From an early age, we are conditioned to associate the word “Yes” with good and the word “No” with bad.
In fact, I think that it’s safe to say that, for the duration of childhood, to hear “Yes” is to get your way—and experience joy—and to hear “No” is to experience disappointment.
As we grow older, we begin to learn that things aren’t always so simple. “You won’t always get your way!” we are constantly reminded by our parents, “No, means no.”
As we mature into our late teens and early twenties, “No” slowly starts creeping into our lives.
It is gradual, but its presence becomes very real with time. Before you know it, “No” begins popping up here and there in unexpected places.
Remember that time when you and “No” told your best friend you couldn’t go downtown for his 21st birthday because you had a test the following morning? (That was a bummer.)
Or that time you and “No” told your cousin that he couldn’t crash on your couch over the weekend? After all, you were going out of town and you hadn’t spoken to that guy in years. (He contacted you out of the blue. How were you supposed to know he wasn’t just there to rob you?)
We carry “No” like a burden. And we—begrudgingly—become producers of “No” in addition to consumers.
We still use “No,” but sparingly. And we still wince when its use elicits a negative response. But out of necessity, we soldier on with “No.”
As time goes on, and our life commitments pile up, we begin to shut others out more and more. And the pain of saying “No” begins to dull.
Saying “No” is still scary, but it is also exhilarating—to finally be able to confidently say that once dirty word that made you feel sad when you were a kid.
One day, later in adulthood, we realize that “No” doesn’t have to be a sacrifice. On the contrary, it can be a source of freedom.
We begin to experiment with “No.” With this new realization we begin to use “No” more casually than ever before. It slowly dawns on us that “No” can be more than a way of sacrificing fun for work—it can be an important tool for maintaining personal boundaries!
But it is so much more than just boundaries. One day you will look around and realize that success and happiness is largely based on the ability to say “No” to others.
Saying “No” is sometimes the only way to make time for your own interests.
You will look around and see friends being overworked because of their inability to say “No”—they want so badly to help everyone, but they simply can’t. So they fail.
Their boundaries are invaded, and their resources are spread thin. They struggle to keep up with the time demands of their many commitments, and that struggle eventually turns to suffering—all because they are unable to say “No.”
Wouldn’t saying “No” be a lot easier?
It is crucial that you learn to deal with “No” in your life.
It won’t be easy—and likely, it will be very difficult—but you must overcome the difficulty of saying “No” to those trying to invade your boundaries. You must be able to hold your own against these people trying to drain you of your precious energy and time.
And, unfortunately, often these people will be family, close friends, or people you trust—people you don’t want to disappoint.
These rejections will be hard. So let me tell you this now, in case nobody has told you before:
“It is okay to say ‘No’!”
It is okay to say “No” to that shaky investment opportunity your old buddy from high school is pitching you. You don’t owe him anything just because you took a history class together a decade ago.
It is okay to say “No” to your insufferable neighbor when she asks you for “support” to fund an obscure charity run. And it is perfectly acceptable to say “No” a second time to that same neighbor’s children when they come around selling popcorn and Girl Scout Cookies. (You can bet they’ll keep coming around if you don’t ever say “No.”)
It is okay to say “No” to graduate school.
It is okay to say “No” to college.
It is okay to say “No” to buying a house.
Hell, it’s perfectly fine to say “No” to buying a car! Go buy a good road bike and get a workout on the way to-and-from work. It won’t kill you. And it will probably be the best part of your day.
Say “No” to the life others are trying to tell you to live. You don’t need to be married by 30. You don’t need to have children. You don’t need to go to college.
You can choose to say “No.”
When I began submitting my writing for publishing, I became re-acquainted with “No”—but this time from the receiving end.
My first attempt to get published was a disaster. I sent out four or five articles to a dozen different potential publishers and received uniform, unanimous “No’s.” 100% rejection.
It was a blow to my pride, and it took me a few days before I could even summon the willpower to continue writing and submitting.
Let me tell you something now: even though you might get used to saying “No,” you will never get entirely used to hearing “No.”Rejection hurts no matter how old, rich, or famous you get. That’s a universal truth.
Every “No” has a sting. I like to think of each “No” like a needle. If you lie down on a single needle, it will hurt tremendously—because the pain will be concentrated on one spot coming from only one source.
But if you lie down on a bed of thousands of needles, even though there are many more, the pain is less because it is spread out and no single needle’s pain is overwhelming and penetrating. So it must be with “No” and you. Never let it penetrate.
Keep trying, and keep getting rejected. Rejection will give you the thick skin you need to make it in this world. After enough perseverance, and countless “No’s” you will find yourself face-to-face with a bonafide “Yes.” And then, doors will open for you.
If you want to take control of your life and feel unburdened, learn to embrace and love the power of “No.”
When dealing with rejection, like in my example with writing, I like to think of “No” as a fire. (FIERY NEEDLES!)
When faced with “No,” in the form of a rejection, it can either inspire you or consume you—light a fire under your ass or engulf you in flames. Are you going to learn from your hardships and improve? Or will you listen to your critics and accept failure?
I say “No” to the latter point. I say choose your battles and stick to your guns. Never falter.
And always remember what Sean Connery once fictitiously said:
“Fifty no’s and a yesh means yesh.”
Interpret that how you will.