The Power of No—Learning to Bloom

Last spring, I started my garden. I was working long hours, traveling some, taking golf lessons, redecorating our home, caring for my aging mother, and tending to a new puppy. So, I decided to throw in gardening in my spare time. I was doing good things, but too much of a good thing can be just that—too much. I realized I was addicted to “yes”.

“Yes, I will help organize the project.”
“Yes, I will volunteer to be on that committee.”
“Yes, I’d be happy to write that article.”
“Yes, I will arrange that lunch.”
“Yes, I’d love to host that event.”
“Yes! Yes! Yes!”

By summer time I was burned out. My garden was growing, but I was tired. I was worn out trying to do it all, and realized I was not doing a whole lot well.

I was tired of my overcrowded life. I needed to reclaim my schedule. I needed balance—balance of meaningful work and nourishing rest. I needed room for physical, emotional and spiritual self-care, to be better for others. I wanted to grow, like my garden was growing, as a friend, a mother, a grandmother, a co-worker, a wife. I didn’t know how I was supposed to make changes when everything was already in motion. But I knew something had to change. The “yes” was exhausting.

One afternoon, as I sat on my patio, planning the next event, my attention was drawn to my garden. The flowers were strong, healthy and beautiful. The work I had put into my little plot of dirt was paying off. I was so proud. I knew that my garden was growing because I gave my plants the needed space for their roots and the nutrients they needed for growth. Suddenly it occurred to me: Why wasn’t I doing this for myself? Why wasn’t I cultivating my own garden?

It’s okay to say “no”

Untangling our schedules and lives can be a complicated process. Relationships, expectations of others, deadlines and dates press on us and feel impossible to unravel and unrush. How would I learn to say “no” when saying “yes” was the powerful habit?

We often think of the word “no” as a scary and disconnecting word. But, I soon discovered it had the power to be one of the most loving and connecting words you can use. It’s okay to let go, not to keep up and not to do it all. It’s okay to disappoint people in favor of growing your own garden. It’s okay to say “no”.

We have only so much space, energy and nutrients for our own garden. Plants do not thrive in an overcrowded plot. Too many projects, social commitments, family activities and plans all take up space. I realized when I try to do it all, nothing grows well except weeds. And weeds can overtake everything.

Think about your life and honestly evaluate how you are spending your time, energy and focus. How is your garden growing? Every decision we make points us in one direction or another. The things we set our focus on can give us life or suck it out of us. Look at the distractions and activities on your “to do” list and then call some of them out for what they are: weeds. Weeds drain the nutrients and life out of what you want to grow.

I learned that by saying “yes” to everything, I had grown a garden full of weeds draining the energy from my day to day life. Weeds can be tricky, because you just can’t lop them off on the surface of the soil – you have to pull them out by the roots which can be time consuming. I found that by starting with one weed—by saying “no” to another request—it gave me the courage and momentum to get rid of many more.

There will always be weeds, no matter how many hours you spend tending your garden, weeds will pop up along the way. As I made decisions in my life to eliminate the weeds, to say “no” to meetings, to activities, to lunches and travel, I learned that I was willing to let go of perfection in favor of cultivating a lasting garden. I choose cultivating over keeping up.

So last spring I indeed started a garden. Or rather, the garden started me. The lessons I learned in the dirt changed me. I learned to slow down. I still can’t do it all, but now I realize I don’t want to. I just want to do what matters. We can’t do it all and do it well. There will be flowers and there will be weeds, the trick is to know and appreciate the difference. A powerful fertilizer in life is the word “no”.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email