The problem with being moderately to extremely good at whatever I try (besides remaining humble about it, of course) is that I’ve always had difficulty determining what I actually need to spend my time and energy on. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned as a reformed overachiever and fearless business owner was when to say no and when to say yes.

(Yes, I know it may be a little deflating to start the new year off with a manifesto on saying no. Stay with me!)

I spent most of December meditating on the oft-misunderstood Biblical verse, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality (affiliate link), Peter Scazzero explodes the idea that life should/will be easy if you do XYZ. Rather, it means that the yoke we bear is ease-y if it is crafted specifically for us. It will fit properly and not chafe or cut into our shoulders. But it’s still a yoke. Bearing it is still work.

Oxen yoked together

I’m sure these cows would probably disagree, but at least this yoke looks like a good time.

Many of the yokes I’ve worn throughout my life have not been easy.

All of my relationships before Science Guy grew burdensome because they were not a good fit. Likewise, classroom teaching, photography, and any number of career options I’ve tried have not fit well in one or more major ways. Most of the time I either could not or didn’t know when to say no to the parts that were draining. So the burden was heavy.

Freelancing is different.

It fits my need for flexibility in this season of life. I can work autonomously without being micromanaged, while collaborating closely with my clients to create content that meets their needs. I’ve built my own business model and creative process that fits the way my brain (and life) operate. It’s pretty great.

But I still have to remember when to say no so that my yoke remains easy.

I recently turned down several opportunities that simply did not fit well within the bigger picture of my life or my greatest strengths. Old overachiever me would have said yes because I was afraid to miss out on income or influence. I would have tried to do too much and ended up tired, stressed, and resentful. But new fearless me was (eventually) okay saying no.

Don’t go back to old yokes…

At the end of the semester, I decided to take a break from tutoring college-level biology. I enjoyed the throwback to teaching (without the grading and planning, woohoo!) and the money was decent, but getting to and from campus ate an entire morning of daycare. While I made some extra income, my business suffered from losing an eighth of my weekly work time. (If you noticed that I didn’t blog much in October and November, this is why.) I decided that I wanted to take that time back and invest it in creating more content and serving more clients.

I also recently had the opportunity to dip a toe back into the pool of photography when a friend asked me to take some photos of her sons as a holiday surprise for their father. The session was a lot of fun and the pictures were so damn cute that for a few minutes I thought, “Awww, I should do this again!” But then I remember how the pressure of making photography a viable business sucked all the joy out of it. The endless marketing, the competition to stand out in a crowded field, the need to follow schedules and be out of the house…none of that fits well in my life right now. So I’m content to take occasionally take some photos for friends and stick to my own lane of writing.

…or pick up new ones.

The event-based and sales-driven model of being a Sseko Fellow no longer makes sense in the context of my life and business. Running events in the evenings and weekends, taking time away from my family, and holy cow, the extroverting, have become a heavy burden. But partnering with other bloggers and offering products as client gifts or as part of my services fits into the ecosystem of everything else I’m doing. When I think about it that way, the yoke is easy and the burden light.

I had the chance to be a speaker at a workshop series in my hometown…four hours away. The event was right before I was planning to travel to a friend’s baby shower. While I *could* have made two major trips in one week, it would have meant a lot of stress for my whole family. I won’t lie, this opportunity was much harder to turn down. I did my customary mental gymnastics to see how I could make it work. But I remembered that the entire point of me freelancing is to give our family more flexibility and less stress.

Wanna know something funny?

The day I turned down the speaking opportunity, someone contacted me to do an e-mail marketing training for their direct sales team. The team is nationwide, so I can conduct the training virtually from the comfort of my home. No 8-hour travel time necessary. AND. The price we agreed on is exactly what the speaker series was offering.

UPDATE: Want to know something even funnier? Literally an hour before this post was scheduled to publish, I got an e-mail from the organizers of the speaker series. They need to reschedule a month later, when I happen to have no conflicting travel plans. Crazy!

I don’t believe in the law of attraction, or at least not “visualize it and they will come.” But I do think there is value in making room in your life for what you need and want. For me, that means knowing when to say no so that I have time and energy for the things I say yes to. It means keeping the yoke fitting well and the burden light.

Here’s to lots of liberating no’s in the new year!

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