Recently, someone asked me about how and when to say no. I’m glad they did, because it's such an important skill, and because it's one I've struggled with.
Okay, that's an understatement. Sometimes it feels like my entire life is about not saying no enough. Which is why I know all about it!
Let's talk about why it's crucial, and some ways to go about saying no – especially when it's hard.
First, it helps to understand why it's such a hard thing to do. There are a few reasons:
A couple years ago, a woman named Jenn came to me for coaching. She was an interior designer here in New York, and she was going through a lot of changes: the end of a long-term relationship, moving to a new apartment, adjusting to living alone. She wasn't sure exactly what she wanted, but she felt like she was starting over, and she wanted to make it count.
At the end of our first session, I asked Jenn to choose something to work on. "In what area in your life do you want to make some real change?"
She thought for a minute. "You know," she said, "I thought I'd say growing my business, or start dating again. Because I do want those things, eventually. But that's not what I thought of just now." She looked nervous.
"What did you think of?" I said.
"I've always wanted to learn how to dance," she said sheepishly. "I've always wanted to be a ballerina. Maybe now's the time...
Yesterday, I got a phone call from Clare, one of my earliest clients who'd come to me when she needed help making a big decision in her career. After a decade working in business consulting, she'd successfully transitioned to academia, where she'd recently gotten tenure teaching business psychology at a prestigious college.
"But that's not what I'm calling about," she said. "I want to tell you about my ice dancing performance this weekend."
Ice dancing?! "Tell me about it!" I said.
Here's what happened. After finals week, Clare headed to her New England hometown to spend time with her aging parents. While there, she called up the rink where she'd taken ice dancing lessons years before (and where she'd performed in several showcases), and booked a time to practice.
While there, the...
If you’ve ever watched a comedy improv show, you might have wondered, “How on earth do they do that?” Improv actors—the funny ones, anyway—have a gift for creating and weaving together storylines on the spot, in front of a live audience. It’s amazing to see, and the results can be hilarious.
But it doesn’t happen by chance. Any actor will tell you that there’s one cardinal rule of improv, and it’s this: Accept whatever happens. Always.
In improv lingo, the rule is this: Say “yes, and.”
What does that mean, exactly? If you’re doing improv, and another actor says, “Let’s go skydiving,” you can’t say, “No way, I’m scared of heights.” If you say, “We’re being invaded by giant mutant aliens!” they can’t say “No, it’s just the mailman.” Everyone onstage must roll with any new idea. Every time a new development enters the story, the...
One reason we make things hard is that we often believe there's a particular way things are “supposed” to be done.
We think we need a certain degree to apply for the job we want. We think we need to mingle awkwardly at cocktail parties in order to network. We think we have to join a gym to get in shape. Above all, we think we have to be stressed to the point of sleeplessness in order to be productive.
But there are many ways to do things. Just because someone else went from A to B to C doesn’t mean you have to. Can you jump right to C? Can you start at Q?
Just because convention says “this is how it’s done”—that doesn’t mean that's right.
In fact, very often that slows us down.
My friend John has a knack for seeing through all the should's and supposed to's. An ultra-creative and successful entrepreneur in the merchant services business (and now author and founder of the company True Freedom), he got his start in San Diego, when he...
I would love to learn to dance, but my life’s just way too busy right now.
If I could do anything, I’d start a catering business...but I have to put my kids through college first.
I’ve always wanted to try my hand at writing screenplays, but I can’t do that while I’m working full-time. I have loans to pay. I need the job security.
I hear these kinds of things all the time - fears that have taken the form of excuses.
At the root of all those statements is this: “I want something, but it feels too risky.”
Don’t get me wrong - those risks are certainly real. I’m not here to downplay them. That said, I’d like to present a different side to the story.
It comes, unexpectedly enough, from Jim Carrey.
In 2014, Jim Carrey gave the commencement speech at Maharishi University in Fairfield, Iowa. His message was so profound that the video went viral. At the time I’m writing this, it has over 13 million views. And it had to do...
Two years ago for my birthday, my sisters and I accomplished one of my all-time big-grin, bucket-list goals: climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. While we were there, my sister Karin said, "If I were to do something big for my birthday, it would be Machu Picchu."
We all agreed that would be amazing. But as is often the case, life happens, and we just never planned it. Until late August, when Karin's son Dan realized that his mother's birthday was coming up. "If we're going to do this, it's got to be soon," he said.
It was terrible timing. None of us had been training. Isabel was in Africa, of all places. But we agreed that we could do it – me, Karin, Isabel, Karin's kids Kira and Dan, and Dan's girlfriend Brianna.
"Are we up for this?" we kept saying to each other. In Africa, Isabel had met someone who said Machu Picchu is a lot like Kilimanjaro. Uh-oh, I thought when I heard that. Can we really do this? We didn't know. But we booked the trip for mid-September, and when we found...
When I first met my client Michele, she was teaching poetry at a small college in New England. Like a lot of people who come to me, she'd been feeling lost. She felt too busy to write her own poetry, and even if she had time, she couldn't seem to rekindle that spark she'd once had.
It was obvious that Michele didn't love her job, so I wasn't surprised when during our second session, she decided to brush up her resume. She had a passion for animals, and she'd always wanted to work animal rights. So, shyly, she applied to a few positions. A few weeks later, when we met for our weekly phone session, she had some news.
"An animal rights center offered me a job," she said. "You're talking to the new Policy Associate…if I accept, that is."
"Congratulations!" I said. This seemed like a huge step toward a more fulfilling career for her. "That's fantastic. Are you going to accept?"
"I don't know," she said. "It does sound really cool…"
As we talked through what it would mean to...
The other day, I was walking my dog in Riverside Park when I ran into an old friend, Greg. I almost didn't recognize him, though – he looked about fifty pounds lighter than when I'd seen him last.
"You look great!" I said. "Thanks," he said, beaming. "I finally got into the habit of working out. It only took about two decades."
When I knew Greg, he'd hated the gym. "What changed?" I said, always interested to hear how people make a big turnaround like that (especially when it has to do with exercise).
"A few years ago, I decided to try a spin class," he said. "It was terrible. It would have been my only spin class – except sitting on the bike next to me was a beautiful redheaded woman. So I went back the next week. At first, I only went to see her. But then the class itself started to grow on me, and I began to miss it when I didn't go. I've been going three times a week ever since."
"What happened to the redhead?" I asked. "Did you ever talk to...
Courage. Willpower. A million-dollar coaching course. There's no end to the list of things that will help you reach your goals. But in all the rush to visualize and manifest and achieve, there's one crucial piece that often gets overlooked – and yet without it, you'll get nowhere.
That thing is hope.
But what exactly is hope?
Here's how I think of it: hope is what tennis players have when they're on a winning streak. (Can you tell I was watching the US Open this month?) This is true in other sports, too, but especially in a tennis match, you can actually see the players' level of hope. When she's down and feels like she can't win, she's making unforced errors, she's losing her serve – it's obvious. It's in her body language, in her face, in how she carries herself. She's pacing, angry, distracted. You can practically tell she's going to lose.
Until something changes. Usually it's a change in strategy. She tries something different – a dropshot,...
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