just say no scratched into a tree trunk

When saying ‘no’ says ‘yes’ to a new path

In Insight and Experience by LivingNowLeave a Comment

by Robin Elliott

“The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.”

[W.H. Murray]

Sometimes, life just says enough – and we have to say no.

I’ve been finding myself saying this a lot these last couple of weeks to friends and clients, and so I decided to write about this topic. As I was pondering on how to shape my words, I received a call from a friend, telling me about his day.

I have been conversing with this said friend over the last six months about life, work, kids, literally the whole slam dunk.

This friend is a solid corporate citizen and has worked for the same employer for 14 years – during those years he’s gone from being single, with a life revolving round work and his beloved cycling, to some years back becoming married and now fathering two children. He’s inherited a mortgage, unfinished renovations, debt and, as he calls it, the respectable status of a ‘middle class refugee’.

As his outer life has changed, so too has his work, and he has risen steadily up the corporate ladder. This last year however has been tough. He’s taken on a large role, with too few staff, and has simply been stretched beyond his limits. His health is teetering on the brink, with the beloved hobby that kept him centred amidst the turmoil having been relegated to the act of pondering the wheels in the back shed late at night, imagining the rides at dawn. He has talked to his employer about the issues, but his remonstrations have fallen on deaf ears, ‘You’re on your own’, they said, ‘deal with it’.

That brings me to an aside. It’s an odd thing I note with many employers, that they spend 5% of their time focusing on the star performers, 20% on the bottom, and then ignoring that great swag in the middle. It is those solid performers in the centre with years of internal equity whose psychological contract, that intangible relationship which builds high engagement, is taken for granted. I say to those employers, ignore at your peril.

So back to my friend. Last week, for no particular reason, my friend reached breaking point and said no – not to his employer, but to himself. He said no to the life he had constructed, and decided to dismantle it. He and his wife made some fundamental life decisions, including reducing their debt by putting their house on the market and looking at how – in the absence of a job – they could survive until a new and more sustainable life situation took hold.

What happened in the week after that internal decision is a self-help author’s dream. On Wednesday, after a long day at work, my bewildered friend relayed to me over the phone that a senior person in the business had quite surprisingly resigned. My friend was asked if he’d like the job, his dream job. He said yes but on these conditions, and he handed out his wish list: more money, more staff, more training, less hours. He got the lot.

How right was W.H. Murray, the Scottish mountaineer and writer. It is when we say no, when that authenticity rises up in us and says ‘enough’, when we galvanise around a new internal position, that providence has something to work with. It has a certain and stable anchor point from which the ingredients of our life can be rearranged. All the forms in our life emanate from the singular point of the self. Getting to understand this self and understanding our ‘negotiables’ and our ‘non-negotiables’ helps us to create lives that are sustainable and authentic.

‘Know thyself’, said the Oracle at Delphi. That seems to be the only real task we all have, and from that, life will always fall into place.


Robin Elliott is the founder and CEO of WisdomGlobal, a professional services firm specialising in people solutions for business. She also hosts the fortnightly internet radio show Wise Practice for self, work and community on Contact Talk Radio.


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