Saying no a lot Takes Practice


The decision was simple.

Stay, drive a long commute, and earn a big bonus. The other option was leave, walk away from the bonus, and start looking for work. Simple, right?

After nine months of massive work, the product done and the launch imminent, the startup I'd been working at wanted me to commute instead of working remotely—something that had been part of the original terms of our agreement.

But my wife and I had just had our first child. So I walked.

And I said no to a big bonus. Because no amount of money could give me back memories of my newborn that I would have missed while driving.

Like I said, it was a simple call.

Money makes it hard to say no.

When I tell people the story, many can't believe how much money I left on the table. But the truth is that I was practiced at saying no a lot. That wouldn't be my first (or last) time saying no.

I find that a lot of the decisions that seem to pull us in the wrong direction, and are the ones we should be saying no to, all have to do with money. We all need it. We all like it. So walking away from it seems impossible.

  • So we don't walk away from bonuses and stay in crappy jobs.
  • So we don't reject credit cards and end up in crazy debt.
  • So we don't leave bad bosses to do meaningful work.
  • So we don't walk away from bad clients to stay in our sweet spot.

Instead, we just say yes. When we should've said no.

Saying no a lot takes practice.

When I was in high school a couple of really cute girls asked me to take a science test for $30 so they could have the answers. They'd found the text and wanted some “help.” For a kid with an allowance of $2, a quick $30 was alluring. But I said no. It was wrong.

When I was in college, an ATM machine kicked out a $100 amidst a set of $20s. I took it back because I knew it wasn't mine. I was also worried they'd figure it out and want it later. When I wouldn't have it. So I said no to keeping it—and took it back.

When I was at my first job, the temp company overpaid me by about $500. I had to do extra work but in the end, I took it back. Again, I really worried that they'd figure it out and want it after I'd spent it. So I took it back.

See the pattern?

It was easier to say no to $100 when I had already said no to $30. It was easier to say no to $500 when I had already said no to $100.

So when someone asks you if, for $75,000, you're willing to miss those early mornings with your first child it's easier to do than you think. Because if you've spent a lifetime learning to make decisions based on what you truly value rather than the ever-enticing dollar, you'll be practiced and ready to walk away.

I say no a lot.

I know you already know that I say no a lot. I've told that to you often enough that by now you know the mantra.

  • I say no to people offering me work when their biggest motivator is money.
  • I say no to projects that offer a lot of money, for work I don't know how to do.
  • I say no to partnerships that could be lucrative, if my gut says I can't trust them.

You know all of this. This isn't new.

But I thought a little reminder, and a challenge to practice saying no to the small stuff. Because you never know, it just might help you prepare for the next time you have to say no for something much larger and more important.