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What happened when I said "no"

Updated: Apr 6, 2018

Last year I pinned an 8.5x11 sheet of paper on the inside of my workspace which says, "The key is not to prioritize your schedule but to schedule your priorities." While this is beautifully stated, it is easier said than done. I am a planner and an organizer both in trade and in my life outside of work, so why should it be difficult for me to prioritize the important things first?

I have been consuming audiobooks at the rate of 2-3 per month and recently finished The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. Through this important self-discovery, I am beginning to identify where my strengths and weaknesses lie. One of my personal blindspots is that I am overly concerned with what other think of me which translates to me saying yes to requests when I really should say no.

Believe me, I am actively practicing scheduling my priorities first and balance everything else so none of the balls I am juggling hits the floor. Jim and I talked about what kinds of vacations we want to take our family on, and they vary from a long weekend at the beach to a day trip to the zoo. By putting them on the calendar now, we can plan for them throughout the year, and plan around them instead of saying "one day we will..." Time is a thief, as my friend Somer recently said and if I am not proactive right now, I know I will look back with regret.

Here is the story of my most recent challenge and triumph - an opportunity at work. I am categorized as an achiever and performer and have been extremely happy in my current profession for 17 years and with my current employer for the last 10. I was elated when my bosses boss asked if I would work on a project with him, one that ended with a new designation, three new initials behind my name. This could open doors, big doors! What was there to think about?

The timeline for the project is four months and would require one afternoon a week out of the office. Outside office hours I would need to find six to eight hours a week to read and study. At the end of the four months, I would take an exam to earn this new designation.

When I told Jim, he was 100% supportive. I told my parents, I knew they would be proud to hear I was being acknowledged as a dynamic employee. I told my best friends in the industry several of which have worked hard to earn this designation themselves. They were excited at my decision to take my future into my own hands and really make something of it!

I wanted very badly to say yes to my bosses boss. Hell, I said yes. Let me admit this to you; I regretted the choice immediately. Two weeks into this project I found myself two weeks behind on this project. With an upcoming event to plan, my plate at the office was already overflowing. What was I thinking? I felt like I was drowning, and then my bosses boss sent me an e-mail to ask if I thought we made the right decision and if we should bow out.

I wanted to say yes. Hell, I said no. I regretted the e-mail reply immediately. My response went something like this, "I know this is a busy time at work, but once this event is over I think we can catch up with our studies and get back on track. Let's do this!" That's the confident, cheerleader, go-getter employee I am. Right?

Another week went by, and this nagging feeling inside me was screaming, "this is all wrong!" Sometimes, what we say no to is just as important as what we say yes to, so I set a meeting with my bosses boss to come clean.

What we say no to is just as important as what we say yes to.

Not sure of how my bosses boss would respond, I braced for the worst. I am distraught because I feel worse off now that I said yes and then changed my mind. I know that I will sound wishy-washy, weak; I am basically admitting to not having a backbone, to being a loser.

What if this means I am never picked for a special project again? What if he makes me pay back the money that was already spent on the coursework? What if he tells me there is absolutely no backing out and I have to finish this project? By backing out I am proving the naysayers right, oh the embarrassment I will endure. How can I face the disappointment in my friend's eyes or their disappointing text replies?

With sweaty palms and all the vulnerability I can muster, I explain why this was not the right decision on my part. I was honest and apologetic. Saying "yes" to this project does not get me closer to my "why."

Guess what? I survived. Immediately I felt the massive weight of the decision lift from my shoulders. I could think clearer and instantly prioritize my to-do list at the office without the heavy shadow of this other project in my way.

In an instant, I have reclaimed 8 hours of family time a week, which equates to about five and a half days over the course of this project. My babies will not be babies forever. Hell, they are not babies now.

Here is some truth for you. Knowing your WHY gives you the right filter to make choices, at work and home, that will help you find greater fulfillment in all that you do. Watch this TED talk for inspiration and to find you WHY. Practice in small ways at first and then one day decide to put your big girl panties on and say no that really hard request.

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