Answering the NOs

Notes from my speech at Manifest Your Purpose Expo — Richmond, VA


I’m not your typical speaker. I don’t have specific texts or books of references. I’m actually tired of events like this. I’m all purposed out. We go to the big conferences, watch other phenomenal women speak behind podiums, bring home gift bags full of swag and our certificate of participation and...nothing changes. As if this in and of itself is the magic pill.

I’m tasked to talk about answering the NOs. And I will. I want to speak on a specific type: the Yeses that look like them.

It took me three years to write my first book. I started off married with a new baby and new house. When it was complete I was separated with a toddler. I went from parenting to co-parenting; wife to single mother. And I kept telling myself NO. You can’t have this story, it’s too sad, too cliche. We’ve already heard this before. So I shelved it. Pull it off every once in a while to add a poem or two, put it back thinking “oh this is cool, look at it - on the shelf.” I’ll be that person who’s always writing a book. Then one day, after copious rewrites and internal battles with myself, I finally stopped telling myself NO. The story may be similar, but the one holding the pen is vastly different. I answered my NO with a submit button.

Here’s why it needed to be told: there’s someone out there like me who has this thing in their hands and has no idea how to handle it. They were brave enough to go searching for someone. And I can only pray that they come across me. I learned bravery enough to tell my story against the wishes of NO. I am someone who has forever and again applied, been denied, applied, had it for a while, fired, let go, position ended with me still in it. I spent 5 years hitting this wall with my head, fists, knees, feet. Breaking through would mean I’d finally arrived. I thought the work was hitting, convinced this was my YES because I was afraid of NO.

I’m an author, photographer, producer plus more now. All of them were NOs. I told myself that working a 9-5 equated success and because they alluded me so much I must be a failure. But every time I lost a YES, a NO opened up.

We love a good YES. It gives us identity. We feel more centered. More qualified. We tend to gauge our lives by the yeses we collect on any given journey. Those who tell us NO are just haters. But what if the hater with the NO is us? How do we begin to shift? Let's start with 3 steps:

1. Adopt an idea of fearlessness even though you’re terrified. 2017 is my year of courage. 2016 I failed miserably financially and in business. I was too scared to try a new thing after announcing that’s all I would do. It felt so good leaving my lips that I basked only in that and not the work itself. And I paid the consequences. I lost clients. Passed on great opportunities. All because they looked like NO.

2. Write a "what could go wrong" list and be real with it. Our minds are skilled in concocting worst-case scenarios. We plant our flag on the ideas of all that could go wrong. I challenge us to become realistic optimists: people who understand the reality around us but refuse to succumb to it. Anything could go wrong but things could also go oh so right.

3. Recognize growth is painful and necessary. You remember growing pains: those pangs in your limbs that indicated you were no longer where you were. You've grown. So have the people around you. Understand that growth embodies doing painful things. The NOs become easier to digest and speak to.

Instead of calling every NO a hater, try listening to it. It may be the YES you've been waiting for.