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The Power Of Saying No To A Good Opportunity

I recently said no to an invitation to do a TEDx talk at a really awesome conference because…I’m tired. Not exhausted, but I feel a bit like a balloon with a slow leak, like one that’s still hanging around a week after the party. I’m not as buoyant as I used to be.

I went on a mini vacation a few weeks ago and expected to come back feeling rested. I didn’t. I really thought that some R&R was all I needed. Not so.

I had planned to say yes to the TED talk. I always wanted to do a TED talk! What a cool opportunity! Except on my first day back from vacation I felt zonked, like I needed a nap by 2pm. So clearly the issue was not that I just needed a little recharge. I had done that.

I have a lot going on right now. I took on a whole slew of amazing new clients this year – more than in any other year since I’ve been coaching. I’m establishing relationships with new publishing partners. Big ones. I’m very happy about that. But that means I’m learning yet another CMS publishing platform and building a relationship with another editor. There’s a learning curve and a time investment there. I’m working with a marketing firm to ramp up exposure for my online career courses. That will save me time in the long run, but right now it requires some work from me. And the biggest thing of all? I’m promoting a book! I have a great editor and publisher and publicist who are coordinating most of those details, but it’s still a lot of work.

I’m psyched and grateful about all of that stuff. I’m also pooped. So last Monday – after a day of feeling like I didn’t have much gas in the tank – I made a decision. I decided right then and there that I’m not going to do one more thing that isn’t a part of The Plan.

What’s The Plan, you ask? It’s the stuff at the very top of my list. The things I want the most. Which is hard for a chick for me to get clear on, actually. Because I’m ambitious as hell. I always want to do ALL of the things, and I want to do them NOW! But it turns out I want some of those things more than others. Things like getting my book out there. I’ve been working on it for two years. It’s time. It’s ready. I also want to build my next online career course. I want to offer a massive amount of light and love and clarity and badass strategy to my existing clients. I want to write more. Lots more. And I want to be good to my body…because that’s what always takes a back seat first.

I’ve narrowed my focus down to just a handful of things – those five things I just mentioned, to be exact.

Does thinking about narrowing your focus down to just five things make you want to breathe into a paper bag? Me too. At least it did at first. But knowing that I only have to focus on five things makes me feel infinitely lighter and more energetic.

So I’m saying no to pretty much every new opportunity – even the cool stuff – that presents itself for the next little while. Because a good opportunity isn’t really a good opportunity if it shows up at the wrong time or leaves you feeling depleted. tweet it

I’m not talking about saying no to the things I don’t really want to do anyway – the guilt-trippy stuff, the crappy obligations, stuff that feels icky. It’s easy to say no to that stuff (okay not always, but mostly). I’m starting to say no to stuff I actually want to do. Why? Because I can’t do it all. And since I can’t do it all I’m getting selective as hell.

Here’s a sample of the stuff I said no to last week: 


Email: “I’m going to pass on the TED talk. Truth be told, I’m doing WAY too much right now and I’m starting to feel some overwhelm set in. Thanks so much for thinking of me.”

Reply: “Thanks for your message, Sarah. I totally respect your decision. It takes a lot of courage to know yourself and then make the best decision for your health. We are planning on making it a yearly event, so I will keep you in mind for next year for sure!!”

Well that was very gracious of her, I thought. Not a bad start to this saying no thing.


I was scheduled as a guest on a podcast. The producer started late and then he had technical difficulties. An hour later and we still never got the thing recorded.

“We’ll need to reschedule. What’s your schedule like?”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t reschedule. I know technical difficulties happen, but I can’t make more time.” I squirmed a little bit when I said it. Ugh. So awkward.

“You mean today or in general.”

“In general.” *holding breath*

“Okay, fair enough.”

Fair enough. Not the end of the world. Exhale.


Someone wanted to work with me, but the fit wasn’t right. She wanted help with her resume, cover letter, and some interview prep. I don’t do that kind of work except at the tail end of my longer coaching programs.

“Could you make an exception? I’d really like to work with you.”

“No. I don’t really do that kind of work. But there are a lot of amazing coaches out there. Here’s a listing where you can search for coaches by their specialization and location.”


A smart, fun, and very well connected colleague ­– someone I’ve enjoyed collaborating with before – asked if we could collaborate together on a project.

“No. I’ve got too much going on.”

“That’s no problem, it doesn’t have to be right away.”

Squirm. Deep breath. “No. I’m focusing on a few very specific things right now.”



Friday was a day filled with tiny no’s. Two examples:

“I’m a new coach just starting out. Can we meet up to chat over coffee? Or if you’re too busy even a five-minute phone call?”

I said no. I have taken coffee meetings like this, but I just don’t have time for them anymore.

Another scenario: “Could you send me a link to that thing you wrote about _________?”

I deleted the message without responding. That’s cold, right? Maybe, but that stuff is on my website and easy to find. It would have taken me two minutes to send a link, but all those two-minute requests add up.

I’m taking my time and energy back. It was mine all along, but now I’m really claiming it, even the little two-minute pockets. It feels good to do that. Plus, saying no is carving out lots of space for me to say yes to some things I really want to do.

Here’s some of the stuff I did last week because I had the time and energy:

  • I wrote a piece for my column at Inc.
  • I got a massage. I saw my naturopathic doctor.
  • I took an interview with a reporter from Yahoo who is writing an advice piece for people who get laid off.
  • I took my Little Sister I volunteer with out to a movie. I helped her navigate some of the petty social drama that 16-year-old girls have to deal with at high school.
  • I called my brother on his birthday. I called my mom. Twice. I had a really great chat with my dad.
  • I helped my clients with some truly epic stuff – massive fear, overwhelming uncertainty, and strategizing how to give notice to an abusive employer, just to name a few.
  • I had coffee with one of my former teaching assistants. She brought éclairs and a lemon meringue tart. #WIN
  • I took myself out for lunch and intentionally didn’t bring my phone, laptop, or anything to read. It was just me and my thoughts and curried lentil soup. Bliss.
  • I went to restorative yoga TWICE. Not familiar with restorative yoga? Think guided napping. You give $20 to a nice lady who tells you to lie on the floor and be still. I highly recommend it.
  • I finished some stuff for my publisher. And I’m so psyched about getting this book out there that I finished it a week early.
  • I spent an evening coloring – a delightful little hobby of mine that feels as decadent as double chocolate cake.

I know what you’re thinking: You’re saying you spent an evening coloring instead of planning a TED talk?


Isn’t that, you know, misguided? A little bit silly? A waste of your time and energy?

Depends who you ask. Hell, I might have thought so a month ago. But not now. Saying no is helping me stay healthy and happy, all while still keeping my eye on the prize, business-wise.

What could you say yes to if you said no a little more often? tweet it


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