How many of you have heard someone say, including yourself: “I have a hard time saying no”? On the converse side, how many have heard people say: “I always try to say Yes”?

Yes and no are flip sides of the same coin. As a life coach, I often remind my clients that to live a more purpose-driven life, they have to consciously say ‘no’ to in order to fully commit to a new ‘yes’.

A Bigger Yes
Imagine life is like constantly preparing a many course meal. You have something marinating in the refrigerator, something baking in the oven, and 3-4 pots and pans on the stove. These courses are family, work, exercise/fitness, creative projects, home, recreation, friends/community. There could be many more. Each of these important areas require you to use both a recipe and your intuition. When, for example, I decided to increase my coaching practice (a bigger yes), I moved that pot to the front burner and turned the heat up, which meant I had to watch it more carefully. I had to move my health and wellness business to the back burner and turn the heat down.

My impulse, as an Aquarian, is to turn the heat up in an area of my life without consciously turning the heat down somewhere else because my resources are both wonderful AND limited. We have to reallocate our time, passion, and enthusiasm regularly. If we don’t, the result of avoiding the ‘no’ behind every ‘yes’ leads to: BURNOUT. The stovetop is a perfect metaphor for what happens when I don’t flip my coin – burnt tortillas, burnt cast iron skillets, and lots of burnt popcorn.

The good news is, as Susan L. Taylor,  African-American editor, journalist and Founder & CEO, National CARES Mentoring Movement said: “In every crisis there is a message. Crises are nature’s way of forcing change — breaking down old structures, shaking loose negative habits so that something new and better can take their place.”

It’s Not the Load
What are some of these old structures and negative habits? I will name two and leave you with two questions to do your own life scan. For many of my clients, they see and personally experience a world full of inequities and suffering. What they don’t see is that their unfettered ‘yes’ to social justice often comes with a ‘no’ to doing justice to their own capacity to do the work with a joyful heart and contented spirit.  As Lena Horne, a singer, dancer, actress, and civil rights activist said: “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”

A second reason people keep the heat up and the load heavy is their sense of making up for “lost time”. For myself, that phrase covers up regret. I remember thinking at one time that I had “wasted” my thirties. Why? Because I hadn’t yet embraced my passion as a writer. Because I had played “too” much soccer. Because I did not yet understand the importance of managing my money to create time and financial freedom. I broke down my regret and assessed my ‘yes’ and ‘no’ decisions of that decade until I understood my choices. Recognizing my feelings freed me to share what I have learned with younger people so they can have more information and options than I knew about. Rather than carrying a heavy resentment, I walk lighter with wisdom to share with others. As Ella Baker, an African-American human rights activist said: “Give light and people will find the way.”

Saying Yes and Saying No
In sharing my lessons learned on the two-sided coin of ‘yes’ and ‘no’, I leave you with two questions to consider in all the important parts of your life:
What do you say yes to out of learned habits that no longer, if ever, served you?
What are you saying no to that could bring joy to you and therefore to everyone you touch?

This quote from Audre Lorde, who self-described as “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”, says it all: “Once we recognize what it is we are feeling, once we recognize we can feel deeply, love deeply, can feel joy, then we will demand that all parts of our lives produce that kind of joy.”

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