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Oct 9, 2019

This is a short reflection on the power of "no" to free us up to say "yes" to what really matters.  

It is transcribed in full below and here:

You are walking along with a dog in a field and a rabbit springs out of nowhere – the dog immediately chases after it. The dog is fast and is about to catch it when a second rabbit jumps up. The dog stops chasing the first rabbit to run after the second. As a result it doesn’t catch either.

This is Steven Moe – welcome to Seeds Podcast.

How we use our days

The story I told at the start is based on a Chinese proverb which says, “The man who chases two rabbits catches none”.

This episode is as much a form of self talk as anything – you see, sometimes I feel like I am that dog in the story and I confess to being distracted by chasing too many rabbits, otherwise known as opportunities.

Each of us have 24 hours today, tomorrow, the next day. Until we don’t have any days left. What do we want to do with that time? What do we say “yes” to, and what do we say “no” to. You see by saying “yes” to one thing – and chasing it like a rabbit – you are also saying “no” to something else.

So what is the bigger ‘Yes’

Too often I am given opportunities – attending an event, a dinner, taking up a position. My natural reaction is to say “yes” but I actually think the wisdom is to learn when it is the right thing to say “no”.

What I mean is that every time we say “yes” to some new commitment or event of some kind we are in effect saying “no” to something else, because our time is valuable and how we use it matters. Sometimes it is important to say “no” to one thing so that you can say “yes” to something that is even more strategic or important.

If we know what the bigger “yes” is, then saying “no” can make sense. As an example, if you know that your family is the bigger “yes” then that will justify saying “no” to an opportunity that would take you away from them. For example, I’m on a board of directors which meets in Auckland – dinner was planned for after a day long meeting – it would have been easy to say “Yes” to that opportunity – and there would have been real benefits in doing so too. But being home overnight was more important – the bigger “Yes” – so, I said “No”.

Of course, I find it easiest to say yes to requests.

I like to say ‘yes’ if I can help someone. It’s a delicate line. But the reality is that people will ask you to focus on their top priority, not on your top priority. And that’s when you end up running after too many rabbits.

By saying "no" to one thing, you are able to say "yes" to that bigger picture. This principle is an echo of something else that is worth highlighting: focusing on the urgent instead of the important. How often does an email or a message come in that distracts you from doing something that is really important – inviting you to say "yes" to that distraction. The urgent – particularly in our instant age – often takes precedence over the truly important.

You can’t be everything

Kendall Flutey from Banqerhad some great advice at the Impact Summitrecently which is part of a 5 hour episode on seeds. It kind of sparked my own thinking on this topic. What she said was this:

"You can be anything you want - you are poised perfectly right now to achieve absolutely anything. But I don’t believe we can be everything. You can’t be everything at once. So I just want to be something, and do that really well."

For Seeds Podcastthere is now a great community and I put out the question to get input from some of you on the Linked In page, Facebook page and Twitter and got a few responses:

Leigh Kennedy wrote the following: “What an interesting subject. Certainly not an earth shattering example, but I said no to several teaching opportunities when I was transitioning into my business. Turning down the familiar / known and its guaranteed income was pretty scary at the time. I was working with a client this week who had just gone through a similar experience. Quite empowering to recognise the 'no thanks' moments and realise how committed you are to the new direction.”

Zoë Hector (whose a former guest) with the start-up Talk Town, noted: Yup - very easy to get caught up in the ‘hype’ of being a startup… and forget to actually start up… Banqer are some of my role models for focusing on their mission.

So, how do we say no?

Steve Jobs once said the following and you can see where it would apply to really becoming great at what you do:

“People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying ‘no’ to 1,000 things.”

It's one thing to decide you will say ‘no’ but how do you do so with grace and in a way that does not hurt another person? Probably practice will help, but "I can't take that on right now", is one gracious way to acknowledge the honour of being asked but admit that it cannot fit in.

Who is asking?

Of course, the request may not come from someone else. It might come from yourself. The key question is, does what you think needs to be done actually need to be done? Peter Drucker put this really well:

“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Some final thoughts

So to round this out, a few things to think about:

• Focus on what you want to achieve and don’t try to do everything.
• Give yourself permission to say no to things that will drain you.
• Look to say yes to the activities and people who will fill your cup.
• Realise that in saying no you are looking to answer yes to something even bigger and more important.

Say ‘no’ to feel empowered, and say ‘yes’ to what is really important. Don’t try to chase down every opportunity that may present itself.

Instead, let’s let some of those rabbits get away.