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I’ve generally always considered myself a “yes” person.  “Yes, I can…”…take on an extra task at work; Tweet for the organization that I volunteer with and spend considerable time on the phone with a former colleague when they really need it. “Yes” also to a homemade gift to your shower; a re-arrange of my schedule for the event that you missed and interesting, healthy dinners on the table six nights a week. None of this ever seemed over the top or unrealistic.  Now, it all seems crazy. Not the actions themselves.  They are kind and thoughtful but continuing to do them all, to say “yes” to so much, means that I am making myself crazy. It seems that I have a “yes” problem.

And I catch myself with the lack of honesty in that last sentence.  Kind of like the alcoholic who says, “it seems as if I have a drinking problem,” insinuating that this is a thought with no real author, no real owner.  Let me re-state: I have a “yes” problem.  Let me be honest here, in hopes of using this form of public vulnerability to galvanize me toward action.

I have always been an overachiever.  And, super competitive, ambitious, and hard-working. But also generous.  I have always thought of myself as a generous person.  And that perhaps is where my problem lies. The assumption is that generous is good. shutterstock_97614038 And I bought into this concept too.  But the reality, I’m finding, is that personal generosity, just like anything else, can become an Achilles Heel if over-used. The beauty of giving, especially in a world that often feels so desperate for kindness, is seductive.  But the reality is that when you say “yes” to too many things, you not only put too much of what you value at risk but you also dilute your “yes”.

Here’s how this shown up recently for me-

  • Somewhere between 5-8 unfinished books sitting in various places around my house because I cannot seem to commit to finishing one at a time.  1-3 books in this state has always been my usual.  And that felt normal actually: 1 fiction and perhaps 1-2 non-fiction on different topics.  5-8 feels manic and uncommitted.  Two byproducts of my “yes” crazy-making.
  • Yesterday, I saw an email where someone had been left out of something.  Not my fault, likely hers, but I picked up my computer quickly to try and right a wrong.  I did this when Elisabeth was sitting on a chair.  I looked away, she stood up and when I looked back up, she was falling off the chair.  Kids fall.  I know this.  But this fall could have been avoided…if I’d been right there instead of trying to make someone else feel better about something that wasn’t my fault in the first place.
  • Way too much food leftover from a farewell to summer party over the weekend means that I ate way too much crappy food on Monday and Tuesday.  As a result, I felt tired, head-achy and unhealthy.  If I’d reigned myself more in on the food thing to begin with, said “no” to some things, we’d have fewer leftovers, spent less money, have normal dinners again and I’d feel better.

The “yes” that I have been using, while well-intentioned, is clearly not only unsustainable but ends up putting what I do value at risk. In addition the guilt, worry and anxiety that ensues from constant “yeses” mean that they actually cost me much more emotionally than I had imagined.  All of this means that I need to start saying “no”.

I’ve been doing this a bit but it’s not enough.  Unsubscribing from unwanted emails is one thing but I need to start saying “no” to people and projects that I care about…and that’s incredibly hard for me.  But I believe that’s what I need to do in order to ensure what I do value is getting the attention that it deserves.  And it’s not just Elisabeth.  It’s my business and my relationships with the people that I love, including my wonderful, patient husband.

There’s also a piece about trading perfect for quite good enough that I’ll explore a bit later because that’s part of this whole yes/no challenge too, isn’t it?

Last night, in an effort to turn over a new leaf, I picked up a book that I hadn’t looked at in a while.  One of the 5-8, you know. I opened to where I left off and saw this, “the art of moving forward lies in understanding what to leave behind.”* I stopped, allowing those words to sink in. That sentence was the exact mantra that I needed to feel more confident about those impending “no’s”.  I bookmarked the page with a Post-It and kept reading. Moving forward.

*_The Icarus Deception_by Seth Godin. P. 21