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The Power of "No"

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This article first appeared in The Huffington Post

For the first year after the divorce was final, my auto-response to just about every question that flew out of the mouths of my three sons was “YES!”  It was an automatic, rapid-fire and knee-jerk reaction to each and every query.

Yes, I will be your room mom!

Yes, I will be the team mom!

Yes, we can still go on vacations, live in our super-sized house, drive our SUV, and eat out at restaurants!

And the one that had me questioning my sanity:

Sure, no problem, I am happy to drive six hours – round trip – to Six Flags Magic Mountain not once – but twice – over back-to-back weekends, all to spend $500 to stand in long lines – in 95 degree heat – to ride a roller coaster that will likely make me vomit!

Like many women, I was haunted by divorce guilt and did everything I could during those 12 long months to compensate for any collateral damage to my boys. Despite my best intentions, all those “yeses” did come at a price. Not only did my face have a half a dozen more stress-induced wrinkles, but I also became the not-so-proud owner of a big fat credit card balance. Neither circumstance was how I wanted to kick off my new life as a single mom. This wasn’t the example I wanted to set for my sons.

After yet another sleepless night, I found myself asking this hard question: What in the hell could I have done with all that money if I had simply said NO? The longer I stared at my year-end credit card statement, the more I realized the power that lives in that simple, two-letter word. No.  I began to see that if I embraced the notion that “no” actually means “yes” to something else (e.g., zero debt, a growing emergency fund and/or a retirement account), the results could be life changing.

As women, we're told that we can “have it all” and “do it all,” and that wearing a “yes” on our chests makes us a superhero. Although these messages are meant to empower, they actually compound one of the most prevalent issues women face today: an inability to say “no.” 

Why is it so hard for women to overcome the guilt and the shame around the word “no”? And when are we going to stop and realize the cost of always saying “yes” – both to our bank accounts and to our sanity?

The answer just may lie in an economic concept called “opportunity cost.” (Oh, how proud my microeconomics professor at USC would be if he knew that after nearly two decades I was still throwing around that term.) By definition, opportunity cost is the benefit or value of something that is given up when one chooses one thing over another. Or – put more simply – it’s what you could do with your 10 minutes and $5 if you don’t walk into Starbucks each morning. Bottom line, you can do A LOT since that daily yes to a skinny vanilla latte over 15 years can cost you nearly 1,000 hours and close to $50,000. That is a lot of time and money that could be put to better use. 

This same principle can be applied to the seemingly endless requests of our time and the obliging attitude some of us have as we “yes” ourselves into insanity and exhaustion. I am not suggesting that we all stop baking cookies or sewing several monkey costumes for our children’s school play after a long day at work -- or stop volunteering our time to worthy causes. But I am suggesting that before we shout out that “yes,” we stop to recognize that we are a worthy cause too.

Just because you can’t always quantify the cost of a “yes” doesn’t mean there isn’t an impact on your bottom line. The extra time you take walking along the beach, feeling the sand between your toes, enjoying a little downtime with a glass of wine, or reading a book to gain a new perspective can yield an even higher return.

So to all you Superwomen out there flying around with your “yeses” on your chest, it’s time to rip off the cape and stop for a moment to think about the true cost of “yes.” You just might fly higher if you embrace the power of no.

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