Monday, June 24, 2013

Had I But Known: The Loveliness of No

guest post by: terry price

“I’m just a girl who cain’t say no…” Ado Annie from Oklahoma

As a card-carrying optimist, I constantly look for advantages of growing older. Experience might be a harsh teacher but is a wonderful traveling companion. And as I look back over the years, there are many things from which I’ve learned and grown. But one of the greatest lessons, and the one with which I struggle the most to this day, is the discipline to say no.

When I was younger, my ego constantly whispered that I not only could do anything, but muddled the waters such that I thought I could also do everything. And what complicated things even more was that, to varying degrees, I did “do” everything. “Sure” and “no problem” became my most used phrases. Saying no was a blow to my ego. Saying no was an admission of my limitations. Someone needed help and someone needed me. And because of some law of social physics, the more I did, the more I was asked to do. I became a young man who was constantly stressed and constantly exhausted.

One day, I confided in an older, wiser friend about my quandary, admitting that I was just a guy who couldn’t say no. She quickly corrected me. “Actually, you’re very good at saying no.”

Maybe she hadn’t understood me I thought. Maybe I needed to share more of my sad story. But she had understood completely. She continued, explaining that because I was young, I was under the illusion that time was infinite. And worse, I believed that energy and my ability to absorb stress were also limitless. Of course, none of this was true.

Because there are limits, she went on, there are a finite number of things you can do, things you can experience, things you can accomplish.

You see, every time you say “yes” to something, you are automatically saying “no” to something else.

As soon as the words left her mouth, I knew she was right. What had I been so good at saying no to? I began to think of all of the things I wanted to do, things I really needed to do during this all too brief life.

So what have I learned?

Well, once you come to grips with the finite, then you must take time to learn the things that take priority in your life. And once you have that list, you rank them in order of importance to you. Some of the things will be selfless, but you must also include the things that nurture and nourish you too. Our culture, unfortunately, teaches that when you do things for yourself, it’s selfish. The truth is, that you must make time to nurture yourself so you have the physical and emotional energy to take care of those around you. It’s like the flight attendant instructions before takeoff – If the oxygen masks are needed, put yours on first, so you’ll be able to help those around you. Balance and moderation are the keys.

So now you have a prioritized list of the important things in your life. Call this your “yes” list. Visit it often. Life is a dynamic process. Things change. Priorities change. You grow.

Keep your list handy. And when there is a request for your time, a demand upon your very life, look at your list. Ask yourself if you have enough time to take it on AFTER you’ve budgeted time for everything on your priority list. You’ll be amazed how much easier this makes your decision. If you don’t have the extra time, well guess what.

You say no. Or you can say the next best words.

I can’t at this time. But check with me again in the future.

What next?

Well, then you smile. Because not only have you just learned to say no, at that same exact moment you’ve said yes to the most important things in your life. And always remember…it’s your life.

Terry Price is a Tennessee based writer, writing coach and mentor, having attended The Writer’s Loft creative writing program at Middle Tennessee State University and graduated with his MFA in Writing from Spalding University in Louisville.  He has published several short stories, one of which was nominated for the Pushcart Prize, became the program director of The Writer’s Loft and now is a Director Emeritus of, and a mentor with, the program.  Terry is currently revising his short story collection for publication and is writing his first novel set in Nashville, with the working title of An Angel’s Share.

He is an accomplished photographer, long distance cyclist, Appalachian Trail section hiker, and sailor. He is an aspiring bon vivant and raconteur, likes bourbon neat but his journal messy and lives on a small farm in Springfield, Tennessee with his family and two dogs and lots of squirrels.  Find out more at


I am exceptionally honored to have Terry with us today. He is a man ever on the go. And, as always, inspiration follows wherever he roams. Thank you, thank you, and thank you again, Terry!

Also, if any of you, my dear readers, have a spare moment, a brief travel piece ran today that I wrote for a local (and awesome!) tour company's travel blog about my recent trip to New York City. I'd love to see your smiling faces over there! Happy Monday everyone!

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  1. As always, Terry, your wisdom is deep and well worth listening to! I am in a fine pickle at the moment just because I have said yes to too many things. (Have you ever tried to find volunteers for a church nursery for July?) I am learning to juggle what I need and want to do with not being utterly selfish as well. That is a balance I am still seeking to find. No is such a small word, and yet so large, too.

  2. Priorities, Priorities. This is useful in every area and walk of life. Thank you.

  3. Kind thanks all. Anytime I write something like this, I'm always talking to myself. I continue to learn and grow. Saying no is an acquired habit, one that can be cultivated. Let me know if I can help! Thanks again...

  4. My ability to absorb stress isn't infinite? And I can say no sometimes? I wish I'd known that about thirty years ago. :)
    Thank you for an enjoyable post.


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