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The Art of Saying No.

We’ve all done it: Said yes when what we really meant was no.  There are many reasons that we do it: A fear of disappointing or angering someone; concern that no one will be there for us when we need something; fear of not being liked; or maybe even an underlying belief that we should be self-sacrificing to be worthy of love. Whatever the reason, saying yes when you really mean no leaves you kicking yourself. You’re over-extended, and you’re doing things that really aren’t that important to you. Worse still, you’ve added to the self-loathing that comes with betraying yourself and moving away from what you truly want. So how do you say no? One trick is to do it so gracefully that you sidestep those fears that get kicked up at just the thought of saying no to someone.  Here’s a great example:

Some time ago, my wife was invited to serve as chairman of a committee in a community endeavor. She had  a number of truly important things she was trying to work on , and she really didn’t want to do it. But she felt pressured into it and finally agreed.

                Then she called one of her dear friends to ask if she would serve on her committee. Her friend listened for a long time and then said, “Sandra, that sounds like a wonderful project, a really worthy undertaking. I appreciate so much your inviting me to be a part of it. I feel honored by it. For a number of reasons, I won’t be participating myself, but I want you to know how much I appreciate your invitation.”

                Sandra was ready for anything but a pleasant “no.” She turned to me and sighed, “I wish I’d said that.””


Stephen R. Covey (1989). The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Let’s dissect the “no.” If you can take apart the elements of a graceful “no,” and reconstruct it into one that is authentic for you (using your language), you never have to say yes when you really mean no again.

First, notice how the friend comments on the value of whatever is being asked of her: “that sounds like a wonderful project, a really worthy undertaking.”  Since we are afraid of insulting people by implying that their request is not worth our time or is not interesting, this can help the person who is asking something of you to feel that their request or project is still valuable, even though you won’t be there.

Second,   state your gratitude for being thought of, and how it makes you feel to be included. After all, whatever the request, you are being asked because you bring something of value to the situation.   “I appreciate so much your inviting me to be a part of it. I feel honored by it.”


Third, say no. “For a number of reasons, I won’t be participating myself, but I want you to know how much I appreciate your invitation.” Notice how the friend declines, politely, but does so while being kind, thankful , clear and firm? She doesn’t spend time on why she can’t; she doesn’t defend her reasons. She says no politely but firmly.  Also, notice how she doesn’t resort to “I can’t.” She owns the fact that she is making a choice based on her own priorities and doesn’t shy away from that.

So here’s the formula. You fill in the blanks:

That sounds like a _______adjective______ project.  I feel __________________ that you asked me, but for a number of reasons I won’t be participating. Thank you thinking of me.

A few ground rules:

  1. Rework this formula so that it works for you. It should sound like you and not feel like someone else’s language.
  2.  It’s important that you clearly decline. It’s easy to get so wrapped up in being graceful that the other person thinks you’ve actually accepted.
  3. Don’t make excuses.  Try not to say “I can’t.” You rarely can’t do something, you just choose not to. Saying “I can’t” gives away the power you’ve claimed by making a choice about what you can do with your time.

You can be a kind, generous and caring person while still having your own agenda and control over your time. If you don’t take control over your time and agenda, you are living someone else’s life, and ultimately you won’t be giving the world the kindest and most generous gift you can offer: the gift of your true self.


Do you have a reverse-resume?

We all know what a resume is: a piece of paper on which you’ve stuffed all of the skills, experiences and job positions that you believe are relevant to market yourself as the right candidate for a job. No wonder job hunting feels so degrading. You are forced to reduce yourself to one sheet of paper which you pass around to others for evaluation. Sheesh!

What would happen if instead of going into job hunting with the mindset of selling yourself, you flipped job hunting on its head? What if you understood that your value cannot be condensed onto a single sheet of paper, and that your precious time, creative energy, and life’s work should not be sold to the highest bidder (or in this market sometimes to the only bidder?) What if you started searching for a job by searching your soul before searching the want ads?

Introducing the concept of the reverse-resume. Instead of finding jobs that your one-page version of yourself might be a “fit” for, what if you instead spent time figuring out what qualifications the JOB needs to have before you’ll entertain giving it some of the best years of your life? You probably have enough life-experience at this point to know that you need to be doing work that’s meaningful to you, that excites you and that makes you feel competent in order to feel happy in life. It’s not the only component of a happy life, but it’s a critical component since we spend so much time at work and since we often in part define our lives by the output and actions – the work we do (in this case, at work.)

“If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”  Lewis Carroll

Job searching that starts with soul searching is much more likely to land you a job that feels more like a calling. But first you have to know where you are going. The way to do that is to write your reverse-resume.  Here’s a basic template to get you started:

Objective: What is your objective? Not just to find a job, but to find one that gives you meaning, purpose, and contributes to your overall happiness.  It’s your responsibility to define this as clearly as possible. What will make you feel that way? What’s meaningful for you? What would you like to contribute? What is going to make you fall into bed each night exhausted and thrilled at the same time?

Experience(s): What do you want to experience in this next job situation? Do you want to lead a team, be part of something that’s growing, have a chance to travel or work on a particular project? What things will you be doing day-to-day and also what larger vision will you be working towards? Define your desired experiences no matter how large or small.

Education: What do you want to learn from this? From skills to personal growth experiences, what do you want to gain?

Skills: What parts of who you are and what you know are you going to get to use on a regular basis? Do you love to do something and you want to do it as part of the next job? If so, write it down!

Salary Requirements: What do you want to make? What will make you feel great about your financial health?

Feel free to add any categories that seem relevant for you. In fact, if you come up with one, please post it as a comment!

Remember, your reverse-resume is not some head-in-the-clouds vision board. This is a set of instructions for you so that you can more clearly define what you are after and for you to know when you’ve found it. Don’t say that you want to make a million dollars unless you are prepared to work your butt off to land that job. Strive to create a balance between your vision and what is realistic – there may be several steps along the path to your ultimate vision.

Creating a reverse-resume is a way to remind yourself that you are worth MORE than what’s listed on your regular old resume. You’ll still need a resume to market yourself, but your reverse-resume will help ensure you don’t sell yourself short.

Live Workshop!

Just a quick post to let you know about an upcoming workshop! The description and registration info is here:

Discover your Life Calling:

Do you feel unfulfilled, lacking direction or unhappy in your work or overall, in your life? Do you know there’s something more, but can’t figure out what it is? Do you believe you could be living a fuller expression of your life?

This two hour workshop is designed to help you begin the journey of discovering your life calling. The evening is interactive, creative, and introspective. Come prepared to write, create, explore your feelings and share with others. We will discuss what a life calling is (and isn’t) and examine the components and structure of a calling. Exercises designed to help you tune into your true self, own your passions, and unearth your talents and skills will allow your calling to begin to take shape.

When: Monday, 5/7 6:00 – 8:00 pm

Where: Roots & Wings Healing Arts 317 N. Main St., Natick, MA 01760

Fee: $30/$40 at the door

How to Register:

OR contact Jessica Sweet with questions or to register by phone:

(781) 640-7250, or email:

Life Callings for the Mainstream


So just how “out there” is the idea of having a life calling? Is it the stuff of tea leaves and crystal balls, or is it an important factor if you are interested in consciously designing your life (and not letting life just happen to you)?

Unless you ask yourself some pretty fundamental questions about what you want to do, what you want your life to look like, and how you want to feel, you are probably going to end up with a life that is in “default” mode: You go into accounting because your dad was an accountant, or even because you like numbers – while never looking deeper at what you want your life to be or where you want to end up. And one day you realize you are miserable doing the work you are doing. But you are afraid it is too late to make a change. (Don’t worry, it’s not.)

A life calling doesn’t have to be thought of as a magical or metaphysical thing. It is quite simply something that is woven together from your passions, skills, essence, life experiences, and what you love to give to others. It can be thought of fairly scientifically with this formula, and it can be found by examining each of these pieces closely.

Now, I would be lying if I tried to pretend that I approach the subject this scientifically. I do believe that somehow in this life we are all set on a path for learning, growth and giving that influences who we are, what we experience, and what we love in order to perfectly shape and create a life that helps us grow, while at the same time enabling us to be happy. Can you believe that what you would love to do most and what you are best at is also the thing that will make you the happiest? How cool is that?

But if you just don’t believe there is something set out before you that you are supposed to accomplish, surely you can get behind the idea that doing some things will make you happier than others. Let’s compare running a business to running a life: When you run a business, if you want it to be successful, it’s not enough to do the next thing that is before you and put out fires (that is, it’s not enough to work IN your business). You need to think about your business, create a business plan, a mission and a vision, and action steps to achieving them (to be successful you’ll need to work ON your business). Same is true with life. It’s not reasonable to think you will end up with a wildly successful life (whatever your definition of that is) if you don’t have a mission and vision, action steps, and a plan.

Why wouldn’t you think about what would make you really, really happy (vision) and build on that? And if you don’t know where to start with it, why wouldn’t you start there? Why stay stuck just hoping to win the lottery, be recognized, or wishing for some other change? It ain’t gonna happen unless you make it happen. But the good news is, making it happen is completely within your power, whether you believe that your calling has been created for you or is of your own creation.