In most personal development books and articles on you will see the mantra – “learn how to say no” – written in the context of respecting our time and space, placing healthy boundaries and not taking on additional tasks and projects, just because we are used to be of service. This is a good advice, especially if you are always available for your friends and colleagues, invest your energy other people’s initiatives and feel constantly tired and frustrated.
On the other hand, though, in our hectic lives, we are inclined to say “no” quite often – to proposals that will mix up our routine, to dinner with friends, because the kids have to get to bed early, to a side project, because we don’t have the time or the energy, to a working lunch, because we have too much to do.
I am mostly a “no” type of person – I decline everything that has the potential to mix up my daily and weekly priorities, I turn down work lunches, so I can do more, and I often don’t have time for activities not in my schedule. I am the biggest fan of planning and focus and they are my main assistants in honoring my professional and personal commitments, in the time for what’s important, and in the space for side projects and yoga practices. I believe it’s important to prioritize and to follow our priorities and this works for me.
Inspired by an Opra podcast with Shonda Rhimes, I analyzed where my go-to answer to anything outside my schedule is “no” and in doing so I am missing out on new experiences and valuable lessons? I decided to critically review my “yes”-s and “no”-s. This coincided with my training in Spain and provided a fresh perspective of the entire experience and of what I managed to take out of it.
The training alone was a big leap outside my comfort zone. Introverted and preferring meaningful conversations with close friends to small talks in large companies, the program format challenged me to work with 8 people I haven’t met in person, to remotely prepare a 90-minute workshop, and to spend a week among 100 complete strangers. I was this close to quitting a few times, but managed to resist, mostly on account of the destination.
Once in Spain, it quickly became clear that – besides the workshop I had to deliver, there was no strict control of whether I participate in the other workshops and lectures. So, I would have been able to work, get on client calls, and not get involved in anything I don’t feel comfortable with. And it was then I started the experiment – I made a conscious effort before each step of the program:
* I haven’t signed up for the leadership workshop – I won’t go and would do some work instead. I went. They did some serious preparation, delivered interesting theory and engaged us in thought-out application exercises and fun games. 90 minutes spent mindfully and meaningfully.
* Who is this external lecturer Xesco Espar? He is in sports, which is not my topic, I will attend a client call instead. Xesco turned out to be one of the most engaging presenters and I learned valuable lessons about growth, limits and high achievement.
* What’s this activity before dinner? I would take a short rest instead of going. Incredible, energizing session with percussion instruments where I found my rhythm and had a great time.
* Dinner outside the hotel on our last night in Spain with a group activity (again) before that? – Never. I ended up in a group with 9 people I didn’t know, and we were tasked with directing and performing a 2-minute sketch using wigs and fake jewelry from the 1920s. Sat on one table and ate dinner with the new group. I – so far out of my usual manner and comfort zone – turned on each side and introduced myself. And I learned about exciting technology innovations, Christmas celebrations in Italy, and what’s it like to live in Barcelona. Had so much fun during ours – and the others’ – short theatrical performances. Came back to the hotel incredibly proud and pleasantly overwhelmed by the interaction with so many new acquaintances.
I learned so much about myself in this week of “yes”, when “no” was the easier and more comfortable way. I learned about courage, boundaries, rhythm, growth, fears, and how to overcome them. I learned a lot about others as well, others whom I met for a few days and couldn’t have deep and meaningful conversations and yet – everyone touched me with something personal, an experience, a story, a different viewpoint. I got up early and managed to go to the seaside. I had one evening for a long walk in Sitges and time to dine alone and integrate the experience. I left Spain energized, inspired, and determined to incorporate all lessons in my daily routine.
Let’s say “yes” more often in 2019!