My Year of No

So I admit it. The title for this blog is not original. I borrowed it from Shonda Rhimes, screenwriter and producer of two blockbuster TV shows, How to Get Away with Murder and Scandal, and also author of the captivating read, My Year of Yes.

In this memoir, Shonda details her journey, over the course of year, as she moved from an introverted, insular, recluse–someone who said ‘No’ to all social engagements–to someone who said (who forced herself to say) ‘Yes’ to all (or most) invitations that came across her desk.

The result was life-changing, or so she says. Pretty soon, she found herself walking through experiences she could only dream of, from sitting with the Obamas at the Kennedy Center awards to taking tea with Oprah at her estate in California. You can read all about it for yourself, but the book was inspiring! So much so, that I decided to take heed and say ‘Yes’ more often.

I said yes to a new career.

I said yes to writing a blog every week.

I said yes to teaching an overload.

I said yes to helping a friend with her work project.

I said yes to presenting three workshops.

I said yes to attending three conferences.

I said yes to book club.

I said yes to podcasts.

I said yes to walking more, laughing more, dreaming more.

I said yes to my curiosity.

And pretty soon, I had Yessed myself into a corner.

I had packed my life to the brim. Until there was no brim left.

You see, I don’t have a problem saying yes. I am a natural (and enthusiastic) extrovert with overachieving tendencies who leans (unapologetically) towards “busy” over “balance.”

Saying Yes was a piece of cake.

No is pretty easy, too.

No, you may not stay out past midnight.

No, you may not wear that to the prom (or ever).

No, I cannot attend your event.

No, I have no prior plans.

No, I am not available on weekends and midnight.

No, I will not accept your lame excuse.

No to drugs.

No to jumping out of airplanes.

No to smiling when I am not amused.

The Nos come easily and unequivocally to me. No hedges. No hesitation. No room for negotiation.

Just No. That simple.

Until, that is, I have to say No to myself. Oof! That’s hard.

You see, the lesson I had to learn, the lesson I have learned, is that sometimes we have to say No even to the things we want to do–the things we really, really want to do.

That’s a toughie.

Byron Katie says, “Every No to someone else is a Yes to yourself.”

And this is true. I love this reframe because it repositions a No as creating space for something good to come in, something that feeds you. And when I first heard this, I found myself nodding, releasing the guilt I felt at all the Nos I had doled out . . . or rather, releasing all the resentment I felt at having said Yes a million times out of a sense of duty.

It is true. A No to others is often a Yes to yourself.

But I am here to take it one step further and suggest that sometimes what’s called for is a No to yourself.

What?!

That’s right. A No to oneself is also a Yes to oneself.

A No to a donut is a Yes to my heart.

A No to partying with the girls all night is a Yes to my morning routine.

A No to a high-prestige career is a Yes to fulfilling work.

A No to following my curiosity is a Yes to building something beautiful.

And so it is that this year I have chosen for myself the word “Build” as my Word for the Year.

Each time I am curious, each time I’m tempted by a project or an idea or an adventure, I will ask myself, How does this build on what I have already created?

How does this “thing” help me to create the joyful, meaningful life that I aspire to?

And if my question is met with silence, I will move the heck along.

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