As a child, we spend our days learning to say yes. Yes to parents, yes to teachers, yes to that friend playing with our favorite toys, yes to learning math and history no matter how much we hate school, yes to tying shoes, cleaning rooms, and controlling our thoughts and actions.
But becoming a teenager or young adult means a new opportunity to do something amazing. We get to discover our ability to say no. It’s a tricky business, learning which activities, friends, and habits that are unnecessary to devote time and energy to, especially when school and work are such big parts of life.
Here’s the thing though: almost every article I come across about being a good adult that contributes to society focuses on saying “No.” No to friends, going out, doing things you don’t like, or just adding something else to your list.
There are lots of reasons why we say no—maybe it’s because we are already helping people, have too much on our plate already, don’t have any experience, or don’t feel comfortable doing something in front of people.
The Danger of No
Here’s the tricky part: none of these are bad reasons in and of themselves. In fact, they’re all pretty logical. If you’re already helping twenty people a week, it would probably be hard to add in more people. It’s easy to fill your plate with things and it’s never a bad idea to take stock of what you’re doing to see if anything needs taken off.
Let me give you a personal example. Halfway through college, I realized that in order to make my graduation goals, I had to stop working as much, watching as many movies, and talking to friends during school hours. It was a little tough at first, but I’m an introvert so staying in, listening to music, turning off the notifications, and focusing on things I was interested in wasn’t a massive problem. I buckled down, created new habits, and made it happen.
Maybe this will sound familiar to you, fabulous world changer. Within six months, I realized that I was stuck in the rut of saying no. I kept up with the status quo but everything new was thrown out the window, even though I had just closed one of the biggest projects in my life. I was simply coasting and saying no to almost everything.
- No to helping with kids choir at my church. “I like kids, but not OTHER people’s kids. Just my perfect nieces and nephews.)
- No to buying a new car even though my current one had died in multiple ways already. (A tire fell off…the speedometer stopped working on the highway…it died repeatedly…we had issues.)
- No to my church’s music ministry. (Putting on massive productions twice a year is a lot of work, plus new music every week.)
- No to sales as a job. (Um. Talking…to people…grownups…about buying stuff!?! Yeah nope nope nope.)
- No to reading books. (Yeah, I swore off books for a while. What was I thinking?)
I had created a new and dangerous habit. I wouldn’t even entertain the idea of saying yes. “No” was the knee jerk reaction and I had created a fence between me and progress, built by myself. The danger of saying no is that we keep saying it out of habit, not circumstance.
Don’t feel like you can’t say no. Just understand why you’re doing it.
Like I said earlier, saying no is often a great option. It keeps you from getting too stressed, over-committed, and frazzled. You’ll stay focused and on track, who can say no to that?
If you never look up from what you’re doing to take stock of your options, you’ll never be able to grasp the wonderful adventures God sends your way. I don’t want you to run after every rabbit trail you go by, just give it some thought.
Establishing plans doesn’t mean they won’t change. You can’t guarantee what will happen tomorrow, much less in five years! (See Proverbs 27:1.)
“You should have a flexible calendar, yet a firm resolute focus on pursuing your purpose.”
—Life Purpose Planning Workbook
Every time you want to say no, ask yourself these five questions:
- Have I thought about this for more than one minute?
- It’s impressive how quick a decision can be made. Try to take five minutes: pray, send a note to a mentor, and mentally list why you should or shouldn’t do it.
- Would this activity make me a better person, physically, spiritually, mentally, or socially?
- If it will bring you closer to God and His purpose for you, that’s normally an amazing reason to run for it.
- Is there something I should take off of my plate to fit this into my schedule?
- You don’t need to train five hours a day for a marathon you already ran. Take stock of your current to do list and see if anything is unnecessary.
- Would I regret not giving this a chance in six months, a year, or five years?
- Have I talked to a mentor about this?
- Make sure you do this for any big decision. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said no to something before someone pointed out how perfect I would be for a position or activity in ways I never thought of.
- Am I saying no just because it’s outside of my comfort zone or I fear failing?
- Public speaking, teaching, or working with a new group of people are hard things. None of us are comfortable when there’s an option of embarrassment and failure. But there’s no way to learn and serve others better without a chance of making a fool of yourself. So make it glorious.
(Alternatively, I recommend swapping these questions around to analyze why you’re saying yes. Ya know, just for fun.)
Give the idea of saying yes a chance
Remember that list of all of those things I said no to? Guess what my life looks like now. I love serving in my church and teaching kids about God’s love through music, I’ve been in sales and marketing for over five years, my new-to-me car has four tires on at all times plus awesome speakers, I’ve read nearly 20 books this year, and I’m learning to say yes a little more every day. And all it took was six months of doing absolutely nothing of real purpose.
This is a daily battle. I’m still saying no to things that I really love or would love doing just because I think I don’t have time or energy. Last year I had the opportunity to travel halfway across the world to visit a brother who’s stationed in Japan. It took me till this month to get over the 25 hour solo travel time, money involved, and all of the other stupid excuses I came up with. “My parents totally don’t know how to live on their own, what would they do without me!?! I haven’t seen that brother in over a year, what if we don’t get along even though we’ve spent 12 years living in the same house!?! What if I can’t find the right neck pillow for the trip!?! Oh woe is me!”
Honestly, most of the excuses that you come up with are probably about as silly and inconsequential as mine…not all of them, but a lot are.
The trip, of course, went wonderfully, my parents somehow managed to stay alive without me, the airline gives out neck pillows on long flights, my brother, sister-in-law, and my adorable little niece were a blast to hang out with. And I got to try soba for the first time. Saying yes to the right things will always make more sense in the long run and you rarely regret saying yes as much as you will saying no.
Do you have an opportunity that you haven’t given enough thought to? Do you have fears or excuses that are keeping you from saying no?
List them out. Give them to God. Say Yes. You’re going to change the world.
“I am learning to say Yes, to be daring and spontaneous, to hurl myself into people and places and moments without hesitation or second guessing myself—to challenge my anxieties, to confront my fears, and trust unwaveringly in chance and fate to lead me to where I am supposed to be.” -Beau Taplin