Small Step No. 13: Saying “Yes, But…”

Last weekend, my friend Shannan and I shared our respective stories with the beautiful community of Flourish, and during the Q&A portion, the conversation naturally veered toward boundaries. How do you set them? What are your own? Where do you draw the line?

Shannan’s answer was flawless, and it was simply this: we do not need help in this department. In all of our human selfishness, we will so often veer toward more boundaries rather than less, toward comfort and control over curiosity and chance. We will forever be inching time/space in our own favor.

I think she’s right, and I am continually practicing the fine art of leaving my own door ajar. Of making myself available, of stretching myself beyond my perceived, introverted capacity to say Yes – Come in. Come over. Come what may.

Still, there is a distinction. Leaving your door ajar for your actual community is strikingly different than leaving every window wide open to your online community, to the welcome strangers you’re lucky enough to brush keyboards with near and far. In real life, you have but one very manageable front door. In pixels, there are multiple windows, innumerable tabs. (Best to find a way to close a few.)

One window I’m often closing is this one: Can I pick your brain?

It’s a question I’ve asked of those in my own life, and it’s a question I welcome. Yet it is not an answer I have, or one that I am fully capable of offering, in this capacity, in this season. With small children underfoot, an un-distracted phone call is a tricky thing to muster, let alone a Skype session. Sure, stickers can buy me an easy five minutes, and I’ve had good luck with old jigsaw puzzles for another seven or so. Anything longer? All bets are off.

And so, if you find yourself in a similar predicament in which you would love to make yourself available for these types of requests, but the calendar is fuller than full and you’re a believer in real-life, down-and-dirty mentorship rather than one-off quickies? Here’s a small step in the right direction:

(1) Say yes. (2) Say but.

Yes, I would love to help, but I am currently only available from 4-4:30am EST on Tuesday AM. 

It’s a simple enough revision on traditional office hours: offer one carved-out hour (or half) a week when it’s 100% convenient for you-and-yours, even if that means it’s 30% convenient for someone else. And then, the not-so-simple part: sticking to it, despite requests to shift the timing to a more decent hour.

(For a fun take on how this conversation sometimes plays out over email, this gal’s Friday morning solution made me laugh.)

Here’s to keeping your sanity and your soul (mildly) in tact – and helping someone else do the same.



Tell me: what small steps are you exploring these days? I’d love to hear!


p.s. These are a series of small steps that will (hopefully) provide one giant leap to greater things. Not for mankind, but for me, and perhaps for you, which will always be good enough in my book. More here.

  • Wise advice Erin! My first response is to say yes to everybody because I’m a “pleaser” by nature and I like to help. But with a new baby, I’m realizing that’s just not in my family’s best interest (or mine, really).

  • Saying no is not selfish (necessarily) but saying yes for the wrong reason can be selfish. This is a distinction that takes some soul searching and time. Lots of time (for me). For everything, there is a season. I’ve learned to give myself time to answer. When my kids were younger, the answering machine was my friend and now voicemail/text messages continue to give me my space. In person, I’ve learned to smile and say, “. I’ll have to give that some thought.”

  • This topic – of setting boundaries, of knowing what to say yes and no to, and of *how* to do that saying no – is something that fascinates me and that I always love reading about. I liked this take (yours, and Kaarin Vembar’s) a lot. Thank you. :)

  • I’m in the 1st baby and full time working mom season and this is such a great way of saying, YES with healthy limits. Thank you so much for your encouraging words!

  • Erin, thank you for this. I find myself in similar territory with two small kids at home and wanting to help others where I can but realizing my limitations and that I need to be available to myself and my family first. I long for solitude to process my thoughts and I keep reminding myself that is what I truly want each time I’m presented with a request or an opportunity. Thanks for your work! xo

  • This is brilliant!! And it made me laugh because someone asked me that at the beginning of this summer and I somehow ended up committing to helping with this big summer log project I had neither time nor capacity for… lesson learned. Thanks for your advice!

  • Hi Erin! I love this alternative so much, and look forward to using it. What I love about it is that it can be applied to so many different areas of life. Not only “can I pick your brain”, but personal commitments, work commitments (for me, photo shoots or sponsored posts), etc. It rids us of the feeling of guilt for using the word “no” and allows us to focus on ourselves and what works for us – not everyone else around us. A lovely practice, if you ask me. So thank you!

    • Yes – I can see so many uses for it as well! :) Setting aside a specific time/place for the “necessary but not essential” tasks has been a gamechanger for me, and I’d say this is a big part of it!

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