Saturday, September 08, 2012

Say No So You Can Say Yes
(Or, follow wise words of my writing partner)

This week, I quit something that I’ve done for several years. I tried to quit before and I was shot down (you read that right, not allowed to quit), but this week I geared up, I got my pitch in order, and I quit.

Or, let me start this post another way: This week, I started something new that I’ve been wanting to start for several years. I tried before to get this gig and was shot down, but this week, I geared up, I got my pitch in order, I aced the “ask.”

It’s funny how we can frame things in two ways and for the outcome to be the same. Quitting was the thing I wanted most so that was my lead when I told someone later. “I quit! I quit!” I got out of this thing I’d been doing and not doing well at all.

But, now, as I reflect, quitting the old thing is fading and excitement about starting the new thing is rising, and I can’t help but think how right the sage advice of my writing partner Vicki Voisin is. She tells us that Saying NO to one thing means being able to say YES to something else.

This advice pertains to everything. For me—as I imagine is true for many—making decisions about household chores is one of my biggest pulls. I love to have a spotless house, but I don’t hire anyone to do those jobs, so daily, I make decisions. If I skip loading the dishwasher this morning, I can get to my desk a few minutes early. Or, if I take time to load the dishwasher this morning, the person who returns home in the evening will enjoy making dinner much more in the clean kitchen. And that person will be calmer and more patient, which is just good in general. But if I say no, I might be able to connect with someone or move a project forward. The yes or the no is different every day.

When Vicki and I were putting the final touches on our book, The Professional Paralegal: A Guide to Finding a Job and Career Success, the answer was NO very often to everything household. I spent one entire month so intensely focused on writing that my older son now has a deep addiction to fast-food French fries. Oh, the guilt. To wean us him off an addiction to hydrogenated oils, I have vowed to say yes to a fast-food-free fall season except for days that we are on the road.

When Julie Morgenstern came out with her book SHED Your Stuff, Change Your Life: A Four-Step Guide to Getting Unstuck, I didn’t like the title, although I’m a huge Morgenstern fan.

Morgenstern's book, Organizing from the Inside Out, Second Edition: The Foolproof System For Organizing Your Home, Your Office and Your Life remains one of my favorites. The word shed has such a rough edge to it, and it’s framed negatively and mystery. Having to SHED something doesn’t feel positive. It feels like taking it upon yourself to pile a whole bunch of negativity into a give-away bin. And then, when you’re finished, what will you find? What if I don’t like that? I still haven’t read her book, but now, I see her point, that by shedding, or saying no to the stuff and the obligations, we make space for things we want to do to emerge. It’s a shift in perspective.

Vicki and I got some pushback from reviewers about the chapter in our book that instructs paralegals on how to say no. But this topic is important to many professionals and especially paralegals. Are you the same type of worker as a paralegal? Entrepreneurs and business owners often are because attorneys, for whom paralegals work, like to keep their clients happy (just like business owners). Paralegals like to keep clients happy and like to keep the attorneys for whom they work happy.

These ingredients—type A personalities, the need to please, the need to say YES all the time during the proving-self years, and the stress that the legal profession takes on—can combine into a lethal case of burnout. Vicki and I wanted to acknowledge the tendency for paralegals to be perfectionists and to always want to say YES by showing them that saying no can have a positive outcome, too.

Reviewers worried that paralegals would read the parts about letting go of perfectionism and saying no as giving permission to be sloppy and disrespectful at work. In honesty, we chuckled a bit at these reviews because the reviewers are attorney educators. They are, in their soles, perfectionists with extremely high expectations for paralegal employees. Believe me, we understand that. We used Vicki’s tips as the basis for teaching people how and when to let go of perfectionism and say no, but my hands-down favorite tip is that by saying no to one thing, you can say yes to something else.

This week, when confronted with a will you or won’t you situation, ask yourself, If I say YES to this, what will I be saying NO to? The honest answer may surprise you.

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