There are articles and blog posts all the time about saying no to the things you don’t actually want to do.
That’s never been a big issue for me.
My problem is saying no to the things that I really, legitimately WANT to do. Because I want to do everything! I want to be involved. I love to learn. I enjoy being out in the world doing things. I’m always the first one to say to a new adventure.
But I can’t do it all.
So I have to say no – even to things I really want to do.
This realization came to me a few years ago when I said yes to a fantastic project – leading mentoring for the Cargill Global Scholars Program. I was tasked with creating the structure and support for over 50 university students from across the globe that would be paired with Cargill employees as mentors. Amazing, right? I thought so too.
So I said yes without even pausing to think.
I said yes in the same month that I returned from my expat assignment in Australia and started a new job at Cargill that would require a huge amount of learning. I said yes when I was in the midst of moving back into my condo. I said yes when I was rebuilding friendships that I had been absent from for a year and a half.
I spent at least four hours a week on this project for the next year. Parts of it were amazing. It was completely aligned to my values. I loved seeing the connections made between students and their mentors. I felt awesome when the students came from Brazil, China, Russia, India, and the US to Minnesota for a leadership seminar and I got to meet them and hear what they were learning from the program.
But I still should have said no.
What I realized in the midst of all this is that when you say yes to something, you’re always saying no to something else.
The challenge is that the choices aren’t usually stacked next to each, so it doesn’t look like you’re choosing between things. But you are.
When I said yes to this amazing project, I said no to leaving the office at a reasonable hour each day. I said no evenings and weekends free from work. I said no to really enjoying all my social activities because, even though I went out with my friends, my energy wasn’t always there to fully engage.
In short, I was overwhelmed, overworked, and exhausted.
So I started to pause before I said yes to new offers. I told people that I needed to think about it and would get back to them instead of responding with a yes or no in the moment. I asked myself “What am I saying no to if I say yes to this?”
I’ll admit, I still want to be involved in everything. I consistently have to remind myself that I can’t do it all – that I have to say no even when I want to say yes. It’s a practice.
But it’s a practice with massive rewards. I have more time and energy for my true yeses. I can dig in deep with them and contribute more of myself. I also get more sleep and feel less stress and overwhelm.
What do you want to say no to this week?
Heather Whelpley is a coach and speaker that works with women to master doubt and imposter syndrome and own their brilliance. Learn more about her coaching services here.