The power of saying no
He tried to say „yes“ to everyone and failed but learnt an important lesson: every „no“ can make a „yes“ much stronger.
„I don‘t have any time.“
He spoke the sentence and breezed out a deep sigh. Like anyone else he had this sentence running through his mind many times in the past. He knew that there were a few reasons to use this sentence. In a meritocratic and fast-moving world it could be used like a pretty jewel, a way to pride yourself for how busy you are. It could be used to defend yourself against external demands and regain agency and it could be used out of despair – the confession of someone who realizes that he just can’t stand all the demands.
For him it was the latter.
Once he said that seeing people smile is all he wants.
While he said this, the smile in his own face left no doubt that he actually meant what he said. In a way his approach to life worked out: the people around him liked him. They came to him, when they needed help. They laughed with him. They appreciated him as the one who always tried to be helpful and who had the talent to spread a positive spirit. And of course he noticed all that and felt joy for himself.
The downside was that he struggled with telling people when he couldn’t do them the favor they were asking for. He would try anyway. When faced with a demand for meeeting an unrealistic deadline, he would be the one who would say „yes“ while his brain was yelling „no“ at him. He would simply fail at forming the word with his mouth. Now all the promises he made weighed on his shoulder as if he would carry the world.
He had tried multiple times to juggle each ball he was handed, only to realize that there are only so many balls one can handle without some of them hitting the ground. He still tried to be positive, but he did not succeed. The smiling face he looked at in the mirror seemed like a grimace to him. He was exhausted and shattered by his own disappointment, because this time the inevitable had happened: he failed to deliver by the promise he made.
In the very first moment of this realization he went straight into disbelief and then he felt anger.
He was angry with the people that demanded more from him than he could achieve. He was angry with the people, whose help he could have needed the most along the way, but who didn’t help him suceeed. Above all he was angry with himself for knowing that what he agreed to was next to impossible – and that he gave a commitment anyway. Now he had seen the disappointment in someone else’s face and it was even harder for him than he ever imagined.
“What if I would have said no?“, he started second-guessing himself.
He wondered if it would have been better to tell them straight and honest how unrealistic their expectation was. In hindsight one is able to evaluate past choices more clearly than in the moment of choice, he thought to himself, but this thought couldn’t calm his mind. He knew he couldn’t attribute the blame to a lack of information. He knew about all the work it involved. The people in his team even told him that they won’t be able to keep up with the promise he made. „It‘s important for them“ is what he insisted on back then and after some minutes of discussions his team gave up resistance, knowing that they were setting themselves up for failure or mediocricity at best.
After all, if you try to achieve all at once, each individual task gets less of your time and attention.
It would be an understatement to say that the moment of realization was painful for him.
He felt like a failure, having failed others and among them people he actually liked. It was written all over the faces of his team, how frustrated they were due to the fact that they had run into the abyss with their eyes open. He was in charge, but they followed him. But the worst realization was that he wasn’t so sure that he spent effort on what mattered to him. He had let himself be pulled in different directions so much, that he had no time to think about what he wanted to achieve. All he knew about his own goals was that he once started with the intention of making a difference.
“Saying no makes your yes so much more powerful.”
He remembered this sentence that he had picked up somewhere and it suddenly started to make sense.
He realized that no matter how hard we try, whether we try to stand on our heads, cry, scream or cower in embryonal position – there is one thing in which we are all together: we all have a limited amount of time and have to deal with it in one way or another. We can try to achieve everything and achieve nothing at all. Or we say „no“ from time to time and gain the freedom to say „yes“ and really mean it.
He took another deep breath and then he made a promise to himself.
He decided that in future, he will evaluate all choices by asking himself: is this thing really worth my time or the time of the team? Is it in line with my plans, my wishes, values and ideals? And will it help make a difference?
And if the answer is no, he will turn to something else.