The email came in just after 11 in the morning. “Could you please do this one very important thing that needs to get done today?” My client needed this “tiny” thing that would throw off my entire day and have me stressing to do everything I’d already committed to. Couldn’t I just do this one little thing? I’ll move this other thing over and skip lunch, I thought. By now, I was pretty good at these mental gymnastics.
But for whatever reason, on that day, a new thought occurred to me. Was this really an emergency? Couldn’t it wait? Without much thought, I wrote my client back and explained to him why it didn’t work for me. I hit send.
And then I freaked out.
He was going to be outraged, I was certain of it. He would realize I was unreliable and look for someone who was able to come through. To my utter shock, he wrote back and said he understood. “Has it always been this easy?” I said aloud. Yes, yes it has been.
I had spent my life fighting these silent battles in my head, but this martyr mindset was doing nothing but creating a life that was way harder than it had to be.
My life at the time was out-of-control with endless running around. I was building a new business coaching entrepreneurs, but I was close to burning out—and I’d barely had any clients yet. But by putting so many other people first, the only thing I was building was debt, a horrible attitude, and a ton of stress.
Why was I not seeing any success for myself when I was so busy?
Now, hamsters on a wheel are as busy as it gets, but they’re not getting anywhere. My mile-long to do list was actually a massive procrastination device—one that kept me from having the time to go for my dreams. The scary ones. The ones that mattered.
I could never have predicted how that morning’s little email exchange, me timidly standing up for myself, my sanity, my happiness, and my own priorities, would be the catalyst for my divorce.
Now, this may sound overly dramatic, but hear me out. Up to this point, I didn’t even realize there was a choice to be made.
In my twenties, I got married, at thirty I had a son, and I was on the path to be a full-time mom with a house full of kids. Up to this point, I was content with that trajectory—until my husband told me he didn’t want a second child.
In that split second, I realized I was staring down a lot more free time on my hands than I had planned. Naturally, I started wondering, “Well, now what do I do? How do I want to spend my time? And with whom?” So I started dabbling in self-help and various forms of personal development. What I came to realize was that my life was already pretty good. But that was the problem… It was good. It wasn’t great.
My husband, although loving, didn’t push me in the ways that I needed. Sure, he was kind and wanted to make sure I was comfortable. Sure, comfort, up till then, felt “nice.” but suddenly, it felt suffocating. “Nice” — as I was coming to understand—was for pushovers, not badass business owners like I wanted to be. I wanted more than a predictable life, so I asked for it. I asked for a divorce.
I will never forget that night. I put our son to bed, I kissed him as I rocked him and whispered “I’m sorry” into his hair as I silently cried for what I was about to do. To this day, I don't even remember the exact words I spoke to my husband, except saying, “I want to get divorced,” in between sobs. He was amazing. At the end of the conversation, we hugged each other and he said, “I will always love you” and I said, “I will always love you, too”.
Now, this is not to say that if you start to improve yourself you’ll end up wrecking your marriage. It just happened to be the case that when I dug deep, I saw that I had a lot more options then just saying yes to everything. But I will be honest, when you start realizing and connecting to the badass you are, relationships around you will change, and that’s ok.
I realized that I could say no to my marriage, even though once upon a time, I had said yes. I didn’t need to keep saying yes to things that no longer served me. I had said no to my client, and I didn’t lose my gig and the world didn’t end.
Gradually, I started saying no to other things, too. No to overworking, No to getting by on four hours of sleep (which used to be my badge of honor). No to playing small, getting walked on, and no to letting life just happen to me.
I had learned how to say no. And now I had to learn how to really say yes.
There is a myth that as a business owner, you have to say yes to every possible opportunity. Otherwise you’ll miss out. But that’s not possible. Do you think Oprah is doing her own laundry? No. Not because she’s above doing laundry, but because she has a very clear vision of how she must use her time to accomplish the things she wants.
If I was going to do this, really do this—build a life on my terms, start my dream business, and go for extreme happiness above all else—I’d have to relearn when to say yes.
So I started saying yes strategically. I said yes to hiring a housecleaner once a month—a big deal at the time as I was now a single mom and money was tight. Yes to a grocery delivery service, which turned out to be less expensive, meaning that the extra money could go to pay for the housecleaner.
Nothing was lost; things just shifted. Sure, my marriage and living situation changed, but the bigger thing that shifted was my mindset.
Instead of saying yes to get togethers with friends who were only interested in towing the line, I started saying yes to networking meetings where women business owners hung out. Though, at first I was extrememly intimidated by these strong, ambitious, and successful women I knew that as a smart business owner I needed to surround myself with other smart business owners. Those first few meetings I was nervous, but I would go, I would scan the room, and pick out three women who oozed success and confidence. Then, I’d invite them to coffee.
Two things happened: I spent less time with people who drained me or didn’t understand that I wanted more than just getting by. And I started making important business connections; women who referred me to potential clients and who believed in me until I could see the truth for myself.
These new relationships fueled me. I realized that I needed to continue surrounding myself with people who didn’t want to just stroke my ego, listen to me whine, and let me get away with good enough. I needed someone to hold me accountable and give me action steps. So, once again I did what had previously seemed impossible because of money and my self-imposed limitation that I had to do it all on my own, and I hired a business coach.
The first thing she taught me was how to pick and choose what gets done.
They say you have to hustle to be successful, and for a long time I fell for that trap. Now I understand that if you’re so busy hustling, all it says is that you’re really disorganized and have no priorities. If you do things correctly, you can do them quickly and then have time to focus on whatever makes you happy. No hustling required.
When I first heard my coach say that there should only be three things on my to-do list, I felt like she broke my brain. But when she showed me how to swap my priorities, I actually got more things done, and by “more things” I mean more important things, done faster.
Suddenly, I had more time and as a result, I started making more money. In the last three months I’ve been able to double my income. And that meant more time that I could hire a babysitter so I could keep doing things that would allow me to grow my business, and in turn, help me help more people, have greater joy and purpose, and actually have better quality time with my son. Today, my quality of life is massive.
I’ve always been the extremly independent one. I prided myself on being the girl who moved to Seattle by herself to go to theater school, or on being a single mom whose son is on the autism spectrum. When you say those things out loud, people think you’re a rockstar. That charade of being Ms. Independent was my validation, but it was killing me. I thought I was powerful and I was, but I was wasting my power in the wrong places.
The old me would go to business conferences under the guise that I was doing something good for myself. But I would get home, never take action, and quickly return to my favorite form of self-sabotaging—overextending myself. But now that I was trying to start a new business that was all mine, I needed to figure out how to do it so I wouldn’t stay stuck in a victim mentality thinking, “Oh, I’m just a single mom… so of course I won’t be able to pull it off.”
The best thing I learned was that I couldn’t get into action by myself. I needed a safe space to be able to vocalize my needs and wants and then to prioritize them. I learned to figure out how to have an ideal, realistic and sane schedule. How much time did I have in my day to work on my business? And which ways could I maximize that time?
One of the keys was learning how to focus on profit-producing avenues. If I mastered this, then I would have a smaller to-do list and more revenue. I’d get the important things done, let others slide, and be more fulfilled at the end of the day.
So many women have the potential to be awesome business owners if they stop saying yes to filling their to-do list just for the momentary satisfaction of crossing something off!
Over the years, the women I began attracting to work with me learned quicker than I did. I teach them what I spent five long years learning the hard way, and they’re using it and seeing results in a month. They’re figuring out what is truly important and defining success on their terms—whether that’s making more money in one month than they once made in a whole year, having a schedule that allows to to pick their kids up from school everyday, or starting a business that ignites positive change in the world. It’s a beautiful thing to witness women shorten the learning curve and create the lives they want.
Yes, you can have it all. You can have a happy relationship, family, career or business. I’m living proof. But if you’re trying to do it all—all by yourself—you just can’t. No one can. We need people to show us how it’s done so we can get farther than we could on our own. Once you start to walk that path, you’ll see how unrecognizably beautiful life becomes when you learn to say yes to the things that matter most.