ right now is just that. For that moment you are declining the offer, but at a later point in life, things might work out differently. Maybe a ‘no’ to a certain commitment, might give you space to say ‘yes’ to three other projects. Saying ‘no’ is powerful. And if you are not convince yet, I invite you to watch Bahia Shehab’s TED talk: