The year is still young, abounding with possibilities. If you’re like me, that world of possibilities is one of the great challenges of life. How do I say no when there are so many opportunities before me? At times, my desire for success and the fear of missing out have pushed me to say yes to everything that comes my way and to sort out the consequences later. It hasn’t always been pretty.
If you share my propensity to say yes to everything, Apple founder Steve Jobs’ comments about the importance of saying no may be instructive: “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are.” It’s easy to forget that the most profitable company in world wasn’t always profitable. When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, the company was in dire straits. One of the more notable decisions that Jobs made in the year that followed was to reduce the company’s number of products from 350 to 10. The elimination of all but the most vital products helped to fuel Apple’s growth and innovation in the years that followed.
Could it be that some of the things that we say yes to are actually standing between us and a more fruitful life? As I reflect on Jobs’ words and the implications his perspective had for Apple, I begin to think that no may be the key to a better future for many of us. If companies as large as Apple recognize their limits by saying no to things, shouldn’t we as individuals do the same? Yet many of us walk through life pretending that we are limitless and suffer the consequences, either failing to produce the results we want or missing out on treasured time and connection with those we love.
When we say “no” to those things that are unimportant or that we don’t do as well, something else happens: our highest priorities benefit from greater energy and have the opportunity to flourish. It brings to mind the nectarine trees my family had when I was growing up. There were times when life was particularly busy and we didn’t get to pruning the trees. Those years, the branches grew long and we had a lot of green leaves, but very little fruit. The years we pruned back the growth were altogether different: the trees were smaller, more compact, and significantly more fruitful. Those seasons, the nectarines were incredibly sweet and we had more than we could eat!
Are you seeking a fruitful year? Then join me in saying no to all but the most important things!