The No List: The Importance of Turning Things Down

Enacting the Winter 2015 Act of No-Saying was proving to be a challenge for me. Easy as it was to understand saying “No” was as important as flossing daily (mmmm, cinnamon floss), actually not agreeing to do a favor or five, or accept invitations, or offer to help when I saw a need I could fill, was hard. 

I talked it out with a woman I only recognize in a visor and athletic leggings: my running buddy Lillian. For years we’ve traversed around foggy lakes, scaled hills like determined T-rexes, and stretched our legs through urban sprawl in starry dark of winter mornings, all the while coaching and counseling one another through life transitions of all kinds. We’ve been through budding relationships and brutal disappointments after a great first kiss, ensuring diversity in hiring and leaving a cozy office for an uncertain future, parental illness and other people’s break-ins, stalkers and muggings, and how to more effectively teach a classroom with a wide range of skills (to name just a few). Saying “No” was just one more conversation topic to fill 45 minutes. 

And Lilli had a genius idea.*

“What if we kept a list of all the things we say “no” to?” she suggested as we pounded down a hill. “We could keep it in Asana.” 

We pause at the same moment to look both ways and cross a residential street, two people so familiar with one another’s habits it’s hard to tell whose habit it was first. 

“Write them down…” I mused. “I mean, you know I like lists. But why?” 

“That way, we’ll have tangible evidence of all the things that could have been obstacles to getting what is most important to us done. And, we can be motivated by the list when we compare what we have accomplished for ourselves because of saying no.” 

Lilli made a good point, and one worth exploring. 

So I started The No List. 

Sharing this list is a challenge in and of itself (one Lilli can't help me with). I sincerely felt like a piece of beef jerky in a half-abandoned convenience store when I say no to things. I feel like I need to over-explain my reasoning, or justify my choices not as much to myself as to everyone else.

But I have to admit, keeping this list is starting to feel good, especially when compared to my Yes List. 

Every time I finish a blog that I get to post (ooo, just a few minutes away!) or complete an essay for my first reader, I look at this list offer a moment of gratitude to the people I’ve said “No” to for understanding and, in many cases, offering unconditional love and support all the same. Saying "No" has made space for a lot of really good things in my professional, and personal, life. 

It’s your turn: tell us what is on your No list. 


*I’m pretty sure everyone needs an awesome running buddy who has great ideas. You don’t even have to run. Just find a person who is slightly removed from your life and not in your line of work but has a good heart and take a walk together, or have tea and talk – you’ll be amazed by how they can improve your life.