I like to think of myself as a relatively positive guy. I speak about happiness, I laugh easily (my wife would say too easily), and I’m keenly aware of just how blessed I am to get paid to do the kind of work I love to do.

So, then, it may come as a surprise (to everyone but my stepdaughter) that I say “no” a lot. More importantly, saying “no”, and having permission to say it, helps to keep me positive.

Reverse Polarity

I’ve long known that I am unhappy when I’m investing my time on something I don’t believe in. Conversely, I am happiest when I am deeply passionate about something, and have a sense of ownership in the end result. That doesn’t happen without permission to say “no”.

Of course, the “no” must be for the right reasons. A “no” because an idea isn’t mine is silly, as is a “no” because a task will be difficult. Some of the most rewarding tasks also happen to be the most difficult ones.

The hard part isn’t saying no to bad ideas that are also difficult to implement. That’s easy. Nobody is going to lose sleep over fighting that fight. The real challenge is saying no to bad ideas that are straightforward to execute. It’s easy to come off as a difficult person if you’re saying “no” more often than you’re saying “yes”. Since deep down, we all want to be liked, the pressure to “just say yes” is immense.

The problem with always saying “yes” is that you may be liked, but you won’t be respected.


Here’s the thing: “no” is a word that defines where one thing ends and something else begins. In relationships, I have to know who I am (or at least, who I want to be) in order to say “no” with conviction. It’s what I strive to impress upon my teenage stepdaughter. People who respect themselves say “no” to things.

So it is with creating. Creating something of value requires discernment and a sense of that something’s true nature. Knowing what something is means knowing what it is not.

A sculptor manifests his creation by starting with a rough block of stone and then removing that which doesn’t belong.

“No” is a beautiful word.

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