The Power of No: how saying No can lead you to a bigger Yes

Saturday, April 25th, 2020

So many nos

to arrive at this yes,

faithful in my faithlessness

to a life

that was never mine to live.

from ‘Yes & No’, © Elle Harrison, March 2006


I’ve had my own company since 2005 – coming up for fifteen years now. It’s grown, organically, from a small coaching practice to a thriving multi-six-figure business, which I love like a child.

When I started out, freelance wasn’t really a thing, and I was the first of my network to branch away from corporate life and set up my own business. So I have been learning as I go, sometimes from friends and mentors, sometimes from my brilliant clients (many of whom are entrepreneurs themselves), sometimes from my own path, with its mistakes and failures, highs and lows.


It’s the Nos that have shaped my life

As I look back at these last fifteen years, I see that it’s the Nos that have shaped my life – and my success – as much as the times I’ve said yes.

If there were an image for how I’ve grown this business, it would be a field of trees.

When I set up my business, I stood at the centre of an empty but fertile field, with just a hazy vision for what might grow.

In time, connections started forming. Chance encounters, an introduction, a possible new client nudging to the edge of the field. At first I said yes to everything, one big life experiment, discovering who I was, what I loved, what I was good at in this new world of coaching and change.

But quite soon – within a year or two – it was time to start choosing. So when I met possible new clients, after our first conversation there was a pause. Listening, from deep within. And a decision.

Exploring the yes and the no

Is this a yes or a no?

That question has so many parts.

Do I have enough water (energy) to share? Is this person / business a tree I’d love to help grow? Is the soil I can offer good for them? Do my gifts fit with what they need?

Sometimes these decisions are made consciously. Sometimes the No appears to happen to you. A pitch you don’t win. A client who doesn’t sign up. But deep down, if you turn into those questions with real honesty, you see… yes, this wasn’t a fit, for now.


The courage to wait – with open arms

What we don’t talk about much is that when you build a business like this – from your values, with integrity – there can be long, long periods of saying no. Long, fallow times, of waiting, of not planting a seed, of not taking on projects or clients. Of staying open and available for a bigger yes.

And those moments take courage. Deep, deep courage.

It is scary to stand still, and not plant anything in your life. Especially when you are an entrepreneur, or solopreneur, a creative soul who loves to BUILD. But I have also come to believe that it is necessary. It is what allows you to say yes, wholeheartedly, when the time is right.

By waiting, with your mind and hands empty, not clinging on to a project just to stay busy, you are ready. Your energy can move fast, jumping on board when something that DOES fit comes along. Something that ignites your soul. And because you have been saying no, you have space to say yes. You’re not drained or depleted from doing work you don’t love. You are fully-charged, with passion and energy to give.


After maternity leave

I’m just coming out of my second maternity leave – our little boy turned one last weekend.

These last 12 months, I’ve had the bare bones of a coaching practice. To be honest, it took me by surprise. The opposite was true during my first maternity leave. I had expected the business to stop. Instead, I took Shared Parental Leave, worked two months of the year, and somehow came out with our highest yet profit and sales for Wild Courage. More than double the previous two years.

But my second maternity leave has been quite different. I was more tired during the pregnancy (looking after a toddler does that!). More disorientated after the birth, more overwhelmed, more at my edge. More exhausted.

Somehow, in the pause, I could see that my old work life was not going to build itself back in quite the same way. There was no evidence for that, just a deep knowing. The kind of knowing I have come to trust, over the years. The kind of knowing that makes me a good coach.

So I stopped. I kept up a small handful of coaching clients, but close-in, focused, needing just short bursts of energy. That is all I had to give this year.

Yes, there have been moments of ambition. Times when I wanted to move faster. Engage more. Contribute more. But those yes-es had to wait. There wasn’t enough energy to carry them forwards, to birth them healthily into the world.


Saying yes to the unknown

Two days before I gave birth to our son, the publisher of my book – Wild Courage: A Journey of Transformation for you & your business – got in touch and asked if I’d be interested in writing a second edition.

I thought about it a lot over those early weeks and months with our newborn. I wanted to say yes. Writing my first book was a joy, and it’s something I’m proud of. But something in me hesitated to commit.

For many months, I sat with the decision. I took it to my coach, explored and turned it over. I even started writing that second edition. And I discovered that – like it or not – a second edition was a No for me.

Yes, I do want to write again. Yes, I probably want to write a book again. But it’s a new book. (It’s on Uncertainty, and I started writing it a few months before Covid-19 hit… thank you, Life, for your irony!).

It would be easy to say yes to what’s here. Probably even sensible, with my business hat on. But my soul says no. My soul says: stay with the unknown.

Incubating a new yes

Just now, as I look out at the world, I see a lot of empty space for my work. There is a new collaboration I’m tending, still early, in fragile incubation. There’s a pitch circling, which would be a big YES for me if it came together. I plan to write. I will, for sure, be spending time – a LOT of time! –  with my kids, at least until Lockdown / Shelter-in-place eases.

And I don’t know what else.

But if running a business these last fifteen years has taught me anything, it’s to trust these moments of pause. To wait, with open arms, an open mind, and an open heart. To listen deeply, move towards what I love, explore and play with possibilities… and wait for a deep YES.

It’s a privilege to be able to do this. I have fifteen years of hard work behind me, sustaining me, giving me courage, and money in the business to carry me through this uncertainty. I do not take it lightly. But since it’s a gift I have been given, I will use it well. I will hold my nerve. Stand still. And wait.

New opportunity is always here. Ready to find us, to move with us, when we are truly ready to greet it and say YES.

So for now, I say yes to the waiting. I say yes to work that brings me alive, uses the best of me, contributes in ways that matter. Whatever that turns out to be.


Photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

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