The Unpopular Word

Watch over your heart. Don’t let just anything in; don’t let it go just anywhere. What’s this going to do to my heart? is a question that I ask in every situation. 
— John Eldredge, Desire: The Journey We Must Take to Find the Life God Offers

If you don’t make plans of your own, you’ll fit into someone else’s plans. 
— James Scott Bell, How to Achieve Your Goals and Dreams

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Are you exhausted? Overwhelmed? When asked, “How’s it going?” do you almost always respond with “Busy. Real busy.”? Talk of busy-ness seems to be increasing exponentially. And the truth is, you are busy. Too busy. And exhausted. And overwhelmed. You used to devour books like 362 Ways to Improving Your Life’s Time Management, but you don’t read them anymore because you’re 362 tasks behind on your to-do list.

On the outside, you look so happy and excited to all those people and organizations that you’re volunteering all of your precious time and resources, but inside you are miserable. You can’t wait until the first commitment is over so you can catch a break and maybe have a little time for yourself and your family before the next request comes along and you again say yes, when you really want—need—to say no. And once again, you are miserable inside, and nobody knows this except your loved ones who, night after tired night, catch the brunt of your short-tempered responses. You’re overcommitted.

Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was pegged with believing that the most important decisions you make are not the things you do, but the things you decide not to do. As a recovering people-pleaser, I cannot agree more.

Think about it. If you say yes to every person’s request for your time, energy, and creativity, to join them in their pursuits and their goals and their purposes, you will never have the margin in your life to say yes to those desires and dreams and priorities that deep down you are called to do.

Successful business leaders face this same dilemma. When their organizations have branched into more products and industries than they can sustain, to the point they are losing money, they prune the excess to focus on the core competencies, get back to the basics, the original vision, to strengthen the core business. The results? Positive numbers and hopefully saving the business.

And I am not suggesting that you carelessly start saying ‘no’ simply because you don’t want to do something. Several times have I said yes to opportunities I didn’t feel like doing but I knew I had the time and the talent for, and I was blessed in the end by not only helping others in need but also gaining allies who helped me toward my own personal goals. Nor am I aiming this toward the weasels out there, people who are flat-out lazy, selfish with their time, and could not care less about helping others. They could stand a lesson or two on saying yes.

I’m speaking to you, the person who wants to make a difference, desires to use your gifts and talents in your home, your job, your church, your community, your world. You’ve identified with what author Max Lucado calls your sweet spot, that intersection of “what you are good at” and “what you enjoy”, and you desire to use it to grow personally and professionally, and to help others do the same. But your inability to say no keeps forcing you off the road.

You know there will always be more needs to be met than there are willing people, so you feel guilty saying no because nobody will say yes, but you also know that every time you say yes to others you are saying no to your own priorities simmering beneath the surface, which, if not released, will eventually boil over and burn someone…probably your loved ones.

When you say no, you’re going to disappoint some people—good people. You may find yourself unpopular among those elite who are praised for always saying yes. You’re going to feel guilty—at first. But it won’t be long that your pruning will produce beautiful roses—those efforts you are called to lead or support. Your loved ones will notice you smiling more. Your friends and colleagues will see a new confidence in you. Opportunities that fall more in line with your heart’s desires will begin to open, your impact for helping others will be greater, and you will experience a joy on this journey you never knew was possible.

Yes, you’ll be tired. And yes, on some days you will feel overwhelmed. But you’ll no longer be miserable. You’ll be living.

During my own struggle over the years with saying ‘no’, I’ve come across many excellent resources for dealing with busy-ness, managing your time, and speaking the unpopular ‘no’ word. Here are some recent articles that I hope you’ll find as useful as I have.

On Saying No
Four Reasons Why You Might Be Overextended – by J.B. Wood (The High Calling)
How to Say No When You Feel Pressured to Say Yes – by Michael Hyatt
5 Reasons Why You Need to Get Better at Saying “No” – by Michael Hyatt
7 Leadership Benefits of Saying “No” – by Ron Edmondson (Church Leaders)
“No” is the New “Yes”: Four Practices to Reprioritize Your Life – by Tony Schwartz (Harvard Business Review)

On Busy-ness
Being Busy is Not Cool – by Bob Robinson (The High Calling)
Please Stop Complaining About How Busy You Are – by Meredith Fineman (Harvard Business Review)
To-Do Lists Don’t Work – by Daniel Markovitz (Harvard Business Review)

On Rest (We need to say “yes” in our schedule for down time!)
How to Take a Break – by Diane Paddison
Take Time for Retreat – by Mark D. Roberts (The High Calling)
God’s Prescription for Workaholics – by Matthew Dickerson (The High Calling)
Quiet Living in a Noisy World – by Marcus Goodyear (The High Calling)

2 thoughts on “The Unpopular Word

  1. Susan, it’s a shame that the only emotion we are taught early on when it comes to ‘no’ is negative. It seems we are not teaching our youth the power of a positive ‘no’, and how that may one day save their livelihood.


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