No is an incredibly painful, brave word to say. How many times have you had to say no only to have it cause anguish, desperation, arguments, and anxiety? Even the hours, days, and months before you say no are filled with anxiety: Should I? Could I? What will happen?
But you have the right to say no.
The first girl I dated after separating from my wife asked me what my net worth was, half an hour after we met.
I was honest and I told her. She said, “That’s not enough.”
Another time I asked her, “How come you never introduce me to your friends?”
She said, “Because you’re too crazy.”
That made a lot of sense. I do not introduce my crazy friends to my normal friends. One of her friends was running for the Senate or for governor or something. It would’ve created a lot of problems if he was seen hanging out with a crazy person. But I could’ve maybe offered to be vice president if he ever made it that far.
One time she said to me, “My people can destroy your people.”
I doubt it. My people at that time were largely zombies. In the movies, you often see the governor totally powerless against the zombie army. But I couldn’t tell her that and reveal my true identity.
We broke up.
I’d like to think I broke up with her, if it wasn’t for that one conversation where she called me and said, “I’m not ready for you. I need time. A lot of time.”
And then I broke up with her.
I was in a Borders bookstore at that moment and she was at President Obama’s first inauguration, and I still had a Blackberry. Those big buttons that required the slightest of pushes. We were texting.
I remember typing out, “B - R - E - K” and then backspacing. You know the drill. I miss my Blackberry. People were having orgasms over politics and the country was heading toward the Apocalypse.
Nothing seemed to matter except being lonely, eating hot dogs for breakfast, being scared of going broke, and wandering around bookstores looking for someone to spend time with me.
I was losing my family. I had lost my job. I lost my house. I had lost millions of dollars, gained them back, lost them again, and so on. That is when a window that was dirty, foggy, cracked, and iced suddenly cleared for me.
I was already dead. I had to say no to the life I had created for myself since birth. That life simply hadn’t worked. I started saying no to people who weren’t right for me. I started saying no to everything I didn’t want to do.
When you have a tiny, tiny piece of crap in the soup, it doesn’t matter how much more water you pour in and how many more spices you put on top. There’s crap in the soup. I had been saying yes to the wrong things for 20 years.
Within six months, my life was completely different. I met Claudia. I moved into a half-decent apartment. I was working on ideas that actually made money. And I needed fewer and fewer things to make me happy. That’s true minimalism. That’s the Power of No.
Every six months since then my life has transformed. Even in the past few days as I write, remarkable things have happened. I’ve interviewed Wayne Dyer for my show, for example.
Sometimes I wonder, How did something that remarkable happen? He doesn’t give that many interviews, after all, and he had not heard of me before then.
When you start saying no to bad things, the Yes compounds every day. Yeses compound automatically, the way interest does in a bank. You may think it is not possible to say no to a situation in which lots of other people are involved, or a dysfunctional job, or a dysfunctional family. I propose you hear me out and keep reading. There is always a way. It might not be immediate but it can be done.
When the first woman asked me what my net worth was, I could’ve just said no and gotten up and not wasted three months of my life. But as easy as that sounds, I didn’t know how to do it.
Now I do. Now I’m free. I dumped the old soup. Now I can finally drink from the soup I just cooked.
Adapted from The Power Of No with permission from the publisher.