Why “no” is more powerful than “yes”
Yoko Ono, artist and widow of the late John Lennon, once exhibited an interactive work of art titled “Ceiling Painting.”
Standing in the center of the room was a white ladder, which viewers climbed to reach a magnifying glass hanging from the ceiling. When they looked through the magnifying glass, viewers could see one word written in tiny letters on a framed piece of paper affixed to the ceiling: “YES.”
As much as I appreciate her positive view of life that conjured the exhibit, for purpose-driven individuals, a more powerful word is “No.”
We are enveloped by, swimming in opportunity. Every day of our lives we’re presented with more opportunities than we could ever take advantage of in a hundred lifetimes.
The more we say “yes” to opportunities that are good but not right for us, the more diffused our energy becomes, the less power we have to fulfill our true purpose.
You can’t say “yes” to purpose unless you repeatedly say “no” to distractions. You can’t fully leverage your passion until you bridle it and keep it on track.
As Harry E. Fosdick explained,
“No steam or gas drives anything until it is confined. No Niagara is ever turned into light and power until it is tunneled. No life ever grows great until it is focused, dedicated and disciplined.”
All too often we say yes to good opportunities for the wrong reasons: money, status, prestige, security. But there is only one reason worthy of our heritage: purpose.
Of the billions of people who have lived on this earth, there is only one person with your infinitely unique combination of talents, skills, passion, values, experience, and perspective.
You are irreplaceable, indispensable. That is, if you live on purpose. There are millions who can take your place when you live outside your purpose, filling a seat in a job beneath your capabilities.
The “No Principle” is predicated upon knowing your purpose. “No” only works when you know when to say “yes.”
The first step, therefore, is to have a crystal-clear vision of who you are and what you want to do and become, to create a standard by which all opportunities are measured. With that standard, opportunities become easy to judge and filter through.
Still, saying “no” to opportunity can be extremely difficult — especially when you’re in a tight spot financially. Thus, saying “no” requires deep and abiding faith.
Years ago in my freelance writing career, after Queen Karina and I had crashed and burned with some bad investments, we were living in a basement, barely eking out a living. I had lost all my writing clients virtually overnight because of the economy.
At our lowest, most desperate point, I was given an opportunity to ghostwrite a book, which would ultimately become a series of books. The job would have paid me at least a hundred thousand dollars and given my family security for a long time.
But the content didn’t reflect my values. By accepting the job I would have solved our immediate financial problems. But I would have also eroded my integrity and strayed from my purpose.
I’m thoroughly convinced that had I taken that one job, Life Manifestos would never have come to pass. By saying “no” to a short-term financial fix, I said “yes” to my long-term purpose.
(Interesting side note: That book was published in 2009 and became a New York Times bestseller.)
Opportunities that are good but are outside our purpose can be like drugs — addictive but unfulfilling and even destructive.
My advice? Just say no.