‘Yes!’ It’s a powerful word. ‘Yes!’ It’s optimistic. It marks someone as open to opportunity. It’s selfless – courageous, even. ‘Yes!’ It just feels good!
‘No’, on the other hand, slams the door. ‘No’ is negative, risk-adverse, selfish. ‘No’ is to be avoided, yes? Well, no.
While there’s a lot to be said for the power of ‘Yes’, the power of ‘No’ is under-appreciated. So often mistaken for negativity, ‘No’ can be one of the most positive aspects of life – emotionally, relationally, financially, professionally.
We’ve all felt the pressure that is part of modern life. The appointments, obligations, activities, emails and phone calls just pile up until we feel like we can’t even catch a breath. Running from one activity to the next without pause leaves us stressed, overwhelmed and close to burnout.
Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating…
Sometimes we feel so close to the edge that, well… ever seen the “thin mint” scene in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life?
The problem is a lack of margin. It’s a concept discussed by US author and academic, Dr. Richard Swenson: “Margin is the space between our load and our limits… It is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations. Margin is the gap between rest and exhaustion, the space between breathing freely and suffocating”.
Life without margins is like living on a cliff. When we are well within our margins, with capacity to spare, we can safely look around, concentrate on other things; enjoy ourselves; do cartwheels even, if that’s your thing.
But the closer you move to the edge to the cliff, the more you focus on the lack of margin. You can’t dance, laugh or become engrossed in conversation when one misstep could send you over the edge. Cartwheels are out of the question. All your concentration is focused on the careful placement of each step. Stressful, huh? (I’m starting to feel stressed just writing this). Unless we’re going to drop out of modern life altogether, margin isn’t going to just happen. It has to be actively cultivated.
One way to increase margin is increase capacity – the old “work smarter, not harder” principle. Having effective systems and procedures in place, using technology wisely, improving skills and surrounding yourself with competent, capable people are all great ways to increase capacity, and thus, improve margin. But sooner or later, we will reach capacity, unless we learn the power of ‘No’.
‘No’ doesn’t have to be negative. Negativity is an attitude. ‘No’ is a moment of clear choice. ‘No’ is an assertion of self-discipline and personal responsibility. ‘No’ enables us to be true to our own goals and priorities, instead of being swamped by someone else’s.
Saying ‘No’ creates space around us. It frees up the calendar, the finances, physical and emotional reserves. It creates margin.
‘No’ give us the ability to say ‘Yes’ to the things that truly matter.