I used to be the quintessential “yes” person. I was always game whether I was asked to a party, to go for a walk, or take on a project. I was very much wired to say “yes” because deep down I believed this helped me belong in the world. But I kept finding myself exhausted and feeling like I had to go to that party or on that walk because I had committed to it (and as a person of integrity, I do what I say I will do!) I had to put in the extra time to finish that project even when the work intruded on my personal life or my sleep. What I said “yes” to with enthusiasm often became burdensome and a “have to” versus a “want.” I had become the poster child for “Just Do It” including having a cup of coffee at 5:30 pm to have enough energy to make it through my workout at the gym. I learned astutely how to override my mind and body to get things accomplished. I was rewarded with kudos, accolades, and “volunteer of the year” awards. Even though I was clearly exhausted and borderline cranky much of the time, no one wanted me to stop being a “yes” person because I made people’s lives easier. Being a “yes” person made me valuable.
And then in 2010, I had a huge wake up call. I blew out my adrenal system, and my doctor told me that I needed a major re-set. He gave me full permission to let go of anything that drained me and my energy. He said needing a cup of coffee for the gym meant I was overriding my body, which was clearly telling me I needed to rest. Funny enough, having a professional tell me this was like receiving a permanent hall pass. I stopped being the quintessential “yes” person. When opportunities came up, I sat with the decision. I started to discern when I wanted to say “yes.” I asked, “Is this a want?” versus a “should, ought to, or need to?” I started to use the filter of my values as part of my decision making. I also got really good at saying “no.” I no longer apologized for saying “no,” made grand overtures about why I couldn’t say “yes,” or ghosted people who invited me to things I didn’t want to do. I said “no” through the filter of my values, which was to be kind, honest and in service when I shared my “no.”
When I was younger, I could override myself and live with the consequences, but as I got older, my body started to wave its white flag. Now, I have the gift of a body that is a sensitive barometer. It lets me know when I’m out of alignment. My energy gets easily drained when I’m not in alignment. It conversely revs up when I’m in alignment. I always use my body as part of my filter for decisions. I ask, “Will this fill or drain my energetic tank?”
Turns out that a lot of the choices I made and said “yes” to were draining my tank. I stopped going to the gym and started to take long walks in nature at a leisurely pace. I stepped down as President of the Board of a booming nonprofit that I had been a part of since its infancy. I still volunteered, but only one afternoon a week with foster kids on a farm where I got to observe, listen, and gently support.
I let go of anything that no longer felt like a “want.” Frankly, my world got very small for a while as I got reacquainted with my true desires. But then it got incredibly expansive. The more discerning I am, the better my life, my business, and my health become.
Good is the enemy of Great – Jim Collins
The power of discernment has become a major pillar in my work with clients. Every day, I witness how a client’s “no” to a good opportunity opens the door to a great opportunity. I also witness just how hard it can be to discern between a good and great opportunity. I am a spiritual person, and I believe that the Universe is generous…and a little cheeky. I witness people claiming “THIS is what I want” and sometimes getting something that looks similar but is not quite it. It’s as if the Universe is asking, “Are you REALLY sure because I’m going to plop this in front of you and see what you do.” I find that the majority of people will gladly settle for the “not-quite-it version” without giving it much thought. I also feel that this is why so many people feel pretty “ho-hum” about their lives and work. Here are some examples:
- This dropped in my lap out of nowhere, so it must mean I’m supposed to do it.
- On paper, he totally matches my ideal client, so I’m going to work with him, hoping it will gel once we start working together.
- I think she’s a little challenging, but she’s really talented, and I will learn a lot from collaborating with her.
- They are so enthusiastic about me doing this project that I feel I should do it even though it’s not really my area of expertise. I’ll just have to do some extra research.
The reality is that good opportunities get in the way of your great opportunities. They take up your time and energy. They drain your tank so that you don’t have the energy to go after “great” even if you have the time. They can compel you to question whether you want to do this type of work. They have you question whether you are the problem and that you are just good and not great. This all leads to that “ho-hum” life, wondering if we should just get a job (because that was a ho-hum life with a steady paycheck and benefits). It takes discernment to recognize the difference between good and great opportunities.
How to be more discerning
I have found the best way to elevate your discernment is to give yourself space and be curious.
Step one is to ask yourself, “Is this a Powerful Yes?” And if you hesitate, give yourself space to “think about it.” For me, because I was such a “yes” person before, I had to start out always saying “I will get back to you” because I didn’t yet trust myself and my gut reaction. This gave me the time and space to check in with myself to ensure I was making a powerful decision.
Next, use that time and space to be curious. Ask yourself some questions:
- Is this a Powerful Yes?
- What do I need to know/understand/get for it to be a Powerful Yes?
- What are the obstacles/challenges getting in the way of a Powerful Yes?
- Will this fill or drain my tank?
- Does this get me closer to or farther from what I REALLY want?
- Will this honor my values? Is there any part of me that would not be honored if I said “Yes”? Is there anything I can do to change that (like redesign, have a discussion, do it differently)?
What I want for you is that you have a life and business full of Powerful Yeses. If you spend time contemplating a decision and cannot get to a Powerful Yes, it is likely a Powerful No, at least for now. A lack of clarity, therefore, is sometimes the clearest indicator of all. As an example, I was talking with a dear friend about her boyfriend of two years, and she was trying to figure out whether she should invest more into the relationship or end it. She’s been contemplating this for a long time. She asked me how I knew that Eric, my husband, was “the one,” and I told her, “I just knew.” It was a full body Powerful Yes for me even though neither of us were/are perfect. I, too, had been in her situation many times before, and if I could say anything to that younger self, it would be that sometimes a lack of clarity is all the clarity you need to realize it’s time to move on.
- Where in your life do you want to be more discerning?
- Where has discernment helped you get more of what you want in life and work?
- How can you use this concept with your clients?
As always, I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback!