The Small But Soul-Crushing Word You’re Using Every Day

I am notoriously bad at over-committing to things, at misjudging my time and packing my schedule full of tasks I can't possibly accomplish. My wife will tell you this. So will my calendar. I am obsessed with yes.

Photo Credit: Magh via Compfight cc

I don't know why I do this. Maybe it's my people-pleasing nature, my need to be liked and accepted — some accomodation for never being the popular kid in middle school, I guess.

This is why, admittedly, I started a blog. I wanted attention. Sure, I wanted to help people, too, but my motives were far from pure. Which was why when people started asking for my time, I couldn't say no.

And for the first couple years of pursuing my dream, and even now sometimes, I say yes to too many things. But I'm starting to believe there has to be a better way.

“Yes” can become an awful addiction

I have to tell you: I believe in “yes.” I am a fan of the word. Far too often, we say no to things because we are afraid or unsure. We don't know what might happen, so we decide to play it safe. As a result, we miss what could have been an amazing opportunity.

So for the longest time, this was all I said. Yes.

  • Want to go the movies at midnight? You bet.
  • Want to start a business with me? Sure.
  • Want to play guitar in our band, even though we don't have a drummer. Why not?

Yes. It was my world. And it was a lot of fun. Yes got me into a college I never visited, a place that changed my life. It led to helping a couple of girls move one Sunday afternoon when I would've rather been napping, which led to meeting my future wife.

I believe in yes. Sometimes.

After deciding to be a writer, I took it upon myself to meet up with just about every writer in the greater Nashville area. Saturday mornings and Monday nights and Wednesday lunches were all reserved for chats about the craft.

It was fun to meet so many people who were in the trenches with me. There was just one problem, though. I wasn't writing. I was talking about writing, even dreaming about it. But I wasn't doing a whole lot of it.

One day after two and a half hours and eleven cups of coffee between the two of us, a friend said to me, “You know, Jeff. We just spent over two hours talking about writing, time that we could have spent actually writing.”

After that day, I started saying no.

The liberating power of the word “no”

There is an indescribable emotion that accompanies saying no to something you don't want to do. It feels liberating.

When I stopped saying yes out of obligation to requests to “pick my brain” or connect for no real reason, I unlocked a hidden treasure. Suddenly, I had more time to write, the thing that I secretly wanted to do, anyway.

It was a beautiful thing.

Here's the way my friend Lysa Terkeurst describes a similar situation:

I remember the first time I had to decline a friend’s invitation to meet at the restaurant with the indoor playground because I’d scheduled writing time. I felt so foolish. I wasn’t a writer to her. Shoot, I wasn’t a writer to myself either. I’d never written anything of any kind of significance — unless you count that little book of poems I’d made for my mom when I was ten, the one with the poems written on parchment paper with burned edges. I was totally into burned edges back then.

I think we can all relate to these moments of hesitation when we want to commit to something we must do but feel conflicted about something we should do.

So let me ease your conscience. If you are a writer or an artist or someone called to do important work in this world, you have to say no. At some point, somewhere, you will not be able to say yes to every opportunity that comes your way. It's impossible.

So what will you do then? Will you give up, having a mental breakdown due to your stress and inability to fulfill all the demands on your time. Or will you embrace the powerful of a beautiful no?

We don't say no for the sake of saying no. We say no to something good so we can say yes to something better. [Tweet that]

Every day, we have an opportunity to choose our craft, to grab hold of this thing that we were put on the earth to do. For me, that's writing. For you, maybe it's telling jokes or raising three little kiddos in the suburbs. I don't know.

The point is this: are you saying no to the urgent so that you can say yes to the important? Or are you doing what most of us do? Are you saying yes to too many things and slowly falling apart inside?

Here's a closing thought, again from my friend Lysa whose book The Best Yes comes out this week:

The decisions you make determine the schedule you keep. The schedule you keep determines the life you live. And how you live your life determines how you spend your soul.

If you're ready to start taking writing more seriously, join me for a free, no-pitch webinar on “Mastering the Habits of Prolific Writers” where we'll talk about what it takes to start writing on a daily basis. Click here to register.

Have you ever said no to something urgent so that you could say yes to something important? Share in the comments.