Early in my career, I worked with an abrasive man who was almost always angry at me. He was angry at everything I represented as a woman in the workplace, and furious enough to raise his voice whenever he spoke to me. But it is not his anger that made a lasting impression on me, it is a simple expression of his, one that has served me well since.
In a meeting with this man, I commented that my team and I had completed a “Lessons Learned” analysis of a recent project so we would better understand what had gone well and what had not. “No!” he bellowed. “They are NOT lessons learned. They are lessons available to be learned.” I realized immediately that (for once) he was not being argumentative. He was absolutely right. The fact that we had identified the lessons did not mean that we had learned them. It was an important distinction.
There are many lessons in my life that remain “available to be learned,” circling back again and again because I have missed what they were meant to teach me. Early in my life, they were lessons about finding and using my voice, or about choosing friends, or the importance of trust and forgiveness. Later, they were lessons about healthy versus destructive relationships, or the role of my career in my life, or self-care and self-love.
Now it seems that the biggest, lingering unlearned lesson is about saying “no” when I am asked or invited to do something I do not really want to do. I have danced with this subject for years, discussing it with family and friends, and even writing posts about it here. Many times I have believed I had finally grasped this lesson about investing precious time and energy where I do not want or need to invest it. Ah, but then twice in the past month, it appeared again. I am hoping this time I’ve got it.
In a very fun and playful conversation with a dear friend yesterday, we shared our respective stories of saying “yes” to requests and regretting the commitments long before the time came to honor them. In talking and laughing with her, I established a new and very high bar which all future invitations must clear – “Would I be excited to stand up NOW, right at this very moment, and drop everything else to do this?” So for me, THAT is the new hurdle for all invitations.
Will you share yours?
Feeling Good About “No”