Welcome to SPARK Day 22. Today is all about taking that idea of what you want you to be doing less of in your life and really grasping how to claim that in your life.
And the inspiration for today’s focus really comes from my own experience. You see, I love the idea of saying yes with abandon, love the ability to be helpful, but, truth be told, if I yes my way through several days or weeks, I absolutely hate the impact.
The yes girl in me sees you, sympathizes with your need, and desperately wants to partner with you in meeting that need.
But if left to my own natural instinct, I say yes with a personal recklessness, show up everywhere you need me, and give, as one of my high school students once so keenly observed about me, until I give out.
There was a time that I found this precious about me, where the truth of it allowed me to define myself as good, where my overly yes nature defined part of my worth. And what I most wanted to be was good. Being good was my everything.
And I realized that I could not continue to say yes with wild abandon. I had to have more of a structure for my yeses and I had to know my nos. Because here is the thing: we are, each one of us, here on purpose. Every one of us is meant to meet at least one of the world’s needs whether that is raising compassionate, problem solving children to treating or curing some insidious disease. And if we disperse, distract, diffuse our energy, we are less capable of doing the work we are meant to be doing in this world. We become less capable of flaming our passion and purpose and giving our gifts and talents to the world. And so becoming aware of what our nos and yeses should be is vital for several reasons: it allows us to practice better self-care which is so awesome and important but it also allows us to focus our finite energy on what we are most meant to be doing in this world.
Over the last fifteen years, I have honed my understanding of myself and my system for saying no, honed my responses, and honed my philosophy. It is not perfect; I still have to relearn the same lesson far too often; but I no longer get to that really dangerous overextended threshold. I put things back into check far earlier.
Because learning this lesson has been so valuable to me, I wanted to share with you a strategy for knowing YOUR nos and it all starts with a powerful personal realization.
I’m Every Woman
For the longest time, when someone asked me to do something, I had two standards for whether or not I would say yes.
Was the time needed actually open on my calendar?
So, if Sally Smith saw me in the preschool lobby and asked me if I could help with Thursday’s bake sale, I would check to see if my calendar was open on Thursday morning . If yes, then I moved to standard #2.
Could I do what was being asked of me?
And I don’t mean with any particular skill or anything—just was I capable of the bare minimum of the ask. So could I, at least, whip together a bag of sugar cookie mix and put some frosting on top? Then yes. If the question was could I repair a motorcycle, then no.
So those were my standards. Was the time open on my calendar and could I basically do it. If so, then yes, I would do it.
Right now, you are thinking, “yeah, so?” because that’s likely what you do, too. Your standards are “do I literally have the time?” (not “is this how I am meant/called to spend my time?”) and “can I basically do it?” How do I know those are your standards? Because in the words of Chaka Khan, I’m every woman.
But then as a commitment neared, a little voice in my head would say something like, “why did I say that I would do this?” It would say that while I was preparing, getting ready, driving there. Then, I would get there and I would have a wonderful time. And so on the way home, I would start in on myself, “See? You had a perfectly good time. Your problem isn’t being overcommitted. It is your attitude. Fix it, girl.”
And so I tried to fix my attitude. But here’s the thing. In my list of areas for growth, a bad attitude isn’t one of them. I promise. So what was going on?
Then I had this important realization: Being happy AFTER the commitment isn’t enough as I am wired to have a good time most everywhere I end up. As much as is possible (and, heck, it isn’t always possible as there is laundry to be done in my life and I just can’t be happy about that), I want to be happy all the way through a commitment.
And, thus, was born a whole a new framework for me in knowing my nos.
A Continuum of Wholeheartedness
In 2012, my word for the year was wholehearted. I chose the word for many reasons but one of the big reasons I chose it was because I really wanted to be wholehearted in everything that I did. I wanted the feeling of wholeheartedness to be my guide. As much as possible, I wanted to feel wholehearted and all in with everything that I did. Granted, I knew I wouldn’t feel wholehearted about the laundry or dishes or vacuuming but, you know, as much as possible I wanted my choices to be rooted in wholeheartedness.
And, thus, the continuum of wholeheartedness was born, and it became a critical tool for me in knowing my nos.
Because I want to be wholehearted in as much that I do as possible, I now operate with different standards. It is not enough anymore for the basic standard to be that my calendar is open nor that I am technically able to meet the need (recall the example of making cookies for the bake sale). Now, I have to feel honored to be asked or thrilled to offer my energy/gifts/talents, excited to say yes, happy to do the pre-work to get ready for the commitment, and THEN have a good time while I am there. This is the continuum of wholeheartedness, and it has given me so much clarity about what my yeses need to be.
Today, I want to encourage you to employ a continuum of wholeheartedness when deciding whether or not to commit to something.
But what will that person do if I say no, you wonder.
Last year, I was asked to be on a board for a non-profit whose work I feel is incredibly important in our community. The email invitation made it seem like I was essential to the organization’s success. I was torn, but I also knew that I was at my saturation point commitment-wise and I just couldn’t. Yet, I felt so bad.
So I wrote a very detailed apology note to say that I just couldn’t do it and that I was so, so sorry.
Minutes later, I got an email back that basically said, “No problem. Do you know any other Latinas who might be interested?” It was more tactful than this, I promise, but that was the gist.
I have to tell you that guffawed at that one. They didn’t need ME; they needed someone who had a particular lens that I also had. And that made me realize two things.
People are more ready for your no than you realize.
Think about it. Every time that I ask someone for help, I always have a back up plan. What will I do if Valerie says no, I think. And I am not special. Other people think that way, too. In fact, I think that organization expected me to say no but thought that asking me might get them closer to what they need. So people are ready for you to say no if it doesn’t work in your quest for a continuum of wholeheartedness.
Your no is someone else’s yes.
When you say no, you allow the person who asked to get closer to the right person for the job. Imagine that my bake sale example is real. I am a relatively friendly, enthusiastic person. I move through a space, checking in with people and hearing about what is going on, and so I might be a natural person to tell about the bake sale to see if I might be interested in helping. But my cookies are just as likely to come out burnt (because I get distracted by some other commitment) as come out worth some money. So I may not be the best bang for your bake sale buck. But that more quiet mom walking down the hall behind me could very well be your person. She could be experimenting with putting rosewater or lavender in her lemon cupcakes during her weekly baking sessions, and if I just said no, she would be right there, in front of you, the perfect yes for the project. So by saying no to something that is not a perfect fit, you allow the more perfect fit to be found which is good for everybody. It gets all of us closer to our true purpose. It helps each of us more accurately give our gifts to the world.
Tune into what is true for you.
Consider your own continuum of wholeheartedness and begin to employ it as you say no and say yes. What you will find is that you will be more energized by getting more and more pure about what you offer and how you offer it while the world’s needs are more powerfully met by the right people coming into their calling.
Are there things in your life that you know you need to say no to? How can you begin?
And look out for tomorrow’s SPARK which will look at knowing your nos professionally.