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real life

The Power of “No” By Dr. Asha Fields Brewer

“I failed. I just know it.”


hat was the first thought that came to my mind when my professor asked me to meet with her after class. I was a junior in college, enrolled in a career development course. I had recently submitted a portfolio outlining my longterm goals, five-year plan, and a typical day in my present life. Until that day, I had an A in the class. I was pretty proud of this, because I balanced a premedical curriculum with church, community involvement, friends, family, two jobs, campus leadership and very active membership in multiple organizations. “I reviewed your portfolio,” the professor expressed as my classmates cleared the room. “Your goals are commendable, and your five-year plan is stellar. However, on a daily basis, what do you do to develop you?” I looked at her, puzzled, wondering if I had missed responding to a prompt related to this on the assignment. “I’m afraid,” she continued, “that at the rate you are going, you will never truly enjoy the life you have planned for. You are doing so much, in so many areas and for so many people; but what do you do for you?” I stood there, nearly in tears, as she handed me a newspaper clipping. She instructed me to read it before the next class and to be prepared to discuss my reflections afterwards. The title of the article was “Embracing the Power of ‘No.’” “No” is a simple, yet elusive word. When I see a child about to touch a hot

stove, “No!” charges from my mouth instinctively. However, when I am asked to volunteer for something, my intended no regretfully sounds more like yes. I say yes at work, so I can get ahead. I say yes to family and friends, because I hate to disappoint them. I say yes in the community, because I feel obligated to contribute. I have made such a habit of saying yes that often people no longer ask me. They just assume I will accept. This is likely why my professor suggested I read the article. I was in control of so many things, but I had lost control of my health, my sanity and myself in the process. The principal and hardest lesson to learn was that saying no did not make me a bad person. Sure, I was the best candidate to direct this year’s fundraising gala, but I had also spearheaded the gala since its inception. Had I committed to running this program for eternity, simply because I came up with the idea? While I did feel guilty initially, when I finally walked away, the sky didn’t fall and the membership of the organization didn’t exile me. I had to learn to step back, so someone else could step up. Saying no helped me to establish boundaries. I always blamed others for jam-packing my schedule and filling my life with stress. But I had to finally admit to myself, “In all of these situations, you are the common denominator. People are only monopolizing your talent, time and thought space because

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you allow them to.” I had to accept that just because I am capable of doing something, doesn’t mean I should. Saying no to others meant I could finally say yes to me. At times, I had so much on my plate that crumbs were falling off every edge. I was turning in work projects at the last minute, wishing I had time to look over them just once more. I was minimizing time with friends to squeeze in additional committee meetings. I was cutting short my stabilizers, such as exercise and prayer, because a “conference call” reminder popped up on the phone. I had to reserve time to invest in me, even if that meant trimming a few sides from the plate. Saying no gave me a more positive life experience. I became a more caring friend, a more mentally-present daughter and a kinder person to myself. Time operated at the pace I set, not at the cadence of meetings and deadlines. I had to commit to enjoying life, instead of just spending it. When I returned to my professor the next class period, we exchanged meaningful dialogue on my newfound perspective of no. Once a word of negativity, disappointment and letting people down, no was now a display of self-control, self-awareness and self-love. Sure, this professor taught me how to get more yeses out of life with an impressive resumé and strong interviewing skills. But the most important concept she taught me was the power of “no”—a lesson I could not afford to fail.

Profile for Tallahassee Woman Magazine

February/March 2016 Tallahassee Woman  

February/March 2016 issue of Tallahassee Woman features Diane McCain on the cover. Plus a feature celebrating women's history month, style,...

February/March 2016 Tallahassee Woman  

February/March 2016 issue of Tallahassee Woman features Diane McCain on the cover. Plus a feature celebrating women's history month, style,...