One of the most challenging words in my vocabulary is the word “no.” It is such a small seemingly inconsequential word. Very few words are smaller or easier to spell. My toddler son says it with such ease. But for some reason, it rarely comes out of my mouth. It’s as if I don’t even know the word sometimes. Or I kind of treat it like one of those elaborate spelling bee kind of words that don’t really fit into casual conversation like perspicacious. But we all know that is not the case, don’t we?
I have a friend who says “no” with such ease. He is not mean about it, or rude. He just says “no” when he knows he can’t do it, or when he knows it just doesn’t make sense to say yes. Doesn’t that sound so simple? I don’t know what makes no such a hard word for you to say, but I know for me, there is this deeply entrenched performance/responsibility thing happening in me, and the word “no” feels like it flies totally in the face of that. I am a promise keeper. I feel great responsibility to deliver and even over deliver on commitments. I don’t want to disappoint people. Does any of that resonate with you?
Seth Godin has something to say to this. He would say that if you want to “treat every commitment as though it’s an opportunity for a transformation, the only way you can do this is to turn down most opportunities.” He also writes, “No I can’t meet with you, no I can’t sell it to you at this price, no I can’t do this job justice, no I can’t come to your party, no I can’t help you. I’m sorry, but no, I can’t. Not if I want to do the very things that people value my work for.”
I know it’s not quite that simple. But think about it. You hopefully value what you do. You are proud of it. You want others to recognize that value as well. Saying yes to everything will not get you anywhere other than frustration and exhaustion. You might even find yourself beginning to question how valuable what you offer really is. Remember, “no is the foundation that we can build our yes on.”