How Top Chef Taught Me To Say No

If you gathered two dozen people from my circle of friends and acquaintances and asked them to share a single word that defines me, I guarantee the consistent word would be positivity. 

When I think about positive people, I think of those who are upbeat, can extract the good in every situation and are always willing to be part of a solution (because, hey, there is always a solution right?)

There was one thing I had a hard time reconciling with my positive self, this idea of saying no to requests from people, both in business and in my personal life. To me, saying no was a negative concept. No, to an idea my boss presented, no to going out to a girl's dinner, no to taking the lead on a project. Those nos felt like they went against my core so I would, for the longest time, always say yes. I was the super-positive, high-energy lady, so hey, I could do it all.  Surprise, surprise, it was impossible to sustain.

I was watching an episode of Top Chef when it hit me, not saying no would lead to my downfall.

In walks the Top Chef contestant who, after months of auditions, interviews and skill tests, finally gets on the show. The chef couldn't wait to show off her techniques. Her first big challenge is to create a signature dish reflective of someone who inspired her.  Instead of refining herself and her dish, she kept adding, she uses several difficult techniques, a couple of different sauces and a medley of ingredients all in one dish. She works furiously against an unforgiving clock to put the best plate of food in front of the judges. She anxiously watches the judges as they taste her dish.  Their feedback is harsh with words like, "mess of flavors", "unrefined" and "disappointing."  In that instant, she realizes her mistakes and understood the importance of editing and saying no to herself. 

There are a few things this Top Chef contestant could have acknowledged, which would have yielded a different outcome. 

  • No isn't a failure: The act of saying no doesn't make you lesser than, limited or unsuccessful. In fact, it makes you wiser and more focused.

  • Outline your priorities: Having a clear, organized plan of what you want makes saying no easier (you can evaluate how it fits into the desired outcome).

  • Recognize limitations: It is better to do fewer things well than to do everything half-assed.

  • Trust yourself: Emotions drive decisions. Make sure it isn't fear, guilt or low self-esteem driving your need to say yes.

  • Negativity and No are not synonymous:  Telling someone no doesn't mean you are a negative Nancy or not a team player. 

Being more diligent in my yeses has had a significant impact. I feel less resentful and have fewer regrets. Most importantly, I have found time, the most valued possession.

"The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything."
- Warren Buffett

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StyleMarissa Bishop