Mark Twain

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do ...
Explore. Dream. Discover." Mark Twain

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Power of NO!

During my years as a working person I had one boss (a lovely and caring individual) who coined this statement with her employees.

"The answer is yes.  Now what is the question?"

At the time (12 years ago) I thought it was a catchy statement.  It seemed so positive, so open, so engaging.  And it was something I always remembered it.  I thought it was something to immolate in my own life.  It matched my perception of who I was ... a perky, happy, open and accommodating person.

Over the years since that job, I learned that the answer "yes" to every question was not necessarily helpful, or truthful or healthy.  I began to wonder if she learned that statement in a management course or book on how to manage teams.  I became more skeptical and resistant to stock statements and catch phrases.  I learned through some difficult life experiences that "yes" is not always the best answer.

And now as a grouchy older woman I find "no" to be the best answer in many situations.  My path from a "yes" person to a "no" person is not so dismal as you might think.

Here are the situations where "no" really is the best answer.
  • No, I don't want my home to be filled with too much stuff.  I don't want to struggle finding things that I know I have but can't find.  I don't want to buy a 6th hammer because I can't find the other 5. (sadly not an exageration)
  • No, I don't want to end my life in a wheel chair or bed bound.  I don't want my family to struggle with managing my end of life dibilitation.  I don't want to linger in a marathon of stuggle and pain.  
  • No, I don't want my personal time filled with activities and obligations that I don't enjoy or value.  I don't want to say "yes" to requests because it is more socially acceptable to do so.  I don't want my personal time (that is slowly ticking away) filled with others expectations.
But really, as the quirkiness of language can sometime show, the "no" statements can be restructured into "yes" statements.
  • Yes, I do want to get rid of that 6 bags of stuff I decluttered.  I do want to minimize my belongings so that I can find and use them.  I do want to value the things I love without having them buried in stuff I don't.
  • Yes, I do want to keep active, flexible and engaged in life - so I do want to exercise and stretch because I want to keep control of my own life and not abandon that responsibility to my children. 
  • Yes, I do want fill my hours with fun, thoughtfulness and happiness, and my perception of what that is exactly is my decision to make - not someone else's.
For me "no" is a more empowering word.  I learned the value of "no" in saying "yes" to caregiving. Strange as it seems, I said "yes" to a huge responsibility, but "no" was where I learned how to stand up for myself and for my mom.  "No" to doctors, nurses, social workers, other family members, and religious professionals when I didn't accept their point of view ... "no" to administrative types and billing folks .... even "no" to my mom when her deteriorating brain failed to serve her well.  It was in those last years I learned that "no" was more powerful than "yes."  In fact, I was told several times near the end of mom's life, "You never gave up on your mother."   True.  It was an observation made because I said "no" far more than I said "yes."  

I really wish I had been wise enough to 12 years ago to challenged that little management "yes" statement ... maybe with some carefully worded questions that wouldn't get me fired like ...
  • Can I have a 25% increase in pay?
  • Can I have a corner office?
  • Can I have a 3 hour work day without a cut in pay?
I bet I could have massaged a "no" from my boss's lips.

So - are you more of a "yes" person or a "no" person?  

And don't let my post sway you from your opinion.  
The world is filled with "yes" people.  
And with enough challenge in life they just might graduate to "no" people.  

Really, all the interesting people in life are "no" people.


  1. i guess I'm half and half.

  2. Good post; I especially liked where you turned your "No" statements into "Yes" statements. I think that is important to do when possible.

  3. it reminds me of the sog "yes, I want no bananas"

  4. I think I have mostly been a "yes" person. But I am making more time for myself now and can only do this if I learn to say "no" to things that I see as a waste of time or that just don't appeal to me.

  5. Being a single mother of two boys meant I needed to keep my sense of humor. When I would hear, "Mon, can...." I would interrupt them often and say "No, oh wait what was the question"

    Looking at your examples reminds me how much happier we can be if we reword what we don't want with positive phrases using what we want. Your comment about not wanting to be in a wheel chair is a good one that by turning around I want to remain active helps us to keep with activities that do just that. On another note, I was born with a disability and doctors told me I would be in a wheel chair by age six. it didn't happen until I was 50 but for years I said I'd rather not live if I had to be confined to a chair. Instead, my life was so full that the limitations haven't discouraged me from living life fully.

    Anyway, thank you for your take on the power of no.


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