When NO means YES
April 14, 2015
by Molly Davis
My cell phone rang as Kristine and I walked back to the conference center to facilitate another workshop at the retreat. Gathered at a beautiful resort in Woodstock, NY, the woods ablaze with fall colors, it had already been two days of connection and inspiration, new friends and new ideas. The workshop was one of our favorite topics, a best seller with clients, always a crowd pleaser, resulting in powerful insights for all. Starting of course, with us. Since as everybody knows…”You teach what you need.”
With a few minutes to spare, and seeing that the call was from a client, I decided to answer. “Hey Molly. We’re in a big bind. The person who was going to facilitate the Leadership Experience can’t make it. Would you be able to do it? It starts the day after tomorrow.” Immediately I knew the answer to that question….
A vehement “No!”
Not on your life!
That kind of No.
While certified to facilitate the experience, I had yet to actually do so. Not only that, it was going to be with a senior global team, and the facilitator they had really wanted was obviously not me. He had more experience, and was clearly their first choice. Stepping into a big arena, trying to fill big shoes, coming in at the last minute, with people who expected someone else, felt like a recipe for disaster all around. Besides that, getting an earlier flight out would be almost impossible due to our commitment to the current retreat. There was one other tiny little detail. I was terrified. Afraid that I couldn’t do it, wouldn’t meet the high bar set by the group, and couldn’t measure up to their expectations, I respectfully declined, politely thanked him for thinking of me, wished him the best of luck, and hung up the phone, filled with relief. Except the relief kept getting pushed down to make room for something else.
My reasons for saying no were logical. It made perfect sense. Still, I had the sense that I had just let myself down. Imperfect as my facilitation might be, was it possible that I was the perfect person for the job, and it the perfect job for me?
It was time for the retreat workshop to begin. Stepping up to kick it off, I couldn’t get that phone call out of my mind. Thankfully, Kristine stepped in and masterfully led the group through the first exercise, allowing me to clear my head of my swirling thoughts. In saying No to the request, I was saying Yes to my fear. In answering No to a big challenge, I was opting for a Yes to playing it safe. Just then I heard Kristine as she continued leading the participants through the exercise, asking them to complete the statement: “If I had the courage, I would………
Oh, did I forget to mention that the topic of our workshop was COURAGE? Oops.
Heads bent over their journals, the participants began to write down as many ideas for completing that sentence as they could. As they finished writing, I stepped back in front to lead them through some reflection on what they had just discovered. Looking into their faces and seeing their courage, they led me back to my own.
As soon as our workshop was over, I called the client back. “Yes. I’ll be there. To be clear, this will be the first time I’ve actually facilitated it, and I won’t have time to review any of the materials. If flying by the seat of my pants is ok with you, I’ll change my flight and be there.” It was a powerful Yes that began as an overwhelming No. Rather than disaster all around, it turned into a blessing for all concerned. Starting of course, with me. Instead of a miserable failure, it was a mighty success. Starting of course, with me.
Now when I experience a knee-jerk “No!” and want to run the other direction, I pull up my boot straps and start walking the scary trail toward Yes.
When our first response is No, can we find the courage to search for the deeper Yes?
When desperate to scream No, can we find the strength to whisper Yes?
When it feels safer to say No, can we brave the waves to Yes?
Yes. We can.
No. it isn’t easy.
And Yes. That means we are on the right track.