You Can’t Say No, Until You’ve Said Yes (A lot)

Published on
November 8, 2023

Being focused is undoubtably a great answer to getting things done. We all experience it and it’s a game-changer when you find it.

But in the search of focus we’re often overlooking the first step: being unfocused.

For me, saying no is a privilege. A privilege that comes from having a foundation. That foundation might be having lots of time to find my purpose, mastering my craft, building a supportive network, gaining deep domain experience, or establishing financial stability.

You can’t find focus if haven’t got a foundation.

When I first got to the US in 2000, I found myself in a situation where I didn’t have much. In the first years I didn’t have a network of friends or long-term financial security. I was essentially starting from scratch. Saying no to everything would’ve been counterproductive.

Saying yes to almost every opportunity that came my way (including mowing my neighbor’s lawns for 20 bucks an hour), opened a lot of doors for me. Not everything I said yes to was great but I needed to learn as much as possible about this new environment I was in.

I attended way too many networking events and said yes to far too many “can I pick your brain” coffee dates. I interviewed for jobs I wasn’t sure I really wanted. I started a few businesses. None of them stuck.

It took years to kick ideas around and try the wrong stuff. It took a while to build a supportive network and gain confidence. Years passed as I learned how to navigate the business environment and discover what I was good at and how I could stay engaged.

Even when I did figure out what I wanted to focus on, there was a lot of experimentation. The business I started became an industry leader, but in the beginning we were saying “sure thing” to a lot of projects that were definitely not ideal. We said “we can do that” to a lot of clients that weren’t a great fit. But by saying yes we learned a ton and those early projects helped us make payroll each month.

Once we had a reliable base to build on, we get seriously focused. We earned the right to say “no”.

Here’s my take: At the beginning of every new phase of life I learn faster and build more experience by saying yes more often than no. Once I’ve earned the right to, I start to say no more often. Diverging is an expansive mindset. Converging is about making choices and trade-offs.

Saying no is a privilege that a lot of people don’t realize they have. Winning the genetic or financial lottery makes it easy to say no to distractions.

If you’re at the start of something new or you’re not sure what to get started on, diverge as much as possible. Diverge before you converge. Be unfocused until you have the information you need to be very, very focused.

The painting above can be found at


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