I said “yes.”
Those three words followed my name as I introduced myself to a house full of women in San Diego. My friend Karen organized the gathering.
It was only this past October that I was introduced to Karen. Within five minutes on the phone, it was evident that we shared high energy and a similar history. Karen was a former global corporate executive who has purposefully crafted her life to better maximize her talents. Among Karen’s talents and passions are connecting professional women who prioritize global sustainability, social good, and living with purpose. Over three years, it’s morphed into an informal group simply named “Like Minded Women.”
“Our next meeting is in January. You should join us.”
In that first phone call, I said I would.
“And you should just stay at my house. I can pick you up at the airport.”
It was a generous and exciting offer. Why should I not go? I booked my flight to San Diego. And a month later, a woman I had yet to meet in person picked me up at the airport, introduced me to her family, and welcomed me into a gathering of 30 amazing women.
It has been several months that I have been able to enjoy my newfound flexibility with my greatest asset– my time.
I’ve become its stalwart guardian. Every day, I make repeated decisions about it from morning to night.
It should be something I am good at. Time management was certainly more challenging with a demanding corporate role and travel schedule, right?
In some ways, not really. Team meetings, board meetings and offsites were not optional. I not only had to attend, but lead, important client meetings; if the meeting was out of town, I was out of town. I had calendared deadlines for written reports and employee reviews.
While I did my best to manage these obligations, my participation was not a choice. So to invitations that were a choice, my answer was often “no.” But these were barely decisions—more often, they were schedule conflicts. When feasible, I would take meetings and attend networking events that might lead to new investors, future employees and provoke new marketing ideas. I believed saying “yes” was part of my leadership role.
Today, I realize that being a stalwart guardian of time is a tough job, made tougher by having fewer constraints. My day is filled with active decisions. I consciously say “no” a lot—it’s not necessarily due to a schedule constraint.
And it’s not that I don’t want to do something. It’s not that it’s a bad idea. But early on, I wrote out my own “job requirements,” narrowing in on the passions I want to explore, the skills I want to test, and the personal goals I want to achieve. It’s the construct I use to make every day decisions.
Given that, saying “yes” to Karen’s kind invitation was quite easy. I am in “learning mode,” and Karen and her like-minded friends are the type of people I want to learn from. I am making a conscious effort of late to overweight learning over leading.
So what else do I say “yes” to? This past week, it was a brainstorming meeting with a girls education organization, a potential consulting assignment, two upcoming leadership conferences, and a return trip to Africa. I committed to three killer workout classes, a play date with my dog, and an upcoming adventure trip with my husband.
I also want time for the pleasantly unexpected. With a few days notice, I invited several friends to a midday showing of “A Path Appears.” Eight of us filled a movie theatre row.
To do these things, I also said “no”—to leading a new initiative, to another prospective consulting project, and to three “coffee dates.” I politely declined introductions to several dynamic individuals that I do, in fact, want to meet. I will know when the time right.
Having become more conscious of saying “yes” or “no,” I also better appreciate the answers I hear from others. Last week, I heard two unexpected “no” responses.
Both were disappointing—time wasn’t the constraint, and both proposals seemed (to me, at least) to be great ideas. But I truly appreciated the thoughtfulness to the each person’s response.
And sometimes, you do just need to take “no” for an answer.