There's a lot of talk, and a lot to be said, for the power of yes.
From the release of Jim Carrey's 'Yes Man' to numerous 'say yes to get more out of life' articles, many women feel they must welcome every opportunity that knocks at their door in fear of missing out.
The word 'yes' isn't afraid of new experiences, It attracts positivity and makes life richer, fuller and more vibrant (so we're told).
The word 'no' often takes courage to say. It is hard to receive. It is negative.
With International Women's Day approaching, I started to reflect on the Western feminist movement which has taught us how to declare a confident ‘yes’ to the world. Yes, we can be in the boardroom, yes, we can work and mother, yes, we do have a choice. Over the ages women have fought for our voices to be heard, and have opened doors for us with a resilient 'can do' attitude.
However, a collective ‘no’ has also been a powerful form of feminist protest. From the recent sex strike in Liberia to housework strikes in India and the notorious Ford sewing machinists strike of 1968, the world seems shocked when women stand up and say 'no'.
I read a quote by US business magnate Warren Buffett last week that has stayed with me. She said, ‘the difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say no to almost everything.’ To me, and many others, this quote directly applied to time management.
Although time is the most precious possession in the world, most women give it up more readily than we ever would our money, food or clothes - despite the fact these things are all replaceable. Time is the only possession any of us truly have, and if wasted, we'll never get back.
It’s not just about saying no to others. We need to learn to say no to ourselves. I consume a huge amount of media communicating how wonderful it is to bake from scratch, how worthwhile making curtains from hand is, that volunteering will enrich your life and if you don't travel to all 5 continents by the age of 30 your life simply isn't complete.
Every woman has that house-wife nagging voice in their head. Regardless of age, class or politics, if you are born a woman, you will be trained to host. When the prospect of a celebration, dinner party or family birthday is imminent, we all too frequently burden ourselves with plans; we'll hand ice the cake, we'll pop to the farmers market in the morning, we'll bake the bread the night before. We see this as our work, not because men necessarily tell us so, but because we feel like a failure if we don't. We haven’t yet learnt to say no to ourselves, let alone others.
We need to remember that every time we say yes to a request, we are also saying no to anything else we might accomplish with the time. Ask yourself, “If I had to do this today, would I agree to it?”. It’s not a bad rule of thumb, since any future commitment, no matter how far away it might be, will eventually become an imminent problem.
Consider the following puzzle, a variant of which was set by Paul J Ferraro and Laura O Taylor to economists at a major academic conference back in 2005:
Imagine that you have a free ticket (which you cannot resell) to see Radiohead performing. But, by a staggering coincidence, you could also go to see Lady Gaga — there are tickets on sale for £40. You’d be willing to pay £50 to see Lady Gaga on any given night, and her concert is the best alternative to seeing Radiohead. Assume there are no other costs of seeing either gig. What is the opportunity cost of seeing Radiohead? (a) £0, (b) £10, (c) £40 or (d) £50.
The correct *answer is posted below - it was also the one least favoured by the economists.
In retrospect, perhaps the word ‘no’ is the most powerful, and least used, weapon us women have.
*Answer: Going to see Lady Gaga would cost £40 but you’re willing to pay £50 any time to see her; therefore the net benefit of seeing Gaga is £10. If you use your free Radiohead ticket instead, you’re giving up that benefit, so the opportunity cost of seeing Radiohead is £10.