Did you start this year with any goals or ambitions? Anything you wanted to learn or ways you wanted to grow? After reflecting on 2017, I started off 2018 hoping to live out these words of wisdom:

“You can do anything, but you can’t do everything.”

Throughout the year I met several people who informed me that it was the year of YES for them. They were saying yes to whatever sort of challenge or opportunity came their way.

I could definitely relate to this and think it’s a great way to challenge yourself to get out of your comfort zone. But this year, I had a different goal. Instead of the “year of yes,” I had decided that this year would be “the year of no.”

One of the discoveries I’ve made as both an expat and an entrepreneur is that both living abroad and owning your own business are great ways to build confidence and resilience. I’ve come to fully believe in my ability to create a home wherever life may take me and to steer my businesses in whatever direction my heart desires.

However, one thing that’s been more difficult for me to come to terms with is this-

My time, energy and money are finite resources.

It’s just simply not possible for me to live in all of the places I’m interested in (for the amount of time I’d like), and I can’t pursue every single professional project that catches my eye.

Which is why I set out to say no to more things this year. Here are some lessons I learned along the way about saying no:

It requires taking time to intentionally reflect

My plan to say no to more things was first inspired by a podcast I listened to for entrepreneurial minded helping professionals that warned against the dangers of “shiny object syndrome” when running a business.

Avoiding shiny objects turned out to be an especially difficult challenge to set for myself this year. This is because at the same time as I was determined to be selective about what things I added to my plate, I also became involved in several new networking organizations and attended professional conferences such as Families in Global Transition, Spark Amsterdam, TEDxAmsterdam and the 7in7 Digital Nomad conference. This meant that I was constantly meeting other professionals doing exciting and inspiring things with their businesses. Not only did this get my own creative wheels turning, but it often opened up doors for potential collaboration opportunities.

I discovered that in order to avoid impulsively jumping at any “shiny” opportunity that crossed my path, I needed a way to keep track of these opportunities without feeling pressure to immediately commit to them. I decided to follow one of the suggestions from the podcast I mentioned and create an “idea vault.” I used this space to record all of the opportunities that I came across and began dedicating more time in my schedule to reflecting at the beginning and end of the day, week, month, and quarter on what I had learned and what I wanted to focus on.

I can’t say that I avoided every single “shiny object syndrome” moment, but it was an immensely helpful way to reflect on what I really wanted to say yes to, instead of being guided by pure emotion.

It requires clarifying what I want to guide my “Yes”

This year I had to come face to face with the reality that there is a high achieving, bordering on perfectionistic, idealist inside of me that is really resistant to letting go of this belief– that if only I organize my schedule strategically enough, I CAN do it all.

I think this comes from partially from the fact that a part of me really wishes I could do it all and is sad to let go of the dream that I can’t. So this year, I’ve worked on very slowly accepting the fact that I’m not superwoman and also reflecting on important questions I often pose to my clients, such as:

What’s my WHY?

What values do I want to guide my business by?

What do I want my life to be about?

Where do I want to be in my personal and professional life 5 years from now? 

These are hard questions to answer, but I do feel more clear about the answers than I was at the beginning of the year. I’ve discovered important things about myself which will guide the decisions I make for next year. One of these big ah-ha moments was realizing that I value community over traveling. Don’t get my wrong. I do love to travel and will certainly continue to do so in 2019. But, I really value creating a home in a certain place and investing in relationships and hobbies there. Towards the end of 2018 I realized that I was starting to dread my upcoming trips, which was a pretty good sign to me that I was not living by my values.

Another important realization for me was that I want to do more than just 1:1 online therapy sessions. I want to work with groups, and I want to do some work offline. And the way I want to do this work is as a Mindful Self-Compassion (MSC) teacher. I participated in the MSC course myself earlier this year and the experience was incredibly transformative for me. Plus, it’s a course that’s supported by an increasing body of research, which the scientist part of me is a huge fan of!

These two big realizations led me to one of my most difficult no’s of the year–I was accepted to co-lead a presentation at next year’s Families in Global Transition conference in Bangkok, Thailand, but I ultimately decided that I wanted to prioritize pursuing the self-compassion teacher training instead. Which brings me to another important lesson…

I had to push past the fear of potentially disappointing others

From the work I do with my clients, I know that fear of disappointing others can be a big stumbling block to saying no, but I hadn’t realized just how much it was responsible for some of my own behaviors until I started shining a spotlight on it.

I think the surprise came from the fact that I knew I’d been a people-pleaser in the past, but I assumed that this was something I had gotten over. This year was a wake up call to how much my sense of empathy and deep desire to help can lead me to say “yes” to something, without realizing that it’s not actually the best decision for me.

I know this is something many people struggle with– especially those who tend to be empathetic, highly sensitive or in helping professions. Our superpower of being in tune to the needs of others can sometimes get out of control and in an attempt to make sure others are ok and that we don’t damage our relationships, we end up prioritizing someone else’s needs instead of our own.

Diving more into my own self-compassion practice has been incredibly helpful with navigating this new territory. By prioritizing my relationship with myself and carrying out the self-compassion exercises, I’m better able to discern when I really need to say no in order to take care of my own needs, and when, although it might inconvenience me, it’s within my ability, and aligned with my values, to say yes to someone else.

It’s also been incredibly helpful to read “The Assertiveness Guide for Women,” by Julie de Azevedo Hanks. It was the latest book selection for the online therapists book club I’m a part of. It’s really helped me to connect the dots between my own experiences growing up, my relationships, mindfulness and self-compassion practices, and being assertive. 

It’s all about progress, not perfection

When I started off the year, I thought that “you can do anything, but you can’t do everything” would be the motto which I would live out fully for 12 months before retiring it and focusing on something new in 2019.

In fact, when I first started to reflect on how I’d lived out this motto this year, my initial reaction was disappointment. I had said yes to a lot of things I later realized I wish I’d said no to. I felt burnt out by saying yes to too much travel. Who was I to write a blog about how I’d mastered saying no during the past year?

And then I remembered these important words I frequently tell my clients–

It’s all about progress, not perfection. 

Saying no to things not meant for me is not something I could ever master in only one year. But it is something I can keep practicing throughout my entire life. I will have plenty of opportunities in years to come to continue this hard work of accepting my limits, reflecting on my priorities, and creating good boundaries. And like most areas of personal and professional growth–it will very often be a situation where I take two steps back before I take one step forward.

Now, before I wrap up this post, I can’t help but also share this last lesson I learned from saying no this year:

There’s still plenty of room for saying yes to the things that matter:

In reality, 2018 hasn’t just been a year of no. It’s also been a year of yes. But it was a year of a more strategic yes. It was a year where I practiced pausing and reflecting before actually saying yes. And that pause allowed me to be more aligned with the values that I hold near and dear to me in my work and personal life– authenticity, courage, compassion, growth, mindfulness and creativity.

I wish you a wonderful end to 2018 and start to 2019!

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