Do You Need to Say NO to Something (or Someone)?

Do You Need to Say NO to Something (or Someone)?

Earlier this week, my younger sister Anne broke off her engagement to a wonderful man called Tam. The invitations had been mailed, the reception center booked, the dress fitted and the ring adorned her hand. Needless to say it has been a traumatic and teary week for Anne and Tam and for all of us who love them.

Tam is a wonderful guy – generous, loyal, thoughtful, fun, caring — and our family was truly delighted about welcoming him into our noisy ranks (I’m one of seven!). We understood why Anne loved him. We all loved him! However, the issue wasn’t that he wasn’t a really great guy, rather it was simply that somewhere inside Anne there was a nagging doubt about whether she really wanted to commit to spending her life with him. It wasn’t about “good enough” or “not good enough” and it isn’t about who was right or wrong. In the end, it simply wasn’t to be.
I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone over the past few days (and nights) with different members of my family (who are currently spread across four different continents!).  I think we’ve all needed to connect, to share our shock, our sadness, our sympathy and to process it all.

But you know, at the end of the day I think that as sad as the ending of this relationship has been, what would have been far sadder, far more tragic, would have been if Anne had walked down the aisle with her doubts casting a shadow behind her and over their marriage. Perhaps you might say she should have called it off sooner or never have said “yes” in the first place. Fair comment. But her doubts came and went and given how much she loved him I think it was only natural that she tried to ignore them.

Annie’s decision was the most difficult and torturous decision she’d ever made. I believe it was also the most courageous. It was courageous because she had to rise above so many doubts and fears and the knowledge that ending her relationship would cause great heartache. But the pain her decision has caused would pale against the suffering that would eventually have been experienced had they got married – for Anne, for Tam and for all those who loved them.

I’m sure there are people who think Annie was crazy to let such a good guy go. “After all, aren’t all the ‘good ones’ gone?” “Perhaps she’s just fussy and no one will ever fulfill her?” “Does she really expect to find someone who will love her that much again?” Such questions come from fear and scarcity thinking. To me the more important question is, “wouldn’t she have been selling out on herself at the deepest level if her heart wasn’t completely in it?” I certainly think so. I refuse to subscribe to thinking that there just aren’t that many good single guys left and that her decision has destined her to a life of lonely spinsterhood. Surely Tam deserves to marry a woman who is 100% sure and committed to him, and surely Anne deserves to marry a man who she feels 100% sure she wants to spend her life with. (Surely we all do?!) If she had never found the courage to say no to her pending marriage, she would have deprived them both of this.

So what’s the lesson in all of this for each of us?

I think firstly it is to listen to those little voices that sometimes niggle away at us, urging us to move in a different direction than the one we are currently heading in. Whether in our career, our business, our relationships or our lifestyle, sometimes we are called to make a change, to let go something that is good, secure, familiar and take a different path which opens up the possibility of creating something that is better.

For Annie, the future she now faces is one with far less certainty and security and familiarity than the one she would have faced if she stayed the course. Uncertainty can be scary, sometimes even terrifying. But often the greatest risk we can take is to take no risk at all and to stay firmly in our comfort zone settling for less than what we really, really want for ourselves and our lives. The problem is that playing it safe and delaying changing course grows increasingly costly, particularly with the things that matter most.

So just take a moment to think about what it is you might do differently if you made the decision to pay attention to those little voices and to heed the call of your heart – to say no to that which doesn’t truly inspire you and yes to that which does.

It’s so easy to just stick with the known, the safe, the easy. But the truth is that we can never hope to have a life that is truly rich in everything our heart’s desire if we only ever do what’s easy and fail to take a risk now and again. It is my strongest conviction that it is only by daring to dream a little bigger, to act a little bolder that we can ever hope to experience our true greatness and enjoy the deep sense of fulfillment we seek in life.

Of course the most important decisions you face in life are also those which call on you to find the greatest courage. Whilst you may not be facing a choice like this in your life today, everyday you still have opportunities to act with courage in some way shape or form. Everyday choices like:

  • Whether to speak up or remain silent about an issue of concern (at home or work)
  • Whether to stay in a job that leaves you bored or resigned
  • Whether to stay put in a relationship that no longer serves you nor enriches your life
  • Whether to ask for what you really want because you are afraid you won’t get it
  • Whether to say no to commitments and opportunities which don’t really excite you and yes to those which do
  • Whether to heed or ignore those inner voices that call on you to step out of your comfort zone toward that which tugs at your heart

In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, “most folks tiptoe through life only to make it safely to death.” Perhaps that describes you. Perhaps it doesn’t. But regardless of whether you feel pretty great about your life right now or you are downright resigned and miserable, ask yourself what you might be “putting up with” or “settling on” in your life today that fails to honor your deepest desires and your fullest potential. The quality of your life is determined by the quality of the choices you make each day.

You have more courage than you think you do. Truly. I challenge you to tap into it a little more fully, a little more frequently, since that is the only way you will ever come to experience the truly meaningful and rewarding life you have it within you to live.