“Yes” is a one-word sentence and we celebrate it.
“No” is also a one-word sentence and we shrink from it.
But do we celebrate it?
But here is the thing, we should celebrate no as a full and complete sentence.
No frees us up as much as yes, and sometimes even more.
For example, in 2008, my career was leaping forward. I had just earned another promotion and I cracked an unthinkable number: 60,000Euro a year. I was traveling for work regularly and all over the world. I was entrusted with high-level, big-visibility, assignments. It was exciting, exhilarating, and rewarding.
I was also cancelling evenings and trips with my boyfriend. My apartment was impersonal at best. I had lost touch with all -- yes, all -- of my heartfriends.
At that time, I was happy with my life phase: Success! Money! Visibility!
My boyfriend was not. He loved me and enjoyed being with me and I was way too fragmented for our relationship. He finally told me that if I needed to cancel yet another thing for us, he wasn’t sure he could keep going.
It was a tough conversation. My first response was not positive, it was very selfish in fact.
Just a few days later, right before a planned day off to spend a weekend away with my boyfriend, the division COO called, explained a merger was taking place, and told me what needed to be done. By Sunday.
I listened and then I said, “No.”
There was a lot of silence.
The COO said …. I don’t know what the COO said because I was so scared, so shocked, and so not-going-to-backdown.
Finally, I explained why my answer was NO. Why I wasn’t going to be available and why a lack of planning -- a merger required MONTHS of prep, not 48 hours -- wasn’t going to lead to another cancelled personal plan.
It did not go well.
Because sometimes being brave and saying no doesn’t go well.
At that exact moment.
The consequence over the next few months included less access to the executive, a new reporting line, fewer global trips.
It also included an amazing trip to Italy with my boyfriend, now husband. Time to reconnect with heartfriends. More confidence in my career and much greater understanding of my own behavior….and I wasn’t proud of that behavior. Not at all - in fact, I spent months apologizing for being a crappy colleague and leader.
I celebrate that NO. Honestly, it is one of my biggest moments of professional pride looking back, over a decade later.
No is a full sentence and it deserves to be celebrated:
No to colleagues who take
No to teammates who aren’t mates
No to promotions
No to meetings without KPIs
No to ignoring your needs
No to talking down to yourself
No to gossip
No to amazing opportunities that just don’t feel like one, enthusiastic yes
Will there be disappointment? Sure, for other people, perhaps also for yourself. As long as you aren’t disappointing yourself.
Saying NO taught me -- oh, who am I kidding -- is still teaching me:
I wasn't less for expecting more. If fact I confirmed to myself each time that I deserve more.
When I stood in my truth, I was rewarded...and so were the folks around me impacted by my no.
A single “no” doesn’t just free me, it sets up the women coming up behind me to also be freed.
It comes down to this: when you learn to celebrate the one-word sentence “No”, you make space for the one-word sentence yes. And that feels GOOD.
What “no” from your past few months can you now celebrate? How? Make a commitment to yourself - celebrate your no.
And then keep celebrating your one-word, new-best-friend No.