Lesson 39: Say no more often


I think it was my dad who first taught me about the value of saying no. We were working on a business deal together, looking for partners and space to open a modern-day supper club here in NYC. Something I still dream of doing. It took us forever to meet and rule out a number of wrong people and places, which was frustrating.

“Success is a function of the deals you don’t do,” my entrepreneurial dad told me.

He was right. But it’s true in everything, not just business. The things we say “no” to are often just as important, if not more so, than the things we say yes to.

There are days like today, smack dab in the middle of a 4-day weekend with a little too much “me time,” that I’m reminded of this. I’m overwhelmed by too much time, space, and decisions. I don’t know what I want: to do, to eat, where to go, and who to spend time with.

But I do know what I DON’T want.

For some reason, every offer (from the few friends around this weekend) isn’t quite right. So I politely decline. Each restaurant I stop in doesn’t feel comfortable, or have what I’m looking for to eat, or feel bright enough to me (I hate dark restaurants on bright, sunny days). So I keep walking. I start to think there’s something wrong with me. What DO I want?

I don’t know actually, but then I immediately do, as soon as I see it: a great, new place with just what I was craving (a veggie burger salad and an iced tea) with a bright and sunny atmosphere and a seat at the bar.

Sometimes you have to say no, and keep walking until you see what you’re looking for.

Saying no is also powerful. It says “I’m worthy of whatever it is I need to feel good.” Whether that’s a certain food, friendship, apartment or relationship. What matters is how you say it.

Recently a very old friend asked me to do something I wasn’t comfortable with. We had a disagreement and he’d walked out on me, leaving me alone in a bar. It felt crappy when he did it, but I realized that our conversation had made him uncomfortable and he didn’t know how to say so. He didnt know how to say no. When he finally texted me weeks later, he insisted that the only way he would see me was if I agreed not to speak of what had happened and instead, simply move on.

We’ve been friends over 20 years, and I love him. But he was only taking his needs and feelings into consideration. He didn’t care how I felt, which wasn’t ok with me.  I realized now it was up to me to be ok about saying no.

“I’m not ok with that, actually,” I texted back.  “Friends talk about things. But if you change your mind and want to talk, I’ll be here.” I respectfully said no.

I think a door is opened when you clearly define your boundaries and make it known who and what is ok in your life. Respectfully and with kindness, but saying no is more than ok. It’s necessary.

I think the time has come to say NO more often. To leave room for that great place or person just around the corner. In a sense, saying no is saying yes to the good stuff that is coming your way. Only then do we have the space and time to say yes when the right thing appears.

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