Learning to Say “No”

Written by Davis Nguyen

I’ve always had a hard time saying “no,” until saying “no” was the only thing keeping me from ending up in the hospital this month.  

When I first moved to San Francisco a year ago, I didn’t have much of a social base being 2,500 miles from home and 3,000 miles from where I went to college. 

To fill the void, I started joining volunteer groups at and outside of work. The committees at work and non-profit organizations I joined started to slowly solve my want for a social community. I met people I normally wouldn’t have met, create memories that otherwise wouldn’t have existed, and slowly found my community in the city. 

A year later, I have no problem picking up the phone and having someone come over for dinner. But last month, I started noticing the side effects of being so committed. As my social time increased, my personal time declined. 

This month a number of my commitments ran into unexpected obstacles that needed to be solved quickly. I encountered a problem I’d never experienced in my life: there was just not enough energy in me to do everything despite staying up 7 days to the AMs. I was near exhaustion every night.  

When it was all done and I could finally breathe, I was happy with the results but saddened by the price. I finally understood what “too much of a good thing is a bad thing” meant. Instead of being energized by volunteer work, I felt drained. When the last event concluded, I just went back home and fell on my bed. It was first time I remember such a restful sleep since the cascade of commitments came down. 

But besides the positive communal results that came from this period, there emerged a personal result: I learned to say "no." During this intense period, the request for my time didn’t stop, but it was the first time since moving to San Francisco I just said “no” without hesitation. Not to anyone’s surprise, the world didn’t stop and the people who asked me simply asked someone else. 

I wish this lesson didn’t have to come when my health was declining, but I am glad I learned it. Learning to say no is tough, but I remind myself that if I say yes to something, I am saying no to everything else. In the end, I want to be in control of what I say no to. 

About Davis

Davis (@IamDavisNguyen) graduated from Yale University in 2015. He currently lives in San Francisco and works at Bain & Company. When he’s not helping CEOs transform their companies, he is helping recent graduates figure out the type of life they want for themselves and helping them get there.

The Most Important Word in the Dictionary

By Davis Nguyen

"Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it's thinking of yourself less."

—C. S. Lewis

Humility isn’t a sexy word.

As recent college graduates, we are so eager to show the world what we have to offer. What we lack in experience, we make up for in our readiness to accept every opportunity coming at us – even if we don’t know what we signed on for. It is no surprise then that embracing humility is so hard; it means accepting our weaknesses. It means showing, instead of hiding, our imperfections. Imperfections we believe will keep us from getting the job we desire, being with the people we want, and living the life we dream of.

But the more we try to mask our imperfections, the more we miss out on the same opportunities we are seeking. We doom ourselves to repeat the same mistakes; we turn away people who want to help us; and we deny ourselves opportunities to grow. The outcome from making a mistake at 26 is not the same as if you make it at 36. The question is, will you learn at 26 or repeat it at 36?

But accepting humility doesn’t come from reading a “how-to” guide or waiting for an epiphany. It comes in gradual acceptances of who you are.

  • It means being proud of your accomplishments without being prideful.
  • It means thinking about how your actions will affect others.
  • It means taking responsibility for your mistakes.
  • It means admitting you don’t know everything.

Humility isn’t sexy, but it makes you more attractive.

We’d love to hear from you in the comments below:

What trait in a person do you admire the most?

Davis Nguyen

About Davis

Davis (@IamDavisNguyen) graduated from Yale University in 2015. He currently lives in San Francisco and works at Bain & Company. When he’s not helping CEOs transform their companies, he is helping recent graduates figure out the type of life they want for themselves and helping them get there.


How Do You Know When to Trust Your Gut?

colorful-triangles_trust-gut-2Written by Jenny Blake

Have you ever had a gut instinct that rocked you to the core? You're in a job or a relationship, and you start getting a physical sense that it is time to make a change. These instincts often start as quiet whispers, and can be confusing and disorienting if we don't yet know what to do with them. And if you don't listen to the whisper, get ready: it will likely deliver a very uncomfortable WHACK instead.

Wake up! Our gut says. Listen to me!   

Maybe you feel it as a pit in your belly. A lump in your throat. A flutter in your heart. But what does it mean? If we go straight to problem-solving with our brain, we might miss the true meaning.

Your Gut Has a Brain

Or more accurately, it is a brain.

According to the fascinating book mBraining

  • You have a complex and intelligent brain in your gut that contains over 500 million neurons and has the equivalent size and complexity of a cat's brain.
  • The majority of nerves connecting the heart and gut brains to the head flow upwards. 90 percent of vagal nerve fibers communicate the state of our system to the head brain. Only ten percent provide communication signaling in the other direction from head to heart and gut brains.
  • Over 95 percent of the serotonin used throughout the body and brain is made in the gut.
  • Your gut brain exhibits plasticity and can learn, form memories, take on new behaviors, and grow new neurons.
  • The gut brain is primal. It develops both evolutionarily and in the womb before the heart and head brains.

"The gut brain is the core of your deepest self . . . your subconscious sense of who you are and who you are not. It's also the intelligence that is at work dealing with all core identity-based issues and motivations such as needs for safety, protection, maintaining boundaries, and what you will physically or psychologically internalize or reject. Your enteric brain is primal to who you are."

mBraining: Using Your Multiple Brains to Do Cool Stuff

Knock, Knock. Who's There? Your Gut, But I Can't Talk.

Our gut doesn't have the verbal sophistication that our head-brain does.

Our gut works on hunches; a hypothesis that something isn't right or there's an opportunity ahead, and it's up to us to suss out what that knock on the door of our consciousness really means, and what to do about it. We are left to interpret the meaning of the message, and then figure out how to take deliberate action.

That's why gut instincts can be terrifying sometimes. We may know it is time to act—to leave the job or the relationship, to move cities, to have a hard conversation, or to face a truth within ourselves—and yet the action itself takes tremendous courage.

Often our first reaction is refusal. Noooooo. No. It can't be that. I'm not ready for that. I can't possibly do that. I don't have the strength to face that head on.

But unfortunately we can't just stuff feelings back into the inconvenient box they came from. As the mBraining book explains, our gut is the defender of our boundaries and core identity, both critical to our health and happiness.

How Do You Know When to Trust Your Gut?

You can't always know with 100% certainty. Trusting your gut is like building a muscle—it takes time and practice. Another analogy might be taming a horse: you have to form a relationship with your gut instincts, and building that trust takes time.

If you're currently wrestling with an intuitive hunch or hit, here are some questions that help me:

How many times has your gut instinct been wrong?

That's not a loaded or leading question. Think back across the major decisions of your life: when you really took the time to get quiet and listen deep, then took action no matter how hard it felt, what percentage of the time did those gut instincts serve you well? In my case, it's 99%.

But in the rare instance that your gut was wrong, examine it: what could you have done differently? How might it inform future action? It is likely is that your gut instinct was on track, but the action you took may not have been exactly on track. That's okay! It's how you learn, and you can always correct course as you go.

What has more potential downside, taking the risk or staying in place?

Would your gut be speaking up if the answer was to keep things exactly as they are? In his book Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder, Nassim Taleb defines his term for risk work taking, those with high optionality: "The property of asymmetric upside (preferably unlimited) with correspondingly limited downside (preferably tiny)." See my related JB.me post, Which Risks are Worth Taking? 

Or maybe you just need to frame the question differently:

What small next step would help alleviate this uncomfortable feeling?

Sometimes it's not about the big leaps or endings, but rather speaking your truth in a direct and honest conversation. Notice the spectrum of actions you could take: look for small steps within your comfort or stretch zone, without sending you into the panic zone of paralyzing anxiety and fear.

Is taking this action creating "clean" pain or "dirty" pain?

Certain actions are incredibly difficult and make your stomach flip, but you know that it's a "clean" pain—a necessary step for you to move on and live your best life. "Dirty" pain is dishonoring yourself. It's when you hurt because you are actively ignoring what is in your own best interest, in a way that is damaging and stressful to your well-being.

Tools for Getting Quiet

Exercise, talking to friends, and writing have always helped me, but the biggest difference in truly hearing my gut (not just my neurotic monkey mind) came from starting a meditation practice. I know, I know—I used to roll my eyes every time I read something like that too. But it really can be as simple as sitting with your eyes closed for five minutes before you start your day.

Check out the Lucent App I co-founded for help facilitating self-awareness and focus each morning—very simple meditation might just be the game-changer for you that it has been for me.

I wrote in a newsletter earlier this year that chaos is a doorway to opportunity. My dad often reminds me that's where the best art, music, and writing comes from anyway! Let the message be your muse. 

I'd love to hear from you in the comments:

How about you: how do you "hear" your gut? When do you know it's time to act on the information you pick up?


About Jenny

Jenny Blake Headshot - Author, Speaker, Career StrategistJenny Blake is the bestselling author of Life After College, a career and business strategist and an international speaker who helps smart people organize their brain, move beyond burnout, and build sustainable, dynamic careers they love. Jenny combines her love of technology with her superpower of simplifying complexity to help clients through big transitions — often to pivot in their career or launch a book, blog or business.

Today you can find her here on this blog (in it's seventh year!) and at JennyBlake.me, where she explores the intersection of mind, body and business. Follow her on Twitter @jenny_blake.

Guest Post: Why Successful People Are Crazy -- and You Should Be Too -- by Eric Lunsford

Uluwatu Temple - Bali Uluwatu Monkeys - Bali

Greetings from the road! The pictures above were taken at the Uluwatu Temple in Bali, a magical place filled with monkeys who will give you (and your stuff) the side-eye, waiting to pounce to steal what they can in exchange for peanuts that you buy in order to get it all back. Thankfully my phone stayed with me, and I could upload these pictures for you! Next travel stop: The Yoga Barn in Ubud, then Chiang Mai on Sunday. Quick shout-out to the amazing Adam for sending me off with a killer music playlist and list of places to see.  

Eric Lunsford HeadshotToday's post is from one of my rock-star coaching clients Eric Lunsford. Eric writes at his blog Coffee & Warm Showers where he has one goal: "to help others wake their true self up and transform into the person they’ve always wanted to be."

My travels in Bali have been amazing so far and it's only just the start - hanging out with people like Dan (founder of The Tropical MBA), Tommy (professional travel photographer) and Elisa (blogging BFF and TMBA goddess) are proof of exactly what Eric talks about below: that the best way to live life is bat-shit crazy, baby :)

Why Successful People Are Crazy and You Should Be Too (Plus: The 5 Best Times To Go Crazy) -- by Eric Lunsford

“When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.” –Mark Twain

It’s okay to be crazy. In fact, if you want to live the life you dream of, it’s required.

Take a minute to tap into your memory bank and think of a time when you were considered crazy for making a choice or taking action.

You may have been a child, you may have been a “naïve” teenager, hell, it may have been yesterday.

How did it feel? What was the result of you doing something that was viewed as “crazy” to others?

I’ve had my crazy moments.

Times where I’ve decided I’m going to make a big change to better my life. I was going to quit my cushy job and move without a real back-up plan. I was going to get rid of the majority of my “stuff.” I was going to jump out of an airplane at 12,000 feet.

I was a pre-determined failure in the eyes of my boss and even some family when I quit my job. I was looked at as a kook by my fiancé when I recommended we get rid of 98% of our stuff. I was told I was testing fate by my mom when I told her I would be skydiving (who, coincidentally BOUGHT those tickets to jump out of a plane. She gets my crazy. Thanks mom!)

But my life is better after making those decisions.

I’m one step closer to my dream life now.

I realized I didn’t need a secure job to make me happy or a bunch of crap around my house to fit in and experiences, by far, are the best things to spend your money on.

Crazy is different. Crazy makes a difference.

And that’s exactly why the people who truly succeed in life choose to be crazy. Those that don’t take chances are stuck. Stuck in a life they don’t enjoy – waiting for the day their dreams magically come true.

Not. Going. To. Happen.

Not without crazy choices at least.

Take a minute to think:

  • If Ben Franklin didn’t have the “crazy” idea for Night Riders to deliver mail between colonies at night, the mail system we have now may not exist. In fact, the entire fate of the American Revolution may have been different.
  • If Richard Branson didn’t make the “crazy” choice to sign the (at the time) unwanted band the Sex Pistols, he may have never grown to the position he is at now with over 400 Virgin companies affecting the entire globe in more industries than you can count.
  • If Yvon Chouinard didn’t go on the “crazy” 6 month trip to Patagonia his friend recommended, we likely would not have the brand Patagonia or any of the environmental initiatives we have today created by him and his employees.

But don’t get overwhelmed or frustrated by these more famous successes.

Anyone can be crazy.

Anyone can make decisions that are so crazy it affects their lives in the most positive way.

  • Jenny quit her job at Google to move toward a life full of spontaneity, travel, independence and freedom. And she’s helping others do the same along the way (me included -- thanks again Jenny!).
  • Adam Baker and his wife got rid of over $18,000 of debt, sold everything but two backpacks and moved to Australia with no set plans. Oh yeah, with their 1 year old daughter! Now he’s making a living doing exactly what he loves.
  • Steve Kamb has combined fitness and…wait for it…nerds! Steve is a self-proclaimed nerd who is obsessed with fitness. He’s making “crazy” decisions almost daily including traveling the world, trying unheard of workouts, and inspiring people to do the same in some of the most unique ways.
  • Therese Schwenkler just recently made the “crazy” decision to quit her job and travel around the U.S. indefinitely. What I like most about her is her posts bring her “crazy” personality to life and inspire her readers to “go for it” just as she’s done.

So you see, in order to be successful, you must be crazy.

Here are the 5 best times to be crazy:

  1. Immediately after waking up – It’s early in the morning when your mind is the clearest. You have the most optimism at this time as well. Clarity + optimism = a perfect time to make a crazy decision. As an added bonus, it’s much easier to continue something when you start first thing in the morning before you let the everyday hustle and bustle bog you down.
  2. After being inspired – I’m sure you’ve had that moment. You watch an awesome documentary or read an inspiring book. You feel a fire inside you. You want to get out there and do something big! Capitalize on the inspiration and let the craziness begin right away!
  3. After “damaging” news – I use “damaging” because often things that happen to us unexpectedly are initially viewed as negative. However, there’s always a silver lining. Maybe you were just laid off from your job of 15 years. Well, now seems like the perfect time for you to take that severance, new found free-time and create something big!
  4. The status quo just isn’t good enough – This is one of the things I love to do most. Question why we do what we do. If you don’t like something or don’t understand why you do it, make a radical change. Ask questions, push the boundaries, and raise the bar.
  5. When you’ve got support – There’s nothing better than a crazy idea that at least one other person agrees with. For example, just the other night I told my buddy that I was planning on building a tiny home and traveling around the country for at least a year, snowboarding and surfing every chance I got. I asked if he wanted to come along and he lost it. As we talked about it, I was running around the house in excitement while he was texting, “I feel alive!!!” A crazy idea gets even crazier when someone else believes in it too.

We all have dreams. It’s just the crazy ones who see them come alive.

We'd love to hear in the comments:  What can you do to honor your crazy?


Video: Here's to the Crazy Ones

Note from Jenny: On the subject of embracing your crazy, here is one of my all-time favorite videos from Apple.

[youtube id="dX9GTUMh490"]

"Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify and vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as crazy, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do."

Update: This Just in! 8 Free Kindle Books from Scott Ginsberg

Right after I hit publish on this post, I got a (totally unrelated) rebel-rousing email from my friend Scott Ginsberg, who is known as "The Nametag Guy" -- he has been wearing one for 4,205 days and even has one tattooed on his chest! I'm sharing it with all of you since Scott is a brilliant, well-known author -- and this is an awesome ballsy move on his part. From Scott:

Help me prove that thinkers don't need permission to do so. Help me show which of the mainstream hoops aren’t worth jumping through. Help me lead the charge to risk our faces and step across the lines of artistic safety. Help me reject the invisible jury who no longer needs to stamp our creative passport. Help me make a global statement about the state of the mainstream publishing industry. Help me end the shipping of easy, predictable safe work that appeases our corporate masters.

Tomorrow, I am releasing eight new books on Kindle. All digital. All daily devotionals. And the best part is, all books are $0.00 for the first five days, then $0.99 after that. Grab them here.

Guest Post: Happiness. No Stuff Required. By Bryan Cohen

Note from Jenny: I'm excited to host Bryan Cohen on one of his 61 stops in 61 days (!!) for The Happiness Blog Tour to promotie his new book The Post-College Guide to Happiness. He's giving away free digital review copies of the book and doing a giveaway for paperback copies, audio copies and even a Kindle Fire! Read on and check out the info below the post. Happiness. No Stuff Required. -- By Bryan Cohen

"Happiness is an attitude of mind born of the simple determination to be happy under all outward circumstances." −J. Donald Walters

When I left college, I was completely spent emotionally. After being caught up in something of a love triangle throughout the second half of my senior year, mixed heavily with a dose of senioritis and no idea what I wanted to do with my life, I felt a lot more stressed than I did happy. I thought that by changing my circumstances, I would immediately be happier.

After first living in the suburbs, I moved deep into the heart of Chicago. I changed up my job from temp work to tending bar at a coffee shop. I even took a trip to France to visit one corner of that triangle. After spending thousands of dollars trying to change my situation and to improve my happiness, what did I learn?

I learned that hunting for happiness on the outside is futile.

A ton of people after school want to give a city a try, perhaps for a couple of years before giving it up. They say that the city didn't make them happy. Maybe they try out a career, but it didn't give them the joy they wanted. These college grads may even put all of their energy into a partner, eventually realizing that the relationship on its own didn't make them happier at all.

Circumstances can only create temporary happiness.

A famous study I read about compared the happiness levels of those who won the lottery and those who had just become paralyzed. After about a year, the joy and the pain they'd respectively experienced had changed back to their original levels just before the incident had occurred. Could a newfound millionaire be unhappy? Could a paraplegic be joyful? Of course. The circumstances only changed them slightly. What remained consistent was their attitudes.

If you want to be happier you don't need to make a change. You need to make a choice. You need to decide that you're going to try to be happy even when things aren't going your way. You have to decide that no matter what happens, you're going to make the effort to be an optimist.

Through this effort, you'll find something out about yourself. You'll find that the possibility of happiness was always there, you just needed to stop believing that buying new clothes or finding a different apartment would make a difference.

Make the choice to be happy regardless of what's happening to you. Keep walking toward the goal of happiness for it's own sake. And if you aren't happy yet, here's my big suggestion: start heading in that direction anyway, but it's best to whistle while you walk.


How to Win a Copy of The Post-College Guide to Happiness + More About Bryan

Bryan is giving away 61 paperback and audio copies of The Post-College Guide to Happiness and a Kindle Fire between now and May 7th, 2012 on The Happiness Blog Tour. All entrants receive a free digital review copy of The Post-College Guide to Happiness for all entrants to the giveaway. Bryan hopes to give away at least 1,000 copies during the blog tour. To enter, post a comment with your e-mail address or send an e-mail to postcollegehappiness (at) gmail.com. Bryan will draw the names at the end of the tour. Entries will be counted through Sunday, May 6th.

Bryan Cohen is a writer, actor and comedian from Dresher, Pennsylvania. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2005 with degrees in English and Dramatic Art and a minor in Creative Writing. He has written nine books including 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts: Ideas for Blogs, Scripts, Stories and More, 500 Writing Prompts for Kids: First Grade through Fifth Grade and Writer on the Side: How to Write Your Book Around Your 9 to 5 Job. His website Build Creative Writing Ideas helps over 25,000 visitors a month to push past writer's block and stay motivated.


Where in your life are you pounding on unlocked doors?

It's as if you're pounding on the massive doors of the kingdom of your wildest dreams. At first lightly, even respectfully, then, losing patience, louder and louder. You pray. You plead. You beg. You ask. You cry. You wail. And just on the other side of the door, your faithful, adoring subjects silently writhe, some quietly crying, all intensely feeling your frustration and loneliness. Yet they remember all too well how, on the day you left, you made them swear not to ever open the door, so that you might discover for yourself...

...that it was left unlocked.

I hate when that happens, The Universe (Mike Dooley of Tut.com)

I read this quote in Dooley's book, Manifesting Change*, earlier this week and I haven't been able to forget it. After sharing this note, Dooley asks, "What doors have you been pounding on?" Which got me thinking about some questions for all of us.

I urge you to take five minutes to close your eyes (well, after reading) and really think about the following:

  • Are you missing the obvious - the unlocked door - in any problems you are facing?
  • Where in your life are you trying to force changes that you might not be ready for?
  • Where are you straining with all your might without getting any results?
  • Where might it be time for a different, softer, more trust-based approach?
  • In what ways is the door - the world you so desire - already here, in front of you?

It might take you a few days (or weeks) to answer these questions...but start by becoming aware of the doors you might be (unnecessarily) pounding on and let me know what you find out.

A Personal Example:

I can definitely say that ever since I posted the Open Letter to Love, I've felt completely free and clear of relationship worries. I immediately felt the weight of the world lifted -- I became so relaxed and happy, and I haven't looked back since. It feels so good to openly declare to the world that I am going to stop straining for something that just isn't meant to be right now.

In fact, I would be hard pressed to even commit to a relationship if one came around! After I posted the letter, one friend was concerned that I was just giving up, but my decision to walk away from trying to "law of attract" a relationship (bleh) has helped me embrace my own life and dreams more fully than I ever have.

The minute I stopped pounding down the door o' looove I found true FREEDOM. I let out -- as my yoga teacher says -- "a loud sighing AHHHhhhhhhhhhh." I get a big smile on my face just thinking about it. :)

Your turn for a public declaration - what unlocked doors will you stop pounding down?


*I don't really recommend the book if you're looking for "starter" self-help - it's a little too out there in parts - but I love (and always get a great laugh out of) Dooley's daily Notes from the Universe emails. For a list of my favorite development books, check out my fancy schmancy Amazon store or follow my reviews on GoodReads.