Yea or Nay
Updated: May 26, 2020
I am a middle child, born in the middle of the week and the middle of the month. Perhaps that’s the origin of my affinity to all things of balance, my ability to often see validity or relevance in what others consider conflicting viewpoints.
For example, some will encourage saying “Yes!” and embracing new, challenging things. Others will encourage saying “No!” to anything that doesn’t directly and impactfully propel you to success. Who is right?
It’s an empowering experience when a child learns to say “No!” and it’s fascinating to watch a child explore and test the boundaries and results of using this new word. Often times, however, after a brief period of praise for learning the correct meaning of this new word, kids are then taught that it is rude or inappropriate to say no, especially to adults. It is a delicate dance to help kids, as they grow slowly into adults, learn how to assert themselves and still be polite.* It is a delicate dance, still, for many adults to be both assertive and polite.
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.” Warren Buffet
Warren Buffet is widely considered the most successful investor, and is among the most philanthropic as well: he donated over $3B in 2019 alone as part of his commitment to giving away 99% of his fortune! His philosophy is shared by other successful people, like Steve Jobs; it is taught by many in the personal development world, like Darren Hardy and John C. Maxwell. No is just 2 tiny little letters. Why, then, do so many people struggle to say it? Or feel guilty when they do? Some of us are people pleasers, and want to make everyone else happy. Some simply like to be helpful. Some have issues with rejection, and feel that saying no to someone else is a form of rejection (which they would not like to inflict). Some see it as a sign of weakness.
However, there is no glory in agreeing to something, and then feeling regret, resentment or guilt, sacrificing things that are important to you, not performing at your best. The key is getting clear on what is important to you, setting and sticking to boundaries, and finding ways that work for you to say no. I love the quote ““No.” is a complete sentence.” It can be that simple. Adding gratitude never hurts – such as “No, thank you” or “No, but thanks for thinking of me!” Explanations are not always necessary, even if you are asked “Why?”. It may feel uncomfortable learning to say “No!” if it has been an underutilized part of your vocabulary – but the good thing is that it will get easier with practice. Saying no to things that detract from your purpose, tire you out, or otherwise lead to negative feelings is a vital part of self-care.
"Just say yes and you’ll figure it out afterwards." Tina Fey
On the other hand, there are many advantages to saying “Yes!” and this can show up in many ways. There are new opportunities, new things to try, that might be a little scary – maybe you think you can’t do it, not sure if you’ll like it, what if something bad happens?! It may feel safer – even smarter – to avoid these things. But what if you can get that new job, if you only apply? What if you actually love skiing if you just give it a shot? What if you taste the sushi and learn you don’t like it – and now you know! What if you try and fail, and have a really valuable lesson? (That is an entire conversation in itself…)
Saying yes is about being open to possibility, to forgiveness, to love. Yes is acceptance of people or things as they are even if you don’t agree with them. It is not about taking on more, it is about experiencing more. Yes is about growing. Saying yes can avoid the nagging “what if” feeling of never knowing what could have happened.
There is no complex algorithm you need to apply to determine whether any given moment calls for a yes or a no. No one can tell you the right answer, because the answer is yours to make right. Your right answer can be found by quieting the noise and listening to what will support you the most in a given moment.
If there are circumstances when a “Yes!” philosophy is right, and other circumstances when a “No!” philosophy is right… are there circumstances when the answer is “Maybe”? Maybe. 😊 In many instances, it is very valuable to be definitive: say yes or say no, don’t churn over it, and be comfortable with the decision. I can, however, think of situations in which an openness to something in the future, and a gentleness with ourselves to make that decision later might be just right, and so for now the answer is “Maybe”.
Do you need more “Yes!” or more “No!” in your life?
* I really appreciate the distinction of being polite – rather than being respectful – shared in the book Untangled by Dr. Lisa Damour, which is a must-read (or listen) for any parent of a girl who is approaching or in the midst of teenage years. Dr. Damour says "Not everyone deserves your respect, but anyone can deserve your politeness." So true.