Getting to No: Thinking (a bit) like a Cat

I am a big believer in the idea that life provides repeated opportunities to learn – and relearn – the same lesson over and over again until it really sticks. On my side, I have a tendency to agree to what other people want, before really thinking through whether it is what I want to do.

One of the most important lessons that I am trying to bring into my day life in 2nd Middle Age is the right to say “no.” As a colleague reminded me the other day, “No” is one of the most important words in our vocabulary, and we should not be afraid to use it.

This can be a genuinely painful process – it is so hard for me to disappoint others and it has been drilled into my head over such a long time that it the most important thing is to get to “Yes.” I realize now that this is just not true, at least not for me, and not at this stage in my life.

So now I am trying to be just a little bit like a cat. When is the last time you saw a cat (willingly) undertake to do something that it doesn’t want to do?

What does she know that I don’t?

Of course in 2nd Middle Age we remain responsible adults (assuming we were already there to begin with) – presumably with family or other responsibilities our lives.

Still, to the extent that your external obligations, health and financial well-being allow, this is a great time to just say no, to focus on the people and activities that are important to you, that add value to your days.

Is this as hard for you as it is for me?

Here are some of the questions I am trying to think about when I start to feel uncomfortable with commitments that I may have taken on without really thinking through whether they are something that I want in my life:

– What is the difference between leaving your comfort zone (potentially rewarding) and agreeing to do something that is just not a good fit for you?

– Whatever it is, the opportunity may be really, really important, but does that mean that it is essential for you to be part of it? (No, not really.)

– Even if, all things being equal, if the project is very important generally speaking and also important to you, is the project being led by the right people? (Pay attention go ANY red flags or feelings of discomfort.)

– When is saying no to an obligation critical to say yes to something – or someone – more important to you?

– How do you make space in your life for the next big thing or even just little things that are important to you?

We all know that much of what we are able to accomplish in life depends on what we don’t do as much as what we do – the choices we make every day determines how we spend our days.

Sometimes the right answer is “no.”

Published by skfinston

Born February 21, 1961 in Detroit, Michigan; enjoying 2nd Middle Age in Zichron Yaakov, Israel. After a misspent youth in the US Foreign Service (postings in London, Tel Aviv and Manila), I moved to the Semi-private Sector, working for a leading trade association in Washington DC before launching my own company Finston Consulting in 2005. Over the last 15+ years I have worked with innovative companies ranging from Fortune-100 to start up, as well as NGOs, and governments, including service as a cleared advisor (Secret level) to the Commerce Department and the U.S. Trade Representative (IPR, Tariff/Trade Facilitation). As a graduate of the University of Michigan, my degrees include a Bachelors of Science (Philosophy, High Honors), Juris Doctor and Masters of Public Policy. After law school I clerked at the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit before joining the U.S. Foreign Service (TSI-CodeWord Clearance). I am a member of the Illinois and US Supreme Court Bar.

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