“Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’, and your ‘No’, ‘No’. . . – Matthew 5:37
Despite my carefully planned exit strategy from the corporate world a number of years ago, I was nevertheless left with some unexpected challenges. Among them were: “What will be my next profession or career?” “How will I reclaim an identity now that I am no longer associated with my previous company and profession?” “How will I fill up the abundance of newly acquired discretionary time I have on my hands?” In an attempt to deal with these challenges, I found myself saying yes to everything. Anytime someone asked me to serve on a board or committee or in some other voluntary capacity I said yes without hesitation.
That season of saying yes served me well for a time, helping me work through some of the challenges. I discovered things about myself, gifts and talents I never knew I had, as well as identifying some things I am not so good at. That time of deeper self-awareness is what eventually helped me identify a new profession to pursue, along with a fresh identity. And as for all that abundance of discretionary time I had on my hands? By that time it was filled to capacity. That’s when I had to start learning to say no.
But for most of us saying no is difficult. We perceive it as weakness, failure and letting people down. And why is that? Barbara Brown Taylor explains in her book An Altar in the World, that “in a ‘can do’ culture where the ability to do many things at a high speed is not only an adaptive trait but also the mark of a successful human being . . . [and] we harbor pride that we are in such high demand.” Thus, when we don’t live up to the culture’s expectations, we feel guilty that we failed and let someone down. Taylor, however, views it otherwise, that the ability to say no is in fact a discipline to be developed rather than avoided, what she refers to as “the practice of saying no.”
It occurred to me in reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s book that there is a time to say yes and a time to say no, and unless we engage in “the practice of saying no” we’ll never reach our full potential when we answer yes. In my case, that season of saying yes to everything gave me a better sense about those things to which I should say no, as well as those to which I should say yes. At that point, the decision became much less difficult. “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’, and your ‘No’, ‘No’”.