About Saying “No”…

We South Africans struggle to say “No”. Most English-speaking people face this. Norwegians do not.

As we grow older our stream of “No” defines our legacy better than our stream of “Yes”. After 58 years I cannot remember one instance of a “No” costing me spiritually or financially. I recall many “Yes” replies that derailed me, some massive train wrecks.

Our South African style demands that we follow our “No” with some valid reason.

At the very least we’re expected to follow the “No” with a “Thank you,” as in “Thank you for asking me to help you fix your car.” In Norway a “No” is unadorned with niceties. When asking for something here even a “please” is absent most of the time.

Anyone may ask. It’s in the Bible. But answering ”No” is as valid as “Yes”. A “No” is not a rejection of your personhood. It means that, right now, the person you’re asking faces their own issues. Respect those.

When I first started consulting with business owners facing closure many people asked for help. I always said “Yes”.

Some were utterly broke. They’d delayed for so long that few options remained to improve their lot. I noticed extreme procrastination, a bad tactic in the face of closure.

These same people listened intently for an hour while I bought the coffee. They wanted someone to listen to the wrongs dealt to them, not resolution. I called this counselling.

Other folk would pay for my time. They bought coffee, and sometimes a smoked-salmon bagel. They dived into action after each meeting. I called this consulting.

The pattern became painfully clear. Over a decade just a fingerful of the non-payers took action. I stopped meeting with them. Not a rejection of these folk, but an acceptance that time invested with paying clients helped all of us.

Paying clients meant I fed my kids, and the commitment ensured they attacked their issues. Contrast this with non-paying folk where my kids went hungry and the advice-recipient got no better.

Defaulting to “No” is a better way to stay on track than the alternative.

How a Deadline Affects Us…

A deadline means a Treasure chest of memories beats a box of cash

Someone who faced a terminal deadline said this to me…

I met a young Dutch man with a deadline a few years ago. He lived in an apartment next door to Gran. Gran lives in a block on a beach on the Costa Blanca in Spain.

Jan lived with his wife and nine-year-old daughter. He’d transferred most of his business online and could operate from anywhere.

We met a few times whenever I visited Gran. Back then “online” people were as rare as kryptonite. He shared his story in dribs and drabs.

He told me that he was heading towards a deadline. In his case a literal deadline. He’d welcomed the gift of a double lung transplant a few years before. His deadline, the point after taxes would no longer bother him, arrived about 6 years after the transplant. He felt blessed with this replacement set, even though they would not last long. And even though he would not get a second set.

Before this transplant he’d envisaged retiring a few decades hence. This deadline focused him. His wife and daughter, always important, suddenly became urgent. Money, always urgent, suddenly lost importance. A treasure chest of memories beats a box of cash as a legacy, he said.

We waste time on trivia while immortal. When we hold a boarding pass for the ferry across the River Styx we make decisions fast. We focus on important stuff, not urgent stuff. Important stuff becomes urgent only when we make it so.

He no longer feared life. He no longer fretted over embarrassing himself. He cared not a whit what others felt about the road he chose to follow. He sucked the life out of each day, giving the important people in his life the best gift he could. His time.

I was humbled. I fretted about trivia while procrastinating on the important stuff. And I complained a whole lot more about my piddly challenges.

Today reminded me about him. I woke up to glorious sunshine, unusual enough in Norway to provoke the natives into faking illness and basking unclothed outside.

It’s easy to “invest” these days at “the office”, too guilty to steal a few fun hours. As if another hour researching websites could should compete with drawing pictures on the floor with my nine-year-old daughter.

Embarrassment hurts more than failure…

The reason most of us are so scared of failure is that it is so embarrassing.

It was embarrassing at school each time a teacher ridiculed our efforts to untangle quadratic equations, or to assemble a frog from spare parts. And even more so when Anne Waites, who we young men idolised, smiled at us in sympathy as she detailed the answer before swanning off with some fellow in Matric. Gorgeous and bright in front of a troop of besotted idjits.

After school we experience fewer embarrassing moments. By then steel shields inside our heads protect us from them. If we let our guard slip the fallout reinforces our paranoia.

By the time we become business explorers, nascent entrepreneurs, that caution paralyses us. Starting a business is a fast conveyor belt of choices to make without enough information. A cesspit of uncertainty. We’re so focused on keeping up the image of normal that we hurt ourselves.

When my fan hit the shyte in 1992 I hid away in the local Spur. They offered a bottomless coffee. They still do.

When I arrived that first day I told the young waitress I was broke, and that I would only drink coffee. For six hours. And that a few of my broke clients might visit. And that one day I would sing Spur’s praises, if I ever climbed out of the deep longdrop I was swimming in.

So, when you assure me that I can eat better elsewhere, you are right about the food. But I have never, anywhere in the world, received such a reception and such patience and, dare I say, such understanding.

During a bad week in Perth I camped out in a shopping centre with my notebook. On the third day the proprietor of a stall across the walkway stomped across to check out this commercial spy tracking his sales. And this while I paid for the refills.

Whenever life has hidden me in an eatery since then I have given tips that distress my mother. My brother once was so upset that he pocketed the note I left and replaced it with a coin. Although that might have just been his view from the bottom of another pit.

I raise this because the fear of embarrassment – not the fear of failure – is the real brake on our dreams.

That’s why I love this online lifestyle.

It costs nothing to start an online business. Which means it costs nothing to stop it. Try walking away from a lease for premises in a shopping mall and you might appreciate this.

Nobody knows what you’re doing until you are successful. Or until you’ve moved to Spain. Whichever comes first.

Isn’t life wonderful?