If it isn’t a Hell Yes, it’s a No.
I loved that directive from the moment I first heard Tim Ferriss discussing this quote by Derek Sivers. The truth of it lit me up: Finally, some clarity for how to live and respond to all of those pesky after-work invitations! No more paining over how to spend my precious weekend time.
Glass of wine with friends after work?
Birthday party with the girls on Saturday?
Invitation to join a new women’s group discussing problems?
Hell. To the No.
I got pretty good at offering semi-lame excuses and kind refusals, all directed by this handy little life hack. There was only one problem. It’s advice wrapped in assumptions: One, that you’re so overwhelmed by invitations, requests and people who can’t get enough of you that you desperately need a system to decipher the things that are worth your time and those that aren’t. Because how else can you decide which start-up company pitch to attend and which private wine cellar party to have a new shirt over-nighted for?
The second assumption is that you are someone at least slightly extroverted, with a Hell Yes meter you can trust. I tend toward introversion, which means most things outside work that involve being around more than one other person unrelated to me is rarely a Hell Yes. It’s a pain, living with such constant reticence while trying to appear normal in a world seemingly designed for extroverts. But statistics show that I’m not alone: Several sources say somewhere around 25 to 40 percent of us are introverts. And it’s worth keeping in mind that most of us exist on a spectrum when it comes to our tendencies, rather than absolutes.
This past week I had a book release party on my calendar. It was after work, in another town (OK it was only 25 minutes away) and would require driving a mountain pass home in the dark when I was tired. Problem was, when this former colleague whom I genuinely like invited me to his book reading two months earlier, I reported my Hell Maybe as a solid Yes, I’ll be there. Why not? It was two months away! I could get hit by a truck or catch influenza before the reading and wouldn’t have to go anyway.
But then the evening drew near and I realized that along with the terrible luck of being perfectly healthy — surprise! — I also still really didn’t want to go. I thought of what I could say to get out of it. I thought of lies that might pass as truth. And then…
I thought of how If it isn’t a Hell Yes, it’s a No, might actually be very bad advice for some of us.
You know what happens if it’s always a No? People stop asking you to be a part of their lives. And then Sweet! We have all the time in the world to sit at home and read about how sensitive and brilliant introverts are. How people just don’t get us and our wish to avoid the exhausting task of being friendly to more than one person at a time.
Also, If it isn’t a Hell Yes, it’s a No dismisses the reality that sometimes we should put our tendencies and preferences aside to show up for others we care about. Some invitations necessarily carry more weight than others. Remember the times we’ve asked people to show up for our events and they did…and how nice that felt?
As it turned out, I went to my friend’s book launch. I bought his book, conversed with others I knew in the room, truly enjoyed his reading and told him what a great job he did when it was time to say goodbye. I’m glad that I showed up for my friend. Besides having a good time it reminded me how important it is in this great big world to support each other and stay connected to our various communities.
For some of us, a request for our time is rarely a Hell Yes and that’s OK, but that doesn’t mean it should always be a No. Don’t get me wrong, as someone with a gravitational pull towards introversion, applying this life hack made me a champion at protecting my personal time. But that was never my problem and I don’t think it made me happier. Instead, I now consider the following questions when asked to show up:
- What is my relationship to this person? Are they someone I care about or like?
- Does the event involve a community of people I care about?
- Have I hit my max for invitations recently or is it time to get out of my comfort zone?
For some of us, these decisions aren’t best dictated by a clever line because our No isn’t usually reflective of a jam-packed calendar. It comes from a preference for alone time, one that should be honored, but also balanced by recalling the many times we wanted to burrow and ended up feeling glad that we didn’t.
The trick of course, is figuring out when those times are…and I haven’t yet discovered a five-second life hack for that.