I recently said “no” to a new business opportunity. It was hard to turn down, given that I had already said “yes.” But somewhere between agreeing over the phone and waiting for the contract to arrive, I got a feeling.
Something was off. A little worm wiggling around my belly. Felt like I drank some expired milk in the sun.
I’d later lie, and say that it wasn’t personal. But the feeling came from one of the partners I’d be working with. I still can’t put my finger on it, but there was something. Something that made my Spidey-Sense tingle.
I thought about him and remembered a piece of advice I heard a few years ago:
“If you can’t imagine working with someone for five years, don’t work with them for one day.”
This advice has some flaws. It assumes we have 2020 foresight. I tend to be pleasantly surprised by people I work with, not disappointed. And most of us aren’t in the position to be so choosey with who wants to butter our bread.
But this bit of fortune cookie wisdom told me that I already knew the answer to my stomach’s question.
The damn hard part about decisions is that they have consequences. It’s easy to see how well a “yes” ages over time. But we don’t always have tangible evidence to judge how a “no” might have turned out. “Yes” has hindsight. “No” is just another road not taken. But I’ll tell ya…
When I say “no” for the right reasons, it almost always grows up to be a Hell yes am I glad I said no to that…
The best reason to say no isn’t a reason at all. It’s a feeling. A hunch. We invent reasons and excuses so we can politely decline. I’m sorry but I got my fingers stuck in a bowling ball and can no longer use a computer. But we’re just trying to justify that feeling in our gut. That worm at the bottom of the milk carton.
When we’re starting out, it’s best to say “yes” to almost everything. Yes is how you calibrate instincts and skill. Yes now means you might be in the position to say No later. No to something you really don’t want to do.
Here’s a great visual representation of this by Jack Butcher of Visualize Value:
1) Say yes to everything:
Figure out what you’re good at:
Say No to almost everything:
I think the key here is the word “almost” and not everything. The Power of No is that it leaves a nice sliver of space to be pleasantly surprised by something new—or to get your face ripped off by a bad choice you won’t make again.
Still, saying, “no” can is one of the hardest things an ambitious person can learn. There’s the urge to people-please. The lack of clarity around our priorities. Personally, my Achilles Heel around saying “no” is scarcity.
I live in the fear that if I say “no” now, it will be the last time anyone ever asks me to dance. That it’ll be the day the dream done died. The fat lady and her singing. The bloody gutter ball.
I get over this fear rather quickly, however, because I’ve created a trail of hindsight. I’ve said “no” before, and yet, them suitors still come-a-callin’. I’ve had enough practice to remember that saying “no” to one thing is actually saying “yes” to something else I haven’t heard about yet.
And isn’t that really what this is all about? Using No to make space for Yes. It’s having the space to say Hell Yes to the right things that can make a well out-thought “no” age like fine wine.
Maybe it’s saying “no” to something new you could do. Maybe it’s saying “no more” to something you’ve been doing. Whatever it is, I hope you give yourself a chance to use the Power of No this year.
It’s been a month since I said “thanks, but no thanks,” to that project, and every day that goes by, my stomach feels better and better.