105: Build the Life You Want by Saying No

105: Build the Life You Want by Saying No

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Building the life you want is a sure step towards self-sufficiency and independence. But what if you don’t know what you want that life to look like? What if the question of “what do you want” is too big to answer? Let’s work through the how-to of determining what you want, as well as the importance of being able to say no in order to make that life a reality.


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I recently shared the following image on social media: decide what kind of life you really want…and then, say no to everything that isn’t that. 

There was a lot of support and cheering to the image, but one gentleman gave this response:

Serious question, I’m 49 and I have never figured out what I want to do. What can I do to help the process out, or is this it? If so, I did complete my mission to raise my kids…but I mean [I’m asking] for me.

That’s a good, valid question. What if you don’t know what you want? What if you’ve never been asked? Or what if you knew what you wanted but now you’re in a different stage of life, looking around with some freedom and thinking, wait. What is it that I want?

How do we figure this all out?

Sometimes the Big Picture helps, sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes when we think about what we want life to look like, we can make it really complicated. We think big picture, and we think far off into the future—almost like we’re answering “what do you want to be when you grow up” all over again. That might be the exact approach you need to take, but it can also be overwhelming. 

Sometimes in order for us to get the concept moving, we have to start small. Maybe what you know right now is that you don’t want to have to get up at 430 am anymore. That simple statement is a really great place to start in order to grab some ideas of what you want life to look like.

Making a list helps

A great way to attack what you want your life to look like is to make a list. Start with little bits of what you want. Add little bits of what you don’t want. (Believe me, once you get started, you won’t need any help continuing.)

After you’ve made that list, take a look at the items you want and don’t want. Your next step is to determine how you get there. As in, how do you bring about the things/situations you want? How do you get rid of the things/situations you don’t want?

And remember, this doesn’t need to be all long term, especially if that’s too overwhelming to think about. You can make lists for today. Tomorrow. Next week. By Christmas. Five years from now. 

Deciding on the life you want is really just setting goals

In a way, it’s like the goal setting conversations I used to do with my teens every Monday. We’d all write down our goals for the week and post them for everyone to see. Not only did it put our commitments out there “publicly”, but it also helped us keep each other accountable. Knowing each other’s goals meant when we saw each other doing stuff that really wasn’t helping us reach those goals, we’d call each other on the carpet about it.

Calling each other on the carpet meant poking each other to say no to the things that weren’t pushing us towards the goals we’d set—i.e, the life we wanted.

Reaching those goals means saying no – sometimes to a lot of stuff.

Recently, a friend from Minneapolis decided it was time to move. The stuff had hit the fan, he felt it was no longer safe to live where he lived, and he announced, “we are out of here”.

Saying you want to move is not as easy as just moving. It’s a whole process. It disrupts your life, your work, the plans you previously had. But my friend’s end goal was to move as quickly as possible. There were a lot of things he had to say no to in order to make that happen. And a lot of those things frustrated him. But to reach the goal, you have to stay on track.

Decide the life you want, and say no to what isn’t that.

You have to keep asking the question. And it’s tough.

All through my teens, my plan was to be a stage actress in musical theater. But there was this thing in the back of my head that reminded me all the actors I knew traveled a lot—especially when involved in touring shows.

Now, let’s be honest. Touring doesn’t leave a lot of time for a family. And I knew I really wanted a family. And so I had to come up against this thing that was here is what I want, but here are other things I want.

And do those things work together?

No, they don’t.

So which one do I want more?

That’s where things get tough. We think we’re going to figure out what we want and be able to visualize that amazing, wonderful life, but we tend to forget if you really actually seriously want that life, there are generally some tough decisions that need to be made.

You have to keep coming back and asking this question: what kind of life do I want? and do the choices I’ve made reflect that? Because if your choices don’t, you either need to batten down the hatches and get serious about what belongs in your life or you need to be honest about the fact that thing you thought you wanted isn’t really what you wanted.

It’s all about choices. What do you say yes and no to?

If you want to be more in charge of your time, it means you can’t commit to being involved in every organization that comes your way and wants you help.

If you want to pay off debt, you have to say no to the things in your life that aren’t making that happen.

If you want to walk into your home office and get stuff done, you have to organize your office and your schedule in a way that makes that happen.

If you want to (ahem) finish the book you’re working on and have it published by October, you need to have daily goals. And if you accept things in your life that take away from the time needed to accomplish that, you’re not going to reach those daily writing/editing goals, which means you’re not going to publish the book by October.

“I know what I want, but I have a hard time saying no to stuff that doesn’t fit.”

Sometimes people know what they want, but they have a hard time saying no. That’s why it’s so important to figure out what you want, and not be wishy washy about it. Knowing what you’re shooting for—and committing to that—gives you a reason to say no.

Remember, not every opportunity that comes your way is yours to latch on to— especially if it doesn’t fit your goals.

Remember, the fact you say no to something is not a comment on the worthiness of that thing, it just means it doesn’t fit with the life you’re trying to build for yourself.

And remember, if you always saying yes to people, it teaches people that you will always say yes.

Learning to say no is how you get to that magical dot you’ve placed ahead of you on the map of life. 

Be honest with yourself about what you want. Say what you mean and mean what you say.

If you tell me you want to be a more healthy person but every snapchat you send me is what kind of beer you’re drinking today—every. single. day—I don’t think you’re on the path to a more healthy life.

What we want isn’t easy. Or, sometimes figuring out what we want is easy, but once we figure out what we want, we realize, dang, there are things that bump up against what I want that don’t fit. It’s hard to say “thing, you don’t fit in my plan here.” 

Not everything fits the plan. And that’s a hard pill to swallow.

Let's work through the how-to of determining what you want from life, as well as the importance of saying no in order to make that life a reality.

So what is the life that you want?

What do you want small scale? Large scale? What do you want today, tomorrow, next week, by Christmas, or two years from now?

We are heading into some tough times as a nation, as a world. What’s important to you? What do you want? 

And if you don’t know what you want, what do you not want? What are the issues you’re dealing with in your life that you don’t want to deal with anymore?

Identifying what you want and then realizing you have to say no to the things that don’t fit that, will bring you the realization that life is filled with crazy little checks and balances and tests that will make you ask yourself,  which thing is more important, and do I need to reassess the life I think I want?

Sometimes you’re reassessing the life you thought you wanted because you thought you knew what you wanted, but it turned out to give you a whole list of things you didn’t really want, and now you have to make some decisions. 

Right now my focus is to have a prepared family constantly working towards more self sufficiency and independence in many facets of life. So when I look at something that comes into my life—an opportunity, an option—I have to say does this further my plan, my mission, my goal, what I want in life. And if it doesn’t, I have say no. And sometimes it’s hard.

And sometimes I say yes, and it turns out to backfire, or change the path a bit. (Like, ahem, deciding to dump some money into something that’s on the path of self-sufficiency, but then ending up with unrelated unexpected bills after that and thinking “well, dang”.)

Sometimes the yeses and nos aren’t easy to tell if they are yeses or nos. But you make a decision and adjust—that’s just part of life. The point is you have to know where you’re headed. Or where you want to be headed. And you have to be honest about the choices it will require to get there.

If the question of “what kind of life do I want” is too overwhelming, look at it small scale. Because the little pieces are all part of the big thing. And determining the little pieces to say no to will help you say no to the things that don’t fit with the big thing.

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6 thoughts on “105: Build the Life You Want by Saying No”

  • Enjoyed! Have always been a goal setter so that part not difficult-now just need to be a bit more ruthless with choices. Have realized that I am happiest when at home-detest errands & shopping trips. So attempting to do a bit more online as well as harvest & preserve this year’s larger garden so my grocery shopping this winter can be done from my pantry/ my freezer. Yes a LOT of work now, but at least I doing it on the home front 😉

  • So wonderful to read this. I empathize with your former goal of being a musical theatre actress, that’s exactly what I had planned. I am only 24, but have to come to terms with the fact that my body can’t sustain the amount of strain and stress. This helps a lot! I actually started gardening this year and will now explore that. I told myself that planning is healthy and necessary, but so is trying out something new if the old dream doesn’t come real and just seeing where that leads.

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