How the Power of No Saved My Life

The first girl I dated after separating from my wife asked me what my net worth was on our first date.

I was honest and I told her. She said, “that’s not enough.”

I asked her what her ex was worth but she said, “why do people always ask that.”

Her ex was well known, 20 years older than her (maybe 30), and probably worth over $100 million according to the newspaper.

But there’s a saying (it’s a saying because one person has told it to me but I repeat it everywhere as if I had made it up): “You never know what someone is worth until they declare bankruptcy.”

I felt bad about not having enough so I told her some things I was working on.

“None of that stuff ever works out,” she said.

And she was right. None of that particular stuff worked out. But I didn’t know it then. I wouldn’t know it for years.

Another time I asked her, “how come you never introduce me to your friends?”

And she said, “Because you’re too crazy.”

Which made a lot of sense. I do NOT introduce my crazy friends to my normal friends. One of her friends was running for Senate or Governor or something. That would’ve created a lot of problems if he was seen hanging out with a crazy person. But I could’ve maybe offered to be Vice-President if he ever made it that far.

I don’t know.

Sometimes you give a carrot but they take the whole stick.

One time she said to me, “my people can destroy your people.”

Which I doubt. My people at that time were largely zombies. In the movies you often see the Governor or the Head of the Joint Chiefs totally powerless against the Zombie army.

But I couldn’t tell her that and reveal my true identity.

I said, “Maybe.” We were in a Mexican restaurant, which I considered neutral territory considering as how my DNA tests showed I have some Canadian blood in me.

We broke up. I’d like to think I broke up with her if it wasn’t for that one conversation where she called me and said, “I’m not ready for you. I need time. Maybe A LOT of time.”

And then I broke up with her.

I was in a Borders bookstore at that moment and she was at President Obama’s first inauguration, and I still had a Blackberry.

Those big buttons that required the slightest of pushes. We were texting. I remember typing out, “b…r…e..k” and then backspacing. You know the drill. I miss my Blackberry.

How things have changed.

Back then just a smidgen of Chinese food could cause enlightenment. People were having orgasms over politics and the country was heading towards the Apocalypse.

Sometimes I wish I could go back to those days when nothing semeed to matter except being lonely, eating hot dogs for breakfast, being scared of going broke, being forced to move rooms every 29 days by NYC law since I lived in a since shut-down hotel, and wandering around bookstores looking for women to hit on.

But then I gave up.

I started saying “No” to people who weren’t right for me. I started saying “No” to everything I didn’t want to do.

I started saying “No” to mindless meetings, mindless events, mindless people who were bad for me, mindless food or alcohol, mindless anger and regret. Mindless TV and news.

I started saying “No” to colonoscopies and other things related to painful medical experiments. I listed all the things I could say “No” to and I still do.

When you have a tiny tiny piece of shit in the soup it doesn’t matter how much more water you pour in and how many more spices you put on top. There’s shit in the soup.

I had been saying YES to the wrong things for 20 years.

Within six months my life was completely different. I met Claudia. I moved out of hotels. I was working on ideas that actually made money. And I needed fewer and fewer things to make me happy. That’s the Power of No. That’s true minimalism.

Every six months since then my life has changed. Even in the past few days, remarkable things have happened.

When you start just saying “No” to the bad things, the “Yes” compounds every day. It compounds automatically, the way interest does in a non-US bank.

When she asked me what my net worth was I could’ve just said, “No” and got up and not wasted three months of my life. But as easy as that sounds, I didn’t know how to do it.

Now I do. Now I’m free. I dumped the old soup. Now I can finally drink from the soup I just cooked.

Read More: How To Be The Luckiest Guy On the Planet in 4 Easy Steps. 

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  • Izhar

    Really enjoyed the post, but I would add that you should add it as power of YES / NO. it will make you clear in your life where you want to go. Ask other people YES or NO. no ifs, buts etc. but overall very good article mind clarifying, good job James!!

  • Angus Pryor

    The word that sticks in my mind is ‘focus’. As long as there’s some important stuff leftover after you say no to a bunch of things, your focus can only increase.

  • Vinay Nagaraju

    Ha ha.. I think the first time I realized I said NO was to my first boss at work. It was the same old stretch of late Friday Meetings where he would ask me stay for the weekend to complete the new work that was yet to be invented so that it would “Help me understand better and be an important resource to the company”.. I felt really scared to say that NO, I was wondering if I should come and work for the sake of it. Needless to say, he took it awfully wrong and one week later I quit my job – Only to realize that I hated what I was doing.. And I realize now that it is one of the best decisions I have taken. The true power of NO indeed. It feels good to know that it was there without really knowing as to what it actually was :)

  • Frank Kothbauer

    Saying “no” is powerful, James, but how do you know when to say “yes” (e.g., how did you know to say “yes” to Claudia?

  • Joey Gedgaud

    I get asked to do something crazy things from businesses and owners for little to nothing and I think no is the best thing to say, but you have to do it correctly. Thanks!

  • Peggy

    When I got Wayne Dyer’s message on FB today, at first I thought it was a joke. I would NEVER buy a book so blatantly trying to cash in on another book. Are you afraid that you won’t sell enough copies if you don’t try to make your book sound like “The Power of Now”? Are you so pitiful that you can’t come up with your own title? Or are you hoping that maybe someone buys it by accident? You are really sad ~ and I am saying a huge NO!

  • tee O

    I am curious to read the book “Power of No” and am sure it will have some enlightening perspective. Having added to my vocabulary with confidence about 25 years ago, I will add a word of caution. In unhealthy circumstances, “no” can be wielded like a club to keep everyone and everything at bay. ALL “No” without a plan for A “Yes”, in a matter of speaking.

    Don’t ever use “No” as a cozy tool to isolate yourself. I could go on and on about it – I won’t. Just know that “Yes” is powerful too – knowing when to use both is when you can become a master of the universe!

    I had a memorable “first” question, it wasn’t first date, but it was first sex someone. They asked the dreaded “how many” question…. (what nerve! bad form!) I would never have told the truth and since I didn’t feel i could say NO, none of your business… I gave some made up number I thought would be OK…. it wasn’t. “No” would have been soooo useful that night…. talk about mood spoiler.

    And while nobody wants shitty soup, you do need soup. Just think carefully about what soup you REALLY want and don’t settle for anything else/less.

  • yanig

    Doesn’t work unless you can run faster than they can and there’s a safe place to run to. Being pleased about saying no is like being pleased you live in a gated community. You haven’t made the circumstances of your no,s. You were in safe places..and had no reason to fall on your face and save anyone else’s life…and hope to fix it better…later.

  • Tom Buckland

    If anyone asked me how much I was worth I would just walk away. Its just rude. I’m pretty open about talking about money and how much I earn but if someone asks me on the first (few) dates I would think that is just rude….. Like Jack Sparrow said (in the comments) I’ll ask you how good you are at BJs or even how much you make? Still rude either way.

    Interesting concept though, working full time for people who always ask me for favours I’m not sure I have what it takes to say no yet, outside of work I think this might be beneficial but who knows, will try it when I finish work and go solo(8 months).

  • Jan Koch

    I love your honesty and openess James. Even though you wrote this post more than a year ago I feel like I have to reply to it and say THANK YOU.

    I’m slowly becoming more confident about saying NO to “opportunities” in business and life – and just focus on the two or three ventures I’m truly passionate about.


  • gwhosubex

    That attack for not saying yes is just manipulation to exploit you. If it’s good for you is it good fit them? Is it universal? Is it reciprocal?

    Healthy boundaries. Your individual rights.

  • gwhosubex

    Sounds a bit inconsistent of your uncle to give you a pass while controlling his kids to the point of scaring them…

  • gwhosubex

    No, pick up the prostitute before doing her off.

  • gwhosubex