Learning to Say No is Highly Overrated


Do you ever struggle with saying no?

Most people do. Why? Why do we jump when someone says jump? Why do we let others pull our strings? I’m not talking about our 9 to 5. I’m talking about our life.

I’m sure you know the feeling. The invitation arrives or the call comes and our first thought is often, “Shit. I don’t have time for that today.” But we go anyway, right?

For some, it’s just easier. After all, you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. For others, it’s a way to avoid rejection. For most, it’s a lack of priorities that prevents saying no.

Or maybe we like being busy. After all, busy equals productivity, right? Rarely. Being busy isn’t a redeeming quality. Most of the time it’s an excuse or a failure to focus.

Today, my life is busier than ever! The difference is I’m busy doing what’s vital to my mission, priorities, and goals. Those aren’t just ideas. They’re tasks on my calendar.

Making the Pivot

About eight months before my 50th birthday, I decided to make a major change. I was tired of the road. Tired of hotel rooms. And tired of flying 100+ days a year. 

Changing my routine would mean changing my career. But it was time. My passion had expanded. After 30 great years, I was ready to explore and sail other waters.

I was warned by my CompleMentor that when you try to leave the aquarium, people won’t let you. He was right. Beware: Drastic change requires tenacious resolve.

But I was committed. And scared. Not of the risks. Of drowning. What if this didn’t work? What if no one cares about what I have to say? What if I can’t pay my bills?

My plan rested on the foundation of my new mission statement with a framework built on clear objectives I wanted to accomplish in the next season of my life.

Sailing in Stormy Seas

I finally got the courage to embark on this new adventure. On June 3, I celebrated a half-century. And then I started a summer-long sabbatical to get my bearings.

Little did I know I would be sailing in stormy seas. About the time I embarked on my voyage, I was also swamped with health issues with the power to sink my life.

My plan was harpooned. Not only would I be diagnosed with a suspected brain aneurysm but also a rare and debilitating nerve disorder. I was forced back to shore.

(In future blogs and podcasts, I’ll talk more about the loneliness that accompanies health crises. Because you will inevitably be forced to deal with them one day.)

Without unpacking the details, I’ll tell you that pain, depression, and worry were the wind and waves that nearly capsized my career change—I still battle them some days.

Many days during the last 16 months, I could only say no. Saying yes wasn’t even an option. What I did have on my side during this time was—time—lots and lots of time.

Determine What You Desire

Now, I consider myself fairly intelligent and hardworking. But I wouldn’t say I’m overly disciplined. My life hasn’t always been ladened with healthy habits.

But during my legwork for launching a new career, I created a habit of writing down and reviewing what was most important to me and would be non-negotiable.

As I contemplate the combination of these events, I’m grateful for the lessons. Clarity often comes through stormy conditions. But a crisis isn’t required for clear thinking.

We have a choice to make. We can let other people hijack our most precious commodity of time. Or we can set priorities and give focused attention to our intentions.

Today, I have a well-defined list of my desires. I carry it with me everywhere I go. You could stop me at any moment of any given day, and I could show it to you.

Those desires dictate how I manage my life. Seldom does anything get scheduled on my calendar that isn’t catalogued on my list—from events to appointments to people.

Here’s what I’ve learned the hard way: You can’t manage your life if you can’t manage your calendar. The only control other people have over your life is the time you give away.

Being a square peg in a round hole and living with authenticity is hard—but not impossible. So make your list. Let your dreams and desires direct your time.

Learning to say no is highly overrated.

You don’t need to learn to say no to others. You just need to learn to say yes to yourself.’


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To learn about this new blog and podcast by Timothy Eldred, author, speaker, and friendly disruptor of the status quo, read more about the heart of this project here.