I learned this valuable lesson from my business mentor, Dean Graziosi. I was frustrated at my lack of progress in growing my business. When I shared this with him, he counseled me:
“You’ve gotten this far by saying Yes. Yes to new contacts, new opportunities, new ideas and strategies. Now you are at the point where saying No is more valuable than saying Yes. You need to focus your efforts. That means saying No to opportunities that do not further your goals. It means turning down invitations you don’t really want to accept. It requires you to develop the ability to stay clear about what you want and the courage to say No to people who would derail you, even unwittingly. Some people may feel slighted by your refusal to join in their projects and agendas, but in the end, they will respect your strength and clarity.”
This has been a hard lesson for me, because I believe that saying Yes! to life is the best way to create a joyful life. I still believe that. But that doesn’t mean I need to say Yes to every tantalizing idea or activity that comes along. I am naturally curious and want to experience every good thing. But there are good things, and there are better things, and there are best things, as Dallin Oaks taught. In LDS church culture, we are pressured to say Yes to everything asked of us, and further pressured to do many good things of our own will and initiative. There is great value in this, as it builds our willingness and our talents. But at a certain point, No becomes even more valuable. With time and practice, we learn what works best for us in keeping our mind and heart focused on the Lord. And that varies from person to person. Some need lots of solitude and contemplative sorts of practices. Others need lots of sociality and service projects.
Learning what we want, and what we need to get what we want is a prime purpose of life, perhaps THE prime purpose. Shedding our “need” for the good opinion of others, trusting our own spirits to know how to choose what to say Yes to, what to say No to is a Big Task. Those who learn the lesson well are generally regarded as heretical, rebellious or even blasphemous. Know anyone like that?
Jesus said No, not to the Law, but to ridiculous interpretations of the law. He said No to the cultural views of women in his time. He said No to worrying about his day-to-day sustenance. He said No to cruelty, to exclusion, to hypocrisy, to Babylon. What did He say Yes to? He said Yes to God, and only to God. And what did that get Him? Misunderstanding, mistreatment, misjudgment. Ignomy. Death.
I think it’s our fear of those same results — misunderstanding, mistreatment, ignomy — that keep us from taking a clear and firm stand for God, no matter what. I’ve certainly not been that brave. But I want to be. Abraham Maslow said that fully actualized people have two traits in common: 1) they live independent of the opinion of others, and 2) they are not attached to results. Imagine the freedom of that!
To tell you the truth, this essay didn’t end up where I thought it would. But maybe that’s part of the power of No — and Yes. I said No to strict outlines, Yes to unknown possibility. If I applied that to my spiritual life, what unknown possibility might manifest? How do I know if I’m ready to properly judge between ridiculous interpretations of the law and the Law itself? How do I more deeply trust my own spirit to recognize Truth, no matter what “truth” is presented to me? How do I grow the courage to live without regard of others’ opinions of me? How do I detach from results, and simply trust God to fulfill my divine desires? When do I say No? And when Yes?
How does No and Yes show up in your life?