Say NO to Everything


We were sat on the roof terrace of a small hotel in a village in Northern Africa. The sun was setting into the flat, dusty landscape.

My client had just flown in that morning.

He was stirring uncomfortably in his seat, looking away from me and then back again.

I’d just asked him a confronting question.

“How do you expect to know what it is you want when you spend all your time doing things other people want you to do?”

When the silence got too heavy, he spoke.

“I don’t know.” 

“‘I don’t know’ is not an answer,” I responded.

“I guess I can’t.”

“That’s right,” I said. “As long as you are filling your head and your life with things born from the desires of others, all that noise will keep you from knowing your own desires.”

More silence.

“When is the last time you said ‘NO’ to somebody?” I asked.

He looked up at me, confused. I then explained the power of saying ‘NO’.

I showed him how all the things he was doing in his life, both personal and professional, were things asked of him by others. That his life had essentially become a response to the world’s desire of him.

I explained that his own desires were not only unexpressed, but they were also so oppressed that he had completely lost his connection to them.

“What is one thing you have recently said ‘YES’ to, but which deep-down, you really wanted to say ‘NO’ to?”

He stirred a bit, letting the silence creep back in, and then looked straight at me. I could see in his eyes that he’d found something. But would he be willing to say it, I wondered?

“Well…there is one thing…”

I held the space.

“I took on this client that I didn’t want to work for.”

“Why did you say YES to them?” 

“They really needed the help.”

“OK, but why did you say ‘YES’?”

“I didn’t want them to think I didn’t want to help them.”

“Didn’t you just say you didn’t want to help them?”

“Well, yeah…but…”

“But nothing! Do you see your lack of integrity? Does that really serve people…to say ‘YES’ to them when really you want to say ‘NO’?”

“No, I guess not…”

We talked for awhile longer, dancing around a number of things he was currently doing in his life which, deep down, he wanted to say ‘NO’ to, but wasn’t willing to.

Finally, at one point, I just laid into him.

“Look, you’ve reached out to me, you’ve invested a lot of money, you’ve flown halfway around the fucking world to be here all because YOU want more out of life. And from every single conversation we have had over the past two months and throughout today, it has become perfectly clear. You know as well as I do that the ONLY thing that needs to change is for you to STOP NOT SAYING NO. You are here because you want to be a man of integrity. You are here because you want to live with truth. And so I am not going to sit here and watch you continue to diminish yourself and suffocate your truth without holding you to the one single point that you are not willing to face! I won’t do it. I can NOT fucking do it.”

Out the corner of my eye, I saw the hotel staff person turn around with our tea and go back down the stairs. My heart was racing.

It is moments like these that simultaneously scare the shit out of me and remind me why I love the power of a coaching relationship.

I was there to serve him, not please him. 

As a coach, I don’t work for the part of my clients that are scared. I work for the part of them that want something more.

“Stand up”, I said. “I’m going to ask you one more time and then I’m going to leave it forever. If your answer is the same, then we can go on and talk about something else. We’ll spend the rest of the weekend chatting about superficial nonsense, I’ll go home with a tan and you’ll go home on the same exact life trajectory you came here on. But before that…I’m going to give you one more chance to change everything.”

He was obviously a bit shocked at my sudden hike in intensity; though not as much as I was.

Finally he nodded, cautiously.

For the past hour he had been pussy-footing around firing a client that he didn’t want to work with – coming up with excuses and different ways of avoiding telling them ‘NO’.

“Feel your feet on the ground….make fists with your hands…raise your chin up a bit. Do you feel that?”

He nodded, silently agreeing again.

“Good…now…what are you going to do?”, I asked.

Without skipping a beat, almost as if he’d been waiting for his chance, he spoke in a deeper tone.

“I’m going to fire them on Monday.”

I sat there.

He stood there.

We watched each other.

A warm, dry breeze, carrying a scent of incense, came over the roof and brushed between us.

Two weeks later, I got this email from him:

“I fired the client on Monday. Not only them though, I fired another one too. I realised after I fired the first one that they weren’t right for me either.

And I’ve been saying no a lot more. Not all of them have been big things. The little things feel good to say no to too.

What really strikes me though is that nothing bad has happened. I was always so worried that by saying no people would be upset. But nobody seems to care! 🙂

And most importantly, I feel so much lighter…and my mind is so much quieter.”

I responded reminding him: A quiet mind is exactly what will serve you in reconnecting to your own true desires.

What are YOU not saying ‘NO’ to?