I have a young child who – like many youngsters – is really good at saying no.
“No, I don’t want to do that.”
“No, she can’t have my toy.”
“Stop it, Mama.”
Albeit a tiny human who is still learning social norms, my daughter is clear and decisive. She doesn’t negotiate. And she has zero qualms about using her voice to deny what doesn’t work for her. Don’t get me wrong, she can be flexible too. I’ve seen her share toys beautifully. But when she chooses to say no, it’s without hesitation. Solid. Firm. No worrying about what people might think.
Watching her navigate her world with a nice, neutral “no” in her toolbox gave me pause around my own shortcomings. For example, earlier in life, I’d overcommit rather than risk disappointing someone. And when projects were offered, I’d volunteer before the void of silence became too uncomfortable.
Thinking is a powerful thing. My own penchant for overcommitting was invisible to me…I just didn’t see it for what it was. It looked noble, for example, to be the “go-to girl” for projects and commitments. I thought it made me look good. I thought being agreeable was what I needed to do to gain credibility as a team player who “gets things done.” I thought this was necessary to succeed in the corporate world.
This thinking, however, as thinking is apt to do, was getting in my way. I had the very best of intentions, but because I overcommitted, I was constantly stressed. I had no idea why I felt so dull and uncreative. My life lacked joy. I was constantly moving from one thing to the next with no time for play or fun or reflection. I was drowning.
And then one day, somewhat at the end of my rope with a to-do list a mile long, it hit me: this is unsustainable. I can’t do it all. I don’t have to accept every invitation, I don’t have to tackle every extra project. I can just say no. The relief associated with this realization was palpable, and life hasn’t looked the same since. I still say yes a lot, but I’m much more comfortable channeling my daughter’s power with a healthy dose of “no” when it makes sense.
You might think this piece is about the power of saying no. It is and it isn’t. Obviously, knowing when to say “no” from a balanced state of mind is a good idea, but my example above is really a reflection on the power of insight.
I had an insight about saying no, and it helped me. It reordered my thinking. And once I was free of that old thinking, I had new ideas about how to operate. I felt more balanced, more clear. Taking on too much started to make way less sense. Thanks to my realization about my own thinking around “no”, I have a better handle on my own limits, insecurities, and habits.
This is what insight does. It cleans the house. Even thinking that looks noble (like: I should accept this project to be a team player) can get in our way sometimes. Insight slices through the fluff and leaves something new in its wake. With something new, you get to operate from a deeper place of wisdom. For me, this means occasionally saying no with confidence.
Thanks for the example, kiddo.
P.S. Want more on the big N-O? Check out Sandy Krot’s reflections here.